Scientists defend popular bulk sweetener

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Related tags: Corn syrup, Nutrition, Soft drink, High-fructose corn syrup, Us

Welcomed by sweetener suppliers, scientists at the world's biggest
food ingredients exhibition claim this week that there is no
credible evidence to 'single out' the common sweetener high
fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a unique contributor to obesity.

Presenting its findings at the IFT 2004 annual meeting in Las Vegas, the US-based Center for Food and Nutrition Policy (CFNP) at Virginia Tech said that there is no reason to believe that humans absorb or metabolise HFCS any differently than sucrose.

HPCS, known as isoglucose in Europe, kicked off in the US in the 1970s when the country developed new technologies to process this bulk calorific sweetener. The ingredient, an alternative to sucrose, rapidly gained in popularity and is now used by the soft drinks giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

According to the US corn refining industry, in 2003 corn sweeteners supplied more than 56 per cent of the US nutritive sweetener market.

But the popular ingredient has been under fire of late with researchers earlier this year suggesting the obesity epidemic and the rising rate of type 2 diabetes could be linked to corn syrup and other refined foods.

Investigating food consumption patterns over the past 35 years, scientists found that in the 20 years from 1970 to 1990 the consumption of the popular soft drink sweetener leapt by a massive 1000 per cent.

"HFCS now represents more that 40 per cent of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages and is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the US,"​ said George Bray and colleagues in a recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Hotly refuting this, Robert Earl, director of nutrition policy for the $500 billion industry body the National Food Processors Association, said it was "incorrect and even misleading"​ to suggest the consumption of a specific food or food ingredient was the cause of obesity and the rise of type 2 diabetes.

But a second study released in May in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​ by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health claimed a link between consumption of refined carbohydrates and type 2 diabetes.

Looking at 100 years of data from the US Department of Agriculture and Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the researchers suggested that people have eaten the same amount of carbohydrates a day on average - 500 grams - since 1909. But instead of whole grains and vegetables, people are receiving more and more of the carbohydrates in the form of processed grains and sugars, with the majority coming from corn syrup.

The scientists, led by Dr. Lee Gross, at the Inter-Medic Medical Group in North Port, Florida, drew a link to the rising number of cases of type-2 diabetes, caused by the body's increasing inability to properly metabolise sugars.

But at a press conference at the IFT on Wednesday, Maureen Storey, director of the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy (CFNP) said there was "simply no credible scientific evidence that HFCS is the cause of rising overweight/obesity rates"​.

"A study (Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:774-9) published earlier this year that alleged a link between HFCS and type 2 diabetes was flawed,"​ said the group. "It is unfortunate that Gross, et. al. mistakenly identified the object of their report as 'corn syrup'. Corn syrup is a commodity ingredient compositionally and functionally very different from HFCS. It is non-sweet, comprised only of glucose, used primarily for its food thickening ability and contains no fructose,"​.

And in response to the Bray findings (Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:537-43) participants in the workshop concluded that although soft drink manufacturers have replaced sucrose with HFCS over the past few decades, the number of kilocalories per 100 gram serving has not significantly increased since 1963.

"Bray, et. al. hypothesise that beverages containing HFCS are 'sweeter' than beverages containing sucrose. The authors suggest that cravings for these sweeter beverages have led to their over-consumption, resulting in an increase in the rate of overweight/obesity.

"However, expert sensory panels have demonstrated that sucrose and HFCS are 'isosweet' - equally sweet. Since HFCS is no sweeter than sucrose, an increase in the 'sweetness level' of soft drinks cannot explain Bray's purported over-consumption."

The IFT annual meeting, which started on Monday, finishes today in Las Vegas. Organisers of the event anticipated about 20,000 visitors and over a 1000 exhibitors.

Related topics: Science

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