Sweet Science

Following up on my hating on the haters of high-fructose corn syrup last week, a great, readable, and evenhanded review of the science of sweeteners. The guts of the analysis:  

Most of the studies that I've found that focus on the effects of [high-fructose corn syrup] HFCS and sugar focus on the effects of fructose, as opposed to the combined effects of HFCS and sugar. This is actually kind of a problem. It means that people get all up in arms about fructose, and then they hear "high fructose corn syrup", put two and two together, and the next thing we know, we're hearing about how HFCS, and only HFCS, is going to destroy your children, steal your car, and have an affair with your wife. But it's not just HFCS. Remember that fructose is in regular sugar, too, and the amounts aren't so different.

This is the best bit, but seriously, if you have the kind of friends who fret about this sort of thing, read the whole article and then crush them with your superior scientific knowledge.

Then follow up on the scientific crushing with a political crushing, by offering up an explanation of why corn subsidies are still terrible, even if high-fructose corn syrup isn't.

Finally, if you want more, check out this outstanding documentary by my friend Ian Cheney:

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  • TofuSushi||

    FIRST AGAIN!

    I am eating your livers!

  • ||

    TofuSushi is Dave W.?

  • Drum & Drummer||

    What? This isn't about boxing? Bait & Switch (not Hit & Run).

    CurdBoy is David Weigel? No way.

  • Taktix®||

    Paging Dave W., or is he chasing down the bio-engineered CO2-eating tree story...

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Frankly, I believe that the mouthfeel of HFCS over baked Roquefort justifies corn subsidies. Bring it on!

  • ||

    Whoa - wasn't liver eating Flappy the Eagle's thing?

  • ||

    You know what we need? Some sort of tongue stimulator that makes us think we're tasting certain things. So that we can eat completely healthy foods but experience the sensation of eating anything we set the Taste Simulation Unit™ to emulate. For instance, as I sit down to eat a plate of uncooked, unseasoned vegetables, I set the Taste Simulation Unit™ to barbecued pork. With extra fat.

    With the Taste Simulation Unit™, America will become the fittest and happiest nation on Earth.

  • Drum & Drummer||

    "With the Taste Simulation Unit™, America will become the fittest and happiest nation on Earth."

    The East Indians built one ages ago. It's called vegetarian East Indian cuisine. I recommend a starter plate of pakoras followed by an entre' of chick pea vindaloo.

  • ||

    I know this- When given the choice to buy A&W Root Beer with cane sugar or HFCS, I go for the cane sugar every time. It just tastes better, and the HFCS is cloying and sticky in the mouth. Makes you thirsty after having had the drink.

  • ||

    Well, yes, that's a method, but I prefer my high-tech approach, which allows me to enjoy any cuisine I want. Like truffle-woolly mammoth meat omelets.

  • Drum & Drummer||

    "Like truffle-woolly mammoth meat omelets."

    I see your point. Thank you.

  • TofuSushi||

    "When given the choice to buy A&W Root Beer with cane sugar or HFCS, I go for the cane sugar every time."

    Both pair well with livers.

  • ||

    The Corn Industry

    Memo

    Re: Lack of shilling for our product in Reason

  • Da Brewer||

    Sucrose is far superior in taste and mouthfeel to HFCS when making soda.

    Honey is far superior in taste and mouthfeel to sucrose when brewing.

    The best use of corn is making ethanol.

  • #||

    Brava Tony Brava

  • ||

    KMW - Thanks.
    That was a fun link.
    HFCS in my Ho-Hos has less fructose than homemade Ho-hos. I never suspected.

  • Drum & Drummer||

    "The best use of corn is making ethanol."

    I prefer roasting it.

  • T||

    It's called vegetarian East Indian cuisine.

    Which is, while tasty, not any kind of a substitute for a plate of smoked spare ribs.

  • Taktix®||

    The best use of corn is making ethanol popcorn and toritillas and that's about it.

  • ||

    The East Indians built one ages ago. It's called vegetarian East Indian cuisine. I recommend a starter plate of pakoras followed by an entre' of chick pea vindaloo.

    I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

  • Patrick Fitzgerald||

    "I just threw up a little bit in my mouth."

    That's what's known as an Irish breakfast.

  • d||

    Re the "science" in the article (read: myopic disregard for the physiology of human metabolic processes): HFCS is perhaps similar to sucrose in its fructose and glucose content, but it is much easier to break down (not requiring sucrase as does sucrose), hence it spikes insulin levels faster, leading to increased risk of diabetes and increased (or non-decreased) hunger. Hence obesity, hence Mangu-Ward and her (alter ego?) buddy "Scicurious" are either idiots, have some agenda against sound nutritional advice (nannyist policies not included), enjoy undercutting the force of anti-corn-subsidy arguments or all of the above.

