The Menace of High Fructose Corn Syrup Confirmed?

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Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of certain H&R commenters, reason.com readers are exquisitely aware of the menace of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). (I am confident that any rumors to the effect that these anti-HFCS H&R commenters are in the pay of Big Glucose will prove to be baseless.) Now, a new study by researchers from Rutgers University being released today at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society finds that HFCS in carbonated beverages produces deleterious compounds that may contribute to diabetes. To wit:

Researchers have found new evidence that soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly in children. In a laboratory study of commonly consumed carbonated beverages, the scientists found that drinks containing the syrup had high levels of reactive compounds that have been shown by others to have the potential to trigger cell and tissue damage that could cause the disease, which is at epidemic levels.

HFCS is a sweetener found in many foods and beverages, including non-diet soda pop, baked goods, and condiments. It has become the sweetener of choice for many food manufacturers because it is considered more economical, sweeter and easier to blend into beverages than table sugar. Some researchers have suggested that high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to an increased risk of diabetes as well as obesity, a claim which the food industry disputes. Until now, little laboratory evidence has been available on the topic.

In the current study, Chi-Tang Ho and colleagues conducted chemical tests among 11 different carbonated soft drinks containing HFCS. They found 'astonishingly high' levels of reactive carbonyls in those beverages. These undesirable and highly-reactive compounds associated with "unbound" fructose and glucose molecules are believed to cause tissue damage, the researchers said. By contrast, reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar, whose fructose and glucose components are "bound" and chemically stable, they noted.

Some of my colleagues point to evidence that HFCS may not be all that dangerous, but as ideological environmentalists always ask, is it possible to be too careful? I say, end the embargo against imported sugar now! Make bourbon, not HFCS!

Disclosure: I drink diet sodas. I am not in the pay of Big Aspartame, Big Sucralose, Big Saccharine or Big Sugar.

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  1. Ethanol or HFCS . . tought choice

  2. HFCS causes sloppy finger syndrome

  3. It seems we can measure and break down things to such a minute level we keep finding ‘new’ health riSks.My grandmother always said all things in moderation.I think that’s good advice.

  4. I thought you were faithful to me…….

  5. I predict that these researchers will go out to their mailbox one day and find a 7.62×39 cartridge in it. Then Michael Mann will make a movie about it starring Russel Crowe. Archer-Daniels Midland will be demonized. There will be Oscar nominations.

  6. I predict that this thread will rock.

  7. I’ll always be true to Big Honey ……

  8. What about Big Molasses?

  9. You can take my bottle of Karo Dark when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. It’s that double shot of Karo every morning that keeps me going!

  10. What about Big Molasses?

    I homebrewed my annual New Years Beer last night (a Belgian Strong Dark Ale), the extra sugar addition was 2 lbs of Billingtons Molasses Sugar.

    Unrefined sugar….mmmmmm…….

  11. Another excuse to drop a buck fifty on my pure cane sugar, Dublin Dr Peppers. That’s the stuff baby.

    Love them Mexican cokes too.

  12. Never mind that shit. BOURBON!!!!!

    Bourbon season (fall) is nigh! FOOTBALL SEASON!

    BEAR DOWN, CHICAGO BEARS

  13. My grandmother always said all things in moderation

    She said that way too much.

  14. Bourbon season (fall) is nigh!

    Blasphemy! Bourbon is always in season. Support your local distillers! Unless, unlike me, you dont live in KY, then Support KY distillers!

  15. how about a study that says “people already at risk for getting type II diabetes are going to find some way or another to get it, damn it!”

  16. PIGSKIN BUS TO TUNA TOWN!!!!!

  17. Support KY distillers!

    Long-lasting or the tingly kind?

  18. Viva la Buffalo Trace!

    End frackin’ subsidies (‘cept maybe for barley).

  19. VM,
    I am disturbed to learn that your Nordic brethren are contributing to global warming.

  20. Herrn Carter.

    Keep that in mind. We use this power for good.

    Only because we want to.

    (that was uncle Gary in the pic. He’s quite flatulent, as well)

    BOURBON SEASON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    and – didja hear that the time and money you spent in the Green Mountain state was wasted? Check out the quibbledix in the edumikashun thread!

  21. edit: time and money… were wasted.

    dammit.

  22. I know, since I cannot design a widget on AutoCAD I have nothing to contribut to society. DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND THE LABOR THEORY OF VALUE?????

  23. Isn’t HFCS only economical because of taxes on sugar and corn subsidies? Maybe the upshot of a study like this is to eliminate one or the other. Not that it would happen, but one can dream.

    You may now return to your scheduled snark.

  24. Speaking of Bourbon and refined sugar, I talked to an ATF agent once who investigated bootlegging in Western VA. He busted a store which was supplying the major bootleggers. During the investigation, he found that this one general store was Dixie Crystal’s second biggest customer. The only bigger customer was Hershey’s.

    This anecdote offered only for it’s weirdness value, not an endorsement of the goverment’s war on private distilling.

  25. aybe the upshot of a study like this is to eliminate one or the other.

    they’d probably just increase the taxes on HFCS.

  26. I switched to the iced teas that contain actual sucrose, and now HFCS tastes like dog shit.

    It tastes like chemicals, like walked into a lab, grabbed a random beaker, and consumed the green, viscous liquid contained within.

    Not that I want to stop anyone from drinking that chemically-tasting shit, but I didn’t need some jerk-off study to tell me that it sucks.

  27. BOURBON SEASON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Why would anybody want to shoot poor defenseless bourbons?

  28. Taktix, tell me about it. All the new-found rage about McDonalds taking over the world and turning the poor into walking lardbuckets pisses me off for the same reason. Where were these self-righteous assholes when I was railing against the god-awful suckitude of their burgers in the 1980s? Because they were teh suck.

    Oh, and free-fuckin-tibet my ass. Most of those spunkmonkeys were all hunky-dory with good collectivists until they got Most Favored Nation trading status.

  29. lunchstealer

    Why would anybody want to shoot poor defenseless bourbons?

    If you had lived in 17th/18th century France, you would realize there is no such thing as a poor, defenseless bourbon.

  30. Corn subsidies and sugar tariffs result in the use of HFCS instead of imported sugar as a sweetener. Ethanol subsidies and ethanol and sugar tariffs result in ethanol in the US being almost exclusively from corn and not from imported sugar or imported ethanol.

    Winner: Corn, ADM
    Loser: Everyone else

    Maybe Iowa shouldn’t be the first primary/caucus state.

  31. Just quit drinking your fizzy sugar water, you undisciplined bunch of fatasses. You sicken me.

  32. “Why would anybody want to shoot poor defenseless bourbons?”

    oooh. you should see their DEMAND KURVE for shots!

  33. Here in NM it is easy to get the Mexican Cane Sugar Coke — the real original formula — and it tastes so much better than the HFCS shit.

    Like many here I do wear the tin-foil hat from time to time. I believe that the “New Coke” debacle (Max Headroom anyone?) was a way to transition to HFCS without people noticing. The switch from Cane Old Coke to New Coke (which tasted like Pepsi) the to HFCS Classic Coke was a way to take advantage of the price diff that HFCS offered.

  34. I’m just sayin – don’t hunt the bourbons! They are for sipping, not shooting.

  35. Garth,

    If that is in fact when Coke switched to HFCS, then that’s not too tin-foil-ish of a theory, because it would be pretty smart of Coke, whereas “New” Coke was so fucking dumb it didn’t make sense.

  36. Reason # 6,569,302 to end corn subsidies.

  37. Like many here I do wear the tin-foil hat from time to time. I believe that the “New Coke” debacle (Max Headroom anyone?) was a way to transition to HFCS without people noticing. The switch from Cane Old Coke to New Coke (which tasted like Pepsi) the to HFCS Classic Coke was a way to take advantage of the price diff that HFCS offered.

    I have long thought this.

    If there were more competition in the soda market, this HFCS crappola never would have worked. An unfree market lead to unfree tastebuds and diabetes. Diet soda is all right, but still a poor substitute for cane soda.

    The main problem here was not corn subsidies, but rather market power and attendant diminished competition on product quality.

  38. Lunch:

    indeed!

    Back to the topic at hand:
    BOURBON SEASON. FOOTBALL! GO BEARS!

  39. I once had a fellow visiting from England tell me that the U.S government forced the change to HFCS to keep the U.S. population from rioting. The implication being that something in HFCS makes us docile so we won’t revolt against the government. My wife kicked me in the leg under the table before I could say anything. The guy was serious.

  40. the U.S government forced the change to HFCS

    The US government forced the change because executives from Coke and Pepsi convinced them to, using money.

  41. Bourbon: Woodford Reserve.

    It’s made about 15 miles from my house. They give you samples on the tour and used barrel plugs you can use for smoking meat (I save mine for Thanksgiving turkeys.)

  42. I would remind people that I have the copyright to the ironical phrase, “they can pry ‘insert pertinent item of discussion’ out of ‘pertinent description’ cold, dead, fingers.”
    So, its, they can have my HFCS when they pry it out of my cold, dead, sweet, sticky pull-top tab ringed, fingers.

  43. Sugar –

    Woodford – that’s in the pretty cool bottle. Not “cool” as in “ooh, I’m bored. What can this bottle double as”, which is the Grant’s scotch bottle, but cool, nonetheless?

    “used barrel plugs”.
    [fights off urge to make that vaguely naughty…]
    *success! Internet five!

  44. So, its, they can have my HFCS when they pry it out of my cold, dead, sweet, sticky pull-top tab ringed, fingers.

    Unless, of course, they had to be amputated because of the diabetes.

  45. VM,

    Although, the bottle also doubles as a “it very hard to pour a shot” bottle as well.

  46. Woodford Reserve is real nice.

    When I was in Lexington I was drinking Blanton’s the whole time.

  47. In the current study, Chi-Tang Ho and colleagues conducted chemical tests among 11 different carbonated soft drinks containing HFCS. They found ‘astonishingly high’ levels of reactive carbonyls in those beverages. … By contrast, reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar, whose fructose and glucose components are “bound” and chemically stable, they noted.

    Uh… Why the hell are they comparing HFCS sweetened soda to table sugar? Why don’t they take the simple step of comparing it to sugar sweetened soda?

    And lemme guess… Drinking HFCS soda while driving puts you at a fourfold risk for having an accident over drinking sugar soda while driving.

    Of course there should be no tariffs on sugar or subsidies for corn yadda yadda

  48. Ska,

    Blanton’s is very nice. Did you ever manage to get any Basil Hayden? Delicious “light” bourbon. Also, if you like WR for the sweetness, Knob Creek is wonderful and slightly cheaