Beverages sweetened by high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) do not affect energy levels or appetite-related hormone levels any more than milk or drinks sweetened with sucrose, reports a new study from the Netherlands.
Seventy volunteers took part in the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which could help support soft drink firm claims that they have been disproportionately blamed for the current obesity epidemic.
Campaigners against the high fructose corn syrup ingredient point to epidemiological studies that have linked the consumption of sweetened beverages and obesity, as well as some science that claims that the body processes the syrup differently than other sugars due to the fructose content, leading to greater fat storage.
However, industry associations like the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) have repeatedly claimed there is no scientific evidence to suggest that HFCS is uniquely responsible for people becoming obese.
In background information for the new study, the Authors Stijn Soenen and Margriet Westerterp-Plantenga from the Department of Human Biology at Maastricht University state that it is unclear if drinks containing HFCS promote positive energy balance and thus promote obesity.
The researchers performed two studies - the first with 15 men and 15 women (average BMI 22.1 kg per sq. m), the second with 20 men and 20 women (average BMI 22.4 kg per sq. m) - in order to investigate satiety levels and blood variables as a result of drinking one of four drinks (4800mL); one drink contained no energy (control), while the others provided about 380 kcal and were milk, or beverages sweetened with sucrose or HFCS.
The sucrose beverage consisted of 64 per cent glucose and 36 per cent fructose, while the HFCS beverage contained 41 per cent glucose and 59 per cent fructose.
Soenen and Westerterp-Plantenga report that no statistically significant differences were observed in compensatory energy intake 50 minutes after consumption of the 380 kcal beverages.
Moreover, while levels of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), ghrelin, glucose and insulin did increase relative to the control, no significant differences were observed between individuals drinking milk or the sucrose or HFCS-sweetened beverages.
All these measures are related to food intake regulatory mechanisms.
"Energy balance consequences of HFCS-sweetened soft drinks are not different from those of other iso-energetic drinks, eg, a sucrose-drink or milk," concluded the researchers.
In an accompanying editorial, G. Harvey Anderson from the University of Toronto stated that the study "merits emphasis because it challenges the argument of biologic plausibility that was proposed to support the [HFCS-obesity] hypothesis".
"There are multidimensional determinants of obesity," he said. "However, it is clear that energy imbalance for most individuals is accounted for by energy intake exceeding expenditure. The lifestyle factors that lead to this problem are too little exercise and too much food, but the determinants of such vary greatly between individuals.
"A food solution to obesity remains elusive, but a reductionist approach that focuses on one food or one component of the food supply, in the presence of too much, is unlikely to succeed."
Anderson notes that he serves as a science advisor to the Canadian Sugar Institute and to HFCS producer Archer Daniels Midland, but states no equity or other financial interests in either industry.
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
December 2007, Volume 86, Number 6, Pages 1586-1594
"No differences in satiety or energy intake after high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, or milk preloads"
Authors: S. Soenen and M.S. Westerterp-Plantenga
Editorial: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
December 2007, Volume 86, Number 6, Pages 1577-1578
"Much ado about high-fructose corn syrup in beverages: the meat of the matter"
Author: G.H. Anderson