  • ||

    I'm enjoying the flavor of an African lobster pizza as I munch on some celery. Deeelightful.

    I addressed the acceptable uses of corn in the Corn Czar thread.

  • ||

    Corn on the cob cooked on a grill and then served with butter and salt is good. But, then if you can grill it, it's probably pretty good.

  • ||

    Nick,

    Shucked or unshucked? Answer carefully.

  • ||

    I addressed the acceptable uses of corn in the Corn Czar thread.

    LurkerBold flashback. Wow.

  • ||

    Definitely unshucked on the grill.

  • Warty||

    Shucked or unshucked?

    You soak the ears in water, and then remove the silk and all but one layer of husk. You might as well boil them if you're leaving all the husk on, and it's too easy to burn the ears with the husk all gone.

    Wait, are we still talking about foreskins?

  • ||

    Unshucked on the grill so you can get carmelization of the kernels. But Warty's way is not bad either.

    Chipotle Butter

    Two sticks salted butter
    1 (small) can of chipoltes in adobo sauce
    1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice
    2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper

    Soften the butter to room temperature. Finely dice the peppers and reserve the sauce. Add all ingredients to a deep bowl and whip with a handmixer (or stand mixer) until everything is incorporated and the butter takes in some air (5 minutes or so.) Spoon chipotle butter onto parchment or wax paper and roll in a tube. Store in freezer, removing for about ten minutes prior to use.

  • ||

    Fructose is also in fruit, so are we not supposed to have our servings of fruits and vegetables now?

  • ||

    isn't it more like, the *amount* of sugar in our food? we get more energy in this higher amount of sugar we eat (compared to pre-modern days) but we need to use less. sitting a lot. simple formula. i mean i guess this post indicates that sugar just happens to be delivered largely via HFCS in our food system today. and subsidies prevent market forces from imposing certain sensible demand-based price restrictions on how much food we take in, hiding the true cost. (PS including the communal cost, such as the runoff from commercial farms that pollutes the shit out of places like the mississippi delta, of all that excessive production of cornmeal to feed cows (who are supposed to eat grass) to supply beef etc that's also consequently way cheaper than it makes sense for it to be.)

  • Ward S. Denker||

    I'm so tired of people assuming that anyone that does not subscribe to their alarmist bullshit position of HFCS is some kind of shill for the corn subsidy.

    Here's a secret: We know the science and we hate the subsidy on corn + tariff on cane sugar at the same time.

    Minor quibbles on taste aside (some people should be able to taste the difference), there is nothing in HFCS that isn't in sucrose. It's a tiny difference in chemistry - one very weak bond between the glucose and fructose molecules, 10% more fructose - and that's it.

    As for the few studies out there that have suggested that there are minuscule differences between the two types of sugar triggering "fullness," so the hell what? You don't drink soda to feel full. That's what food is for.

    You're libertarians, right? Since when did you start sounding like anti-market liberal idiots? Your weight is your personal responsibility. When did you start disregarding all of the science that has been done which has shown there is no reason to link obesity to HFCS? Correlation does not imply causation!

    You'll decry the fact that you're being compared to hippie food purists, but that is exactly what you're being.

    All it is is an irrational fear of anything that isn't "natural" but came about as a product of chemistry. Chemistry has improved our lives and made us live longer. Why do you doubt the credentials of the scientists who extend your lives with new drugs, yet decry the very same scientists who devise a profitable way to extract simple sugar from a different kind of plant than the one you are used to?

    Fuck the corn lobby, their subsidies, and the sugar tariffs. That said, stop spreading your irrational fear to others, you whiners, and take some responsibility for your own weight and let others take responsibility for theirs. That's what libertarianism is all about!

  • will||

    Yes, yes, all very well and contrarian, but there is a point that is being missed: HFCS is really fucking gross. I don't care what the science on the books says. I know that I feel like shit after I have HFCS, but feel fine after cane sugar.

    If you can't taste the difference, you A) don't have tastebuds or B) aren't actually tasting different things.

    And fuck corn/sugar tariffs. Obviously.

  • Well Fuckity Fuck Fuck Fuck!||

    "You're libertarians, right?"

    Drink!
    (pours 4 shots of Appleton Estates rum into glass already half-full of HFCS Coca Cola)

  • Taktix®||

    Just because I don't like something doesn't mean I want it regulated. I just don't fucking like it -- that's all, stop reading too much into it...

  • ||

    I'm so tired of people assuming that anyone that does not subscribe to their alarmist bullshit position of HFCS is some kind of shill for the corn subsidy.

