Cardiologist: High fructose corn syrup is 'one of the most misunderstood food ingredients'

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fructose corn syrup High-fructose corn syrup Fructose

Dr Rippe: 'While the scientific debate is largely over, the public debate related to HFCS and obesity has, by no means, concluded'
Dr Rippe: 'While the scientific debate is largely over, the public debate related to HFCS and obesity has, by no means, concluded'
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is “one of the most misunderstood food ingredients”, and continues to be lambasted in the media and on the internet long after the scientific debate over its relative contribution to the obesity epidemic vs sugar has run its course, says food industry consultant and cardiologist Dr James Rippe.   

Dr James Rippe, professor, biomedical sciences at the University of Central Florida, who also works on a consultancy basis for the Corn Refiners Association, has co-written a viewpoint​ article in the International Journal of Obesity​ seeking to dispel myths about the much-maligned sweetener.

In the scientific community, he told FoodNavigator-USA, there is “no longer any debate​” about HFCS being metabolized differently to sucrose.

Even Barry Popkin - co-author of the high-profile 2004 Bray et al paper​ that sparked the whole debate about whether sugar plays a unique role in rising obesity levels - has since acknowledged that it is metabolically equivalent to sucrose (Popkin now says “it’s all sugar, it’s equally bad​”), observed Rippe.

However, many people have not caught up with the science, and continue to cite the 2004 paper Popkin has now “publicly decried”,​ said Rippe.

Thousands of postings on the internet relate to putative links between HFCS and obesity

He added: “In the past decade, a number of research trials have demonstrated no short-term differences between HFCS and sucrose in any metabolic parameter or health related effect measured in human beings including blood glucose, insulin, leptin, ghrelin and appetite.

 “[Yet] while the scientific debate is largely over, the public debate related to HFCS and obesity has, by no means, concluded.

“There are literally thousands of postings on the internet related to putative links between HFCS and obesity as well as a variety of other metabolic abnormalities.”

There is not a serious scientist that thinks the bond between glucose and fructose is relevant in human nutrition

The Sugar Association and others frequently observe that while HFCS and sucrose each contain similar amounts of glucose and fructose (and the same number of calories and sweetness), they are metabolized differently because the fructose and glucose in sucrose is joined by a covalent bond, said Rippe.

In reality, this bond is broken by our digestive enzymes as soon as sucrose hits the small intestine, he pointed out, which means that sucrose is metabolized (absorbed) as free fructose and free glucose, exactly the same way that HFCS is.

Indeed, sucrose in an acidic carbonated soft drink left sitting on a warm shelf often starts to break down into free fructose and free glucose well before it even hits our digestive system, he pointed out.

“Thus, in a major source of sucrose consumption in the human diet (soda), most of the sucrose may have already been hydrolyzed to free fructose and free glucose.”

He added: “I don’t think there is a serious scientist that thinks the bond between glucose and fructose is relevant in human nutrition.”

Meanwhile, the consumption of HFCS has declined for the past decade while obesity levels have continued to rise, he observed, noting that obesity is also a problem in countries such as the UK and Australia where there is little or no HFCS available.

Click here​ to read the Viewpoint article in full, which was co-authored by DM Klurfeld, J Foreyt and TJ Angelopoulos.

Dr Rippe is the founder and director of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute, Associate Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at Tufts University School of Medicine, and Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Central Florida.

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To Joan

Posted by Mike,

You make reference to 2 reviews concerning HFCS. Can you explain why I or anyone should believe your referenced reports as opposed to others which contradict them?

Can anyone explain how there can be so many studies and reports that contradict each other about the same thing? How can all these studies come up with different results?

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The Science, etc...

Posted by CAW MS/RD,

The science: HFCS is typically 55% fructose and 45% glucose or 42% fructose and 58% glucose depending on which form is used. The name HFCS comes from the fact that normally corn syrup contains 0% fructose but once a portion of the glucose is converted to fructose it becomes much sweeter and therefore a cost effective food ingredient. Sucrose or table sugar contains about 50% glucose and 50% fructose, essentially the same as HFCS. Honey, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice all contain similar amounts of fructose. Agave syrup actually contains 84% fructose.

The references: The study cited in Nephrology measured intakes of fructose by a dietary questionnaire and included all sources of fructose. Unfortunately the title of the paper used HFCS instead of accurately pointing to all sources of fructose as the problem. The JADA article is also discussing the effects of a high fructose intake from all sources.

Good discussions of sweeteners including HFCS can be found in The Nutrition Source on the Harvard School of Public Health website and in the January/February 2010 Nutrition Action Health Letter (from the Center for Science in the Public Interest).

My opinion: Clearly research is beginning to show high intakes of fructose can have deleterious effects on our health. HFCS is just one source in our diets and not the major one, sucrose is. Glucose has negative effects as well but that is another story. As a nation out total sugar (from all sources) intake has increased by 20% since 1970 and it is having a negative effect on out health. While nothing stated in this article is technically incorrect it leads to confusion. When a health professional, particularly a physician, speaks out in defense of one type of sweetener calling it “misunderstood” for example, the message changes from “all sources of sugar contribute to the problem” to "maybe that HFCS isn’t so bad". This contributes to our societies bewilderment about who and what to believe regarding what constitutes a healthy diet.

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Posted by Joan Brookhyser Hogan, Registered Dieitian,

Hmmm I see no references to back your comments. Sounds like someone who has not kept up on his literature. Here are a few peer reviews that are quite the contrary:

ASN - Nephrology: 2009 HFCS A recipe for High Blood Pressure
JADA SEPT 2010 Inflammatory Markers Increase with High intake of Fructose

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