Originally published Nov 5, 2010
The Corn Refiners Assocation has recently petitioned the FDA to change the name of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to “corn sugar”. They’re following the new rule: if your name gets dragged through the mud, get a new one!
But when did people start to think of sugar as something wholesome? The Name Inspector is asking that question rhetorically, because he knows perfectly well when it happened: when HFCS became the new demon of the nutritional world, and hip foodies started buying Mexican Coke thinking it’s made with pure cane sugar (or just because they like the cute retro glass bottles).
Is HFCS really so bad? One thing that muddles the issue is that people get their politics mixed up with their science. They don’t like Big Agra, and in particular, they don’t like King Corn. They object to the practice of feeding corn to beef cattle, which leads to an increased use of antibiotics and a higher level of bad Omega-6 fatty acids and saturated fat in the resulting beef.
But does that make HFCS bad? Politically, perhaps, but not nutritionally. The main nutritional objections to HFCS seem to be (1) it’s very sugary, (2) it’s in lots of foods, including ones where you wouldn’t expect to find it, and (3) it’s usually made from genetically-altered corn. But it’s gotten an especially bad rap lately, partly because it has a name so long and scientific sounding that it has to be abbreviated.
Compare poor HFCS to the much more groovily-named “agave nectar”, available in health stores everywhere. Agave nectar is essentially high fructose agave syrup, make from agave starch rather than corn starch, but through a similar process. Seeing how its hippie cousin got a free ride for so long, poor HFCS is trying to cast off the yoke of its demonized, scientific-sounding name. Who can blame it?