    Because the most pressing issue in the world of libertarianism is the truth behind corn syrup.

  • TofuSushi||

    "Because the most pressing issue in the world of libertarianism is the truth behind corn syrup."

    AND EATING YOUR LIVERS!!!

  • ||

    Hate corn subsidies, generally prefer sugar to corn syrup, not sure there's anything to worry about here, medically speaking.

    Next!

  • J P||

    "HFCS...is much easier to break down...hence it spikes insulin levels faster, leading to increased risk of diabetes and increased (or non-decreased) hunger."

    Does a faster spike of insulin increase the risk of diabetes if the amount of insulin is the same? This would seem to implicate any kind of food that causes a faster release of insulin, i.e., simple sugars and carbohydrates. I think the amount is more important, meaning that sugar substitutes that release the same amount of insulin are not causing increases in diabetes risk.

  • ||

    Just got back from the Dominican Republic last week, where our hotel was thoughtful enough to stock (and restock) 3 bottles of Coke (and one bottle of Coke Light) in the in-room mini-fridge. The Coke there is made with REAL SUGAR!

    And it tastes exactly the same.

  • Ward S. Denker||

    "Yes, yes, all very well and contrarian, but there is a point that is being missed: HFCS is really fucking gross. I don't care what the science on the books says."

    There is truth in this, but it's a bit out of proportion to reality.

    "I know that I feel like shit after I have HFCS, but feel fine after cane sugar."

    This is the placebo effect (on the part of sucrose) and pretty much nothing more. You believe there's a difference, so there is one.

    Don't be offended, though. Most people are subject to the placebo effect. That's why it's used as a scientific control for so many studies.

    "If you can't taste the difference, you A) don't have tastebuds or B) aren't actually tasting different things."

    You'll probably be surprised but there are varying degrees of taste among humans.

    Supertasters make up about 25% of the population. You may fall into this category. About 50% of the population are medium tasters (often called just "tasters") and 25% are nontasters. You probably know a few nontasters - they often take their coffee black.

    Armed with that knowledge, about 75% of the population can't really tell the difference (or can only detect a very slight difference) between HFCS and table sugar.

    My wife is a biologist who used to work in a lab that studies taste cells and the various pathways in them. I've learned all kinds of things about taste that I never expected to learn because of that. ;)

  • ||

    We get Mexican Coke at a dive close to my house. Definitely tastes different from the usual stuff.

  • Taktix®||

    The HFCS panic is a plot by the MexicanGovernment to take over our SodaPop industry and our BottlingJarbs...

  • Kolohe||

    You probably know a few nontasters - they often take their coffee black.

    Or they're actually tasters who don't drink shitty coffee.

  • ||

    You probably know a few nontasters - they often take their coffee black.
    And completely miss the nuances of expertly prepared food. I know, I'm one of them.

  • Ward S. Denker||

    "And completely miss the nuances of expertly prepared food. I know, I'm one of them."

    Don't feel too bad. I'm a supertaster, as is my wife; we've both taken the PROP test. It sounds like it might be a good thing, but it isn't. The bitter pathways are particularly sensitive.

    It's probably best to be a taster.

    A humorous anecdote, for the sadistic among you: my wife didn't tell me what the PROP strip was supposed to taste like, just that it tests your taste sensitivity. Needless to say, if you're a taster it's a little bit bitter and if you're a supertaster it's exceedingly bitter. She thought my reaction to it was pretty funny since she sprung it on me without warning.

    In a similar way to how you can't get the stink of gasoline off of something it has touched, it's hard to get that horribly bitter taste of PROP off of your tongue.

  • T||

    stop spreading your irrational fear to others

    Nobody wants my irrational fears. If they did, I'd be a politician.

  • d||

    Does a faster spike of insulin increase the risk of diabetes if the amount of insulin is the same? This would seem to implicate any kind of food that causes a faster release of insulin, i.e., simple sugars and carbohydrates. I think the amount is more important, meaning that sugar substitutes that release the same amount of insulin are not causing increases in diabetes risk.

    Yes, higher GI (glycemic index) leads to faster absorption and faster insulin release in those who are unlucky enough not to have hypoglycemic tendencies (= most of the population), which makes the sugar disappear from the bloodstream more quickly, causing hunger and (if you drink the same shit while eating to sate this new hunger) the whole insulin rollercoaster ride starts over again. And don't get me started on how insulin enables fat storage, how repeated high blood sugar levels cause protein glycation, leading to arterial damage and cholesterol build-up (repairing the shit that sugar has done to the proteins in the arterial walls), etc., etc.

    So, yes, since insulin spikes coincide with sugar absorption, they are a good indicator of (pre-)diabetic disease.

