The sugar maniacs

Oh dear.

Now it\’s the sugar in food that\’s killing us all.

There\’s one really very large problem with the thesis.

People are mixing and matching the US and not US experience. Evidence in one place is being used as evidence in the other. But the two experiences are entirely different.

The US has indeed been swamped with High Fructose Corn Syrup: HFCS (actually, sod all to do with the corn industry, it\’s the cane and sugar beet industry which maintains the import barriers to the much cheaper world supplies of cane sugar). The rest of the world hasn\’t. So almost all of the US panicking about HFCS simply does not apply to the rest of the world.

And yet it is exactly that evidence which is indeed being applied.

By the mid-70s, there was a surplus of corn. Butz flew to Japan to look into a scientific innovation that would change everything: the mass development of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or glucose-fructose syrup as it\’s often referred to in the UK, a highly sweet, gloppy syrup, produced from surplus corn, that was also incredibly cheap. HFCS had been discovered in the 50s, but it was only in the 70s that a process had been found to harness it for mass production. HFCS was soon pumped into every conceivable food: pizzas, coleslaw, meat. It provided that \”just baked\” sheen on bread and cakes, made everything sweeter, and extended shelf life from days to years. A silent revolution of the amount of sugar that was going into our bodies was taking place. In Britain, the food on our plates became pure science – each processed milligram tweaked and sweetened for maximum palatability. And the general public were clueless that these changes were taking place.

That\’s just plain irrelevant.

It\’s entirely possible that the increased consumption of sugar is producing problems. But the evidence needs to be evaluated narrowly: US and non-US. The moment you see anyone in the UK bleating about corn sugar then I\’m afraid they can be safely ignored. Because they\’re simply not making this vital distinction.

18 comments on “The sugar maniacs

  1. YES, THIS. From a professional point of view, it drives me mental: HFCS is just Not A Thing outside of North America and Japan.

  2. Funnily enough, you get more sweetness per calorie from HFCS than cane or beet sugar so it should be the other way around, i.e. better in the USA, from a health POV. Except as they say it is pumped into actually everything. I could swear a lot of American food is actually 90% HFCS with an inert, probably cellulose-based texture base and artificial colourings and flavourings. And in the case of meat products enough minced pig tendon to qualify for the definition of “hot dog”.

    Your metabolism couldn’t care less whether you ingest fructose, glucose, or sucrose

    Tim adds: “Your metabolism couldn’t care less whether you ingest fructose, glucose, or sucrose.”

    Sadly there’s a substantial part of the US health shrieking community that dispute that. Fructose is particularly and abnormally bad for you, even compared to sugar.

    Which is one of the reasons why taking US studies seriously over here doesn#t work. For a lot of the US stuff is quite seriously insisting that it is HFCS which is evil: and as we don’t use it then it cannot be that causing whatever over here, can it?

  3. It’s quite normal for the British shriekariat just to adopt American hysteria unthinkingly. Nowt special about HFCS.

  4. “Butz pushed farmers into a new, industrial scale of production…”

    “As a result of Butz’s free-market reforms…”

    See: the stupid sod doesn’t even realise when he’s contradicting himself.

  5. @dearieme, the free market forces people to rape the earth and produce vast quantities of unwanted stuff on an industrial scale that is then wasted for profit by big multinational corporations. Oh, and it forces people to be poor. Don’t you know all that yet? I think you need to report for re-education.

  6. James,

    You missed out that the only way they can get us to buy the clearly unwanted stuff is through the dark powers of overtly sexualised, therefore demeaning to womyn, advertising. Aimed at children.

  7. Details and facts don’t matter at this stage. They’re setting up a narrative, just as they did in ’05 and ’06 before climate change became really popular.

    Funny, isn’t it? Nearly 90 years after Prohibition failed and they’re still trying.

  8. Food in the US is stupidly sweet, bread especially. What the US needs is not more regulation, but an end to its absurd corn subsidies.

  9. …or glucose-fructose syrup as it’s often referred to in the UK…

    Is this right? I ask because a two-litre bottle of Morrison’s own-brand dandelion and burdock last weekend, and the second ingredient, after water of course, was glucose-fructose syrup. I didn’t realise that was the same as HFCS.

    If they are the same thing then clearly it is being used in the UK. Is it more a matter of degree?

  10. HFCS is gradually becoming mainstream in products sold in Britain. As an example HP sauce switched to HFCS when the production was offshored. Heinz ketchup produced in Britain doesn’t yet contain it, unlike its US version.

  11. Yes, glucose-fructose is the same as HFCS. There’s a lot less of it used in Europe, because whereas the US subsidizes corn and penalizes sugar, the EU subsidizes everything and has quotas on glucose-fructose.

    It’s not true that

    Your metabolism couldn’t care less whether you ingest fructose, glucose, or sucrose

    Fructose and glucose are metabolized differently. Which is not to say that I endorse the wilder claims about the evils of HFCS.

  12. The issue isn’t about HFCS but about fructose from any source. Look up Gary Taubes book Why We Get Fat which picks apart years of government led nannying and dictat about fat.

  13. As regards the ‘different metabolism’ of fructose and glucose, this bears reading:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fructose#Compared_to_sucrose

    Essentially sucrose is 50:50 glucose:fructose. HFCS is 45:55 glucose:fructose.
    Both mono-saccharides pass down the same metabolic pathway, so any energetic difference between HFCS and sucrose is likely to be negligible, but fructose is pre-processed by the liver before it is metabolised by the body, and seems to be implicated in liver disorders.

  14. The issue isn’t about HFCS but about fructose from any source. Look up Gary Taubes book Why We Get Fat which picks apart years of government led nannying and dictat about fat.

    The debate on this point is largely over my head but, still, it’s worth remembering that even the its most vocal advocates grant that most fruits are okay in their natural forms because the fibre content neutralises the fructose.

  15. “…fructose is pre-processed by the liver before it is metabolised by the body, and seems to be implicated in liver disorders…”

    Oh if only there were some way of checking this out. Perhaps some domesticated animals (geese for example) could be force-fed (corn for example) by someone (the French for example), and then we could see what happens to their livers.

  16. Churm (#16), so is this all a plot by agri-business to turn poor people into cheap liver pate?

  17. glucose-fructose syrup is not quite the same thing as HFCS. Specifically, it contains, as its name suggests, more glucose than fructose, which is to say less, yes less, fructose than sugar does (sugar is 50:50). So, anyone concerned about fructose is chasing after the wrong target if they are concerned about glucose-fructose syrup ( which is the equivalent of HFCS used in Europe). Also, the studies that suggest a link between fructose consumption and liver disease are based on wildly unrealistic diets that no-one would actually eat. There are very good reasons, of course, to limit your sugar intake, but I am afraid that they are the same old boring reasons about the virtues of a balanced diet and not due to any new scientific or medical discoveries. Sorry.

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