New sugar name, the same harmful ingredient


University of Kentucky student Shannon Frazer, pictured in the Kernel office on 10/14/09. Photo by Ed Matthews

Column by Shannon Frazer. E-mail at

Since when does changing the name of a food (or ingredient) make it any healthier?

On Sept. 14, the Corn Refiners of America asked the federal government to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar, hoping this change “will ease confusion about the sweetener.”

Seriously, what are these corn refiners trying to pull?

HFCS is in everything from peanut butter to cough syrups to salad dressings. And you as a consumer should be concerned.

For one thing, your health is at stake. Preliminary studies have shown a link between HFCS consumption and obesity, which is then tied to a host of other health concerns (diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, to name a few).

More recent research — funded by the beverage industry, no less — conflicted with these findings, saying HFCS’ effect is no different than regular sucrose sugar. Something’s fishy there, if you ask me.

The recent request for a name change is simply the cherry on top of the metaphorical sundae (whose ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream all contain HFCS, by the way).

It’s the whole philosophy of our nation being built on corn that ticks me off. Basically, the US has a corn problem.

To fully understand the current relationship US corn manufacturers and the consumer share, I urge you to read into the subject. Michael Polland’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and the documentary Food, Inc. are great places to start.

Consider that the US corn surplus is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place. Because corn is so overproduced and subsidized from what manufacturers have put into everything, any corn that isn’t already allotted is transformed into HFCS and sneaked into products to add a sweetened flavor.

This is one of those “walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, must be a duck” scenarios. Even if the HFCS no longer bears this name, that doesn’t change that it’s unhealthy, nor does it justify the ingredient’s presence in much of the American food supply.

I can’t believe that corn refiners would pull a move like this all in the name of easing confusion. What the group is really doing is creating more of it: more corn and more confusion.

Although the Food and Drug Administration have yet to approve the name change, corn refiners have been none too shy to incorporate the corn sugar term into advertising.

In February, Katie Couric did a segment on CBS about the new advertisements — sponsored by the Corn Refiners of America, ironically — claiming that HFCS is no different than other sugars. In the ads, viewers are urged to visit ( to get the facts. She consulted with experts, Dr. David Kessler and Eric Schlosser, who were appalled at the ad’s message.

I just hope that this recent move by the corn refiners group doesn’t instill false comfort in the minds of consumers that unhealthy foods are suddenly healthy because they contain what appears to be a new, different ingredient. It’s really just the same old culprit, HFCS, no matter how you look at it.