High Fructose Corn Syrup vs Sugar Debate: Which Is Better for You? The Pros and Cons of Both [VIDEO]

By Anthony Smith on August 27, 2012 6:09 PM EDT

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs Sugar
The High Fructose Corn Syrup vs Sugar debate came to a head when the Corn Refiners Association reached consumers with one seriously funny set of commercials. But is the CRA right to do so? What are their motives, after all, except to uphold the status quo of a country known for its unhealthy eating habits? Is it, as many believe, more deadly and more unhealthy for you than sugar? What exactly is Mexican Coke and why is it so gosh darn expensive? And, given the natural sweetness of sugar, why did we come up and then implement an alternative in the first place? (Photo: Doug Wilson, Agricultural Rese)

The High Fructose Corn Syrup vs Sugar debate came to a head when the Corn Refiners Association reached consumers with one seriously funny set of commercials:

Through these commercials, the CRA sought to shed some light on the ignorance surrounding a knee-jerk negative reaction to high fructose corn syrup. They made people who objected to high fructose corn syrup seem uninformed and idiotic; the butt of a joke they're writing themselves.

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But is the CRA right to do so? What are their motives, after all, except to uphold the status quo of a country known for its unhealthy eating habits? Is it, as many believe, more deadly and more unhealthy for you than sugar? What exactly is Mexican Coke and why is it so gosh darn expensive? And, given the natural sweetness of sugar, why did we come up and then implement an alternative in the first place?

Here is the Ultimate Thinking Person's Guide to the Great Debate of Which Is Better for You between High Fructose Corn Syrup and Sugar.

High-fructose corn syrup is actually a loose term that refers to any one of a group of corn syrups that undergoes an artificially catalyzed enzymatic process. That seems like some crazy science, but all it means is that they took a large percentage of the glucose in corn and turned it into fructose, making it sweet. Naturally, its unnatural sweetness varies in direct relation to what percentage of it has been transformed into fructose and what percentage of it remained glucose.

Its chemical composition is almost identical to that of sucrose, which comes from cane sugar and beets. In fact, sucrose is even composed of weakly bonded glucose and fructose. All you have to do is break it up, then mix what's been broken up with some water, and you'd have something identical to high-fructose corn syrup.

We started using it in the late seventies, after sugar tariffs caused the U.S. Government to seek a cheaper alternative to the stuff.

But the question remains: if it's cheaper, popular, and the chemical compositions are so gosh darn similar, when did people start objecting to high fructose corn syrup?

Let's put something into a little perspective: a simple syrup is a term that cooks use to refer to a one-to-one by volume ratio of water and sugar.As such, it has a 50% water content. It's used to sweeten anything and everything from homemade candies to cocktails, and anyone who's ever used it or tasted it can tell you that it's sweet-- very sweet, in fact.

As regulated by the USDA, high-fructose corn syrup has, at most, a 24% water content. In other words, it has 26% more sugar than a sucrose sugar. Additionally, high-fructose corn syrups have different fructose-to-glucose sugar ratios: sometimes, they're as low as 45% fructose, other times, they're as high as 90% fructose.

So while it's true that fructose and sucrose have incredibly similar chemical compositions, it's also less sweet-- and therefore, you need more of it to have the same impact as sucrose-based sugars.

In other words, high-fructose corn syrups aren't any more or less unhealthy than sucrose-based syrups-- it's just that you need more of it to reach the same levels of sweetness as sucrose. Given that sweetness is a purely gustatory experience that has nothing do with how the chemicals is absorbed by your body, it's easy to think we're eating the same amount of sugar we're eating when we use sucrose, but by volume, we're actually eating so much more.

And more sugar is never good a thing.

Why then, is it so common? This is actually pretty simple to answer: since the middle of the 90's, the United States has been giving corn growers upwards of $40 billion dollars. 

It's why Mexican Coke, which is made from cane sugar and not corn sugar, is so gosh darn expensive. And delicious, too. But one look at the calories (10 more than American coke) shows that it isn't necessarily healthier.

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