Sugar vs HFCS: What's in a name?

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sugar association, High-fructose corn syrup, Sucrose

A consumer group has accused the Sugar Association of playing “confusing word games” in pursuit of a narrow commercial agenda.

The Centre for Consumer Freedom (CCF) launched the attack on the Sugar Association in response to a press release from the industry lobby group that sought to persuade reporters to call sweet drinks “HFCS-sweetened beverages”.

Putting its case to reporters, the Sugar Association argued that terms like “sugary sodas”​ and “sugar-sweetened beverages” ​are misleading because most sweetened drinks in the US contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), not sugar.


The trade association said USDA data shows that Americans consumed five million tons of HFCS in drinks in 2008, which is almost 15 times the amount of sugar consumed through drinks in the same year.

The CCF does not dispute this point but claims that it is irrelevant because the body cannot tell the difference between sugar and HFCS.

It quoted the American Diabetic Association saying “high fructose corn syrup…is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose [table sugar]. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.”


From a nutritional point of view, the consumer group argues that the distinction drawn by the Sugar Association is therefore unhelpful.

J. Justin Wilson, a spokesperson for the CCF, said: “The Sugar Association only cares about one thing: selling more sugar. And if it means playing confusing word games to do it; it appears they'll be comfortable creating that confusion for the consumer.”

“When it comes to nutrition, a sugar is a sugar, period. Whether it is sugar from beets, cane, or corn, sugars used to sweeten foods and beverages have the same number of calories.”

Despite being cheaper than sugar and having some functional advantages such as an ability to retain moisture, HFCS has come in for criticism recently.

Manufacturers have been removing HFCS from their products, often reformulating with sugar in response to consumer demand for simpler, more natural products. This trend was fueled in 2008 by a row over whether HFCS can be considered natural. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally said that it would consider HFCS to be natural if synthetic fixing agents do not come into contact with it during manufacturing.

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