by Marion Nestle
Aug 8 2008

FDA changes mind; says HFCS is natural after all

Try to get your mind around this one. To make high fructose corn syrup, it is necessary to (1) extract the starch from corn, (2) treat the starch with an enzyme to break it into glucose, and (3) treat the glucose with another enzyme to turn about half of it into fructose. OK class, explain how this can be considered natural? Answer: because the enzymes are fixed to a column and do not actually mix with the starch. Oh. So the FDA considers HFCS natural because Archer Daniels Midland and the Corn Refiners Association asked it to. Regime change, anyone?

  • Janet

    I personally have a problem with the word “natural”. Both arsenic and poison ivy are “natural” which does not mean you should ingest them or rub them on your body.

  • A despicable decision! Once again, Big Ag gets its way and American consumers are shafted.

  • Sheila

    I wonder how much money changed hands under the table on this one.

  • So frustrating that the lobbyists and big corporations can have so much power over the FDA! The only thing natural about HFCS is that the molecules originally started out in a kernel of corn; otherwise, they’ve been manipulated beyond recognition.

  • Howard Goldstein

    While we battle over a game of semantics, are we losing sight of the big picture? Does it matter if we have too much HFCS or Cane Sugar in our food supply? Wouldn’t a better battle be to reduce the amount of empty calories, whether from cane sugar (which by the way has a hell of a lot of processing to go through to get table sugar) or HFCS? Too much emphasis is being placed on HFCS. If the food companies switched to a “natural” sugar what would that accomplish? I doubt obesity would go down simply by changing from HFCS to sucrose.

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  • Patty

    In response to Howard: Yes, it DOES matter if we have too much HFCS in our food supply, just as it matters if we have too much “natural” sugar. I don’t know that the food companies are planning a switch to cane sugar any time soon, given the difficulties of growing cane sugar in most of the continental U.S., but I do know that Monsanto is marketing sugar beet seeds that are “RoundUp Ready.” Biological diversity is not what food processors are all about.

    I admit to a perspective clouded by my proximity to ag land: 75 acres directly in front of my house, 50 acres to one side. These two fields go through two rotations: corn and soybeans. This year, these two fields are planted with corn; next year, as last year, assuming fuel is available, they will be planted with soybeans.

    Every year these fields are sprayed with ammonia-based fertilizers (yummy! Even yummier when they end up in the Mississippi River delta.) from tractors and other equipment whose carbon footprint was not designed to be small. Then there’s the soil compaction wrought by vehicles weighing at least a few tons to induce a monoculture crop to thrive. Whether or not these two fields are supplying ADM and Cargill with the raw materials for HFCS, they are part of a food-supply chain that does not radiate health and well-being.

  • I don’t have a problem with he word “natural”. I do have a problem with ADM.

  • Auralee

    These are the same people who “bought” the margarine lobbies’ claims that trans fats were healthier than butter, true? And suppressed the research, for years, that was owned by the FDA (so of course they were free to suppress it), that the lobbies feared to have revealed, that showed the contrary?

  • Liz

    My name is Liz and I work with the Corn Refiner’s Association. I wanted to share some information in response to your above post. High fructose corn syrup is made from corn and contains no artificial ingredients or color additives. Whether a sweetener comes from the cane, cob or comb – whether it’s sugar, high fructose corn syrup or honey – they’re all basically the same as far as your body is concerned. They all have a very similar composition. High fructose corn syrup, like table sugar and honey, is composed of fructose and glucose, which are found in many naturally-occurring fruits, vegetables and nuts, and high fructose corn syrup has the same number of calories as sugar and honey – 4 per gram.

    There’s a lot of solid research and information at and Or if you’re looking for an outside source, this NY Times article discusses some of the misperceptions surrounding HFCS.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  • Janet

    I would like to refer Liz, the corn rep, to the link below and ask that she comment on the research and findings therein. Since the advent of HFCS in the last 30 years, the American people have changed; children are getting fatter, not just because of the calories in HFCS, but because of the way it keeps a person hungry and wanting more . . . good marketing tactic, bad for our health.

  • Liz


    In response to your post I wanted to share some information.

    High fructose corn syrup is not sweeter than sugar, it’s not higher in calories and it’s not metabolized differently. Many people do not realize that high fructose corn syrup is composed of the same simple sugars found in table sugar and honey – glucose and fructose – in virtually the same ratios.

    Government data confirm that per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup in the U.S. has actually been declining in recent years, while the obesity problem continues to grow.

    Obesity is becoming a more global problem each day, yet high fructose corn syrup is used very little—or not at all—in many countries where obesity is rising. Sugar is the primary sweetener in most parts of the world.

    Obesity rates are rising around the world, including in Mexico, Australia and Europe, even though the use of high fructose corn syrup outside of the U.S. is limited.

  • kiehl

    We have no idea how it’s actually metabolized into out bodies as there has never been a study to conclude this. Without going into speculation of our general perceptions of how our youths bodies are being mis-shaped by this drug, I mean food it’s fairly obvious that the body does not see HFCS the same as Cane Sugar.
    Just read HFCS on wiki to see how it’s made. When you over complicate the process in which the molecules get organized, the body cannot see it or use it the same as simple sugar. This is what they aren’t telling you. When you have to use a genetically modified enzyme to extract sweetener out of corn, that’s not healthy! Your body gets confused at this highly complex new chain of fructose and stores it immediately to your predisposed fat cells.
    It’s similar to anti-depressants. Nothing within nature has that abilty to control receptors to such an exacting degree. Once man gets his/her hand on a moleclue, complicates it, the effects on the body are far more pronounced. HFCS is the same, and when studies are eventually done on it, it’ll be exposed.

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  • Eric

    If you can not grow it, raise it or catch it, don’t eat it! How difficult is this concept for everyone? Fruits, vegetables, grains, oils, as well as dairy, meat, & fish (if you are not a vegan or a vegetarian). It can not be more simple than that! You should also buy locally grown or raised, & in season. That’s it!

  • Natural products, which occur in nature and have been consumed for thousands of years are much safer than ingredients made in factories (like HFCS) which have been consumed for only a few decades.

    Consumers aren’t as dumb as they once were – with the internet people can learn the real facts about HFCS. Products without HFCS are going to be in greater demand and this may force the food and beverage giants to change their ingredients

  • charles thomas

    Qusetion: On the nutritional information label I can see 0g Sugar even thought the number two ‘ingerdient’, after Water, is High Fructose Corn Syrup. Help me out here?????

  • What is the product and what does the rest of the label say? One possibility is that it contains less than half a gram of HFCS, for which the manufacturer can claim zero. Other explanations are less benign but it’s not possible to figure this out without seeing the whole thing or knowing what the product is.

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