    If sugar substitutes caused a severe insulin spike, you would go into an insulin-induced coma and die for lack of blood sugar to power your heart and pulmonary apparatus (among other vital processes).

  • d||

    Oh, and fuck nannyist policies and fuck corn subsidies!

  • d||

    ...unlucky enough TO have hypoglycemic tendencies...

  • d||

    ...All it is is an irrational fear of anything that isn't "natural" but came about as a product of chemistry.

    On the contrary, it is rational, given a thorough understanding of the complexity of nature, to mistrust any synthetically created substance that claims to have all and only the effects of its naturally-occurring inspiration. Assuming that synthetics are less effective or more dangerous should be the null hypothesis, since synthetically generated substances (which, I am well aware, are still created by natural processes, even if they are not 'natural') are always created by humans who have made simplifying assumptions about what the 'active' or 'most important' chemical components are, not to mention that they are often distorted close cousins of their natural inspirations. Witness, e.g., aspirin; it causes allergic reactions and intestinal bleeding. Feverfew (the herbal inspiration) causes neither. Granted, aspirin is cheaper, more potent and more plentiful, but, given the choice (and the money), a rational person possessed of the facts would choose feverfew. (Or flaxseed/fish/hempseed oil, if your goal is to thin your blood.)

    Just an example, but you get the point.

    OK. I'm not wasting any more time on this thread.

  • ||

    The moral and economic case against sugar tariffs & quotas (which amount to a subsidy for HFCS) is impeccable. The scientific case is really pseudo-science. When I was in college a lot of people with lab privileges ordered a lot of pure fructose which seemed to disappear into coffee and was never used in experiments.

  • Ward S. Denker||

    "Witness, e.g., aspirin; it causes allergic reactions and intestinal bleeding."

    Aspirin is a particularly terrible example to try and make such a case with. Willow bark is the substance that was originally used and is a little bit different than the synthetic molecule we buy in bottles today.

    The difference in chemistry is actually due to the fact that we changed it on purpose to make it much less damaging to the stomach than willow bark is. In essence, pharmaceutically produced acetylsalicylic acid is more effective, far more pure, and less harmful to humans than naturally occurring salicin. Chalk one up for human innovation.

  • ||

    I'm enjoying the flavor of an African lobster pizza as I munch on some celery. Deeelightful.

    I love food as much as anybody, but that one left me blinking, PL. And curious...I've never heard of lobster on a pizza. Tasty?

    KMW,

    Interesting post. I do not have a particularly strong sweet tooth, and I almost never eat anything sweet (soda, candy, whatever). My wife got me to do a side-by-side with HFCS root beer and cane sugar root beer, and I couldn't tell the difference. Oh, well.

    Mr. Insulin-spike guy,

    That's a slippery slope you're skidding down there. Eating sugar or HFCS is not going to give anybody diabetes by itself. It is generally the combination of a chronic poor diet with a chronic sedentary lifestyle, combined with genetic predisposing factors, that results in DM Type II, and you probably know that. There are other causative factors, however, that have little or nothing to do with anything the patient can control.

    Many Type II patients can control their illness with diet and exercise alone: avoiding insulin spikes and promoting glucose uptake via skeletal muscle action is healthy. That goes for people without diabetes, as well.

  • ||

    how repeated high blood sugar levels cause protein glycation, leading to arterial damage and cholesterol build-up (repairing the shit that sugar has done to the proteins in the arterial walls), etc., etc.

    Those are complications of chronic, long-term, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, not the result of drinking some soda. People do not develop those complications, or diabetic neuropathy, overnight.

  • ||

    OK. I'm not wasting any more time on this thread.

    "I'm retreating to the safety of my echo chamber."

  • ||

    it's pretty obvious what's going on with this. People like sweet stuff. But they feel guilty about not eating healthy.

    Along comes a theory that tells them that not all sugar is bad for you - just the kind made from corn.

    Voila - down with the evil HFCS, up with sugar cane.
    Now we can all feel good about drinking Cokes again, as long as they come from Mexico.

    This will last approximately until HFCS gets driven into a minority market segment. Then everyone will realize they are still fat and unhealthy.

  • mark||

    Has anyone heard the conspiracy theory that they introduced New Coke so they could reformulate Coke Classic with HFCS and reintroduce it so nobody would know the difference? Genius, if it's true!

    I don't get how a blog which routinely posts about people "going Galt" can't see the value in the mass-awareness of the grosness (politically and nutritionally) that is HFCS. If I choose not to drink HFCS because I think it tastes bad, is unhealthy, or to say fuck you to the corn lobby, why does Reason care all of a sudden what my motivations are?

  • mark||

    This will last approximately until HFCS gets driven into a minority market segment.

    So never then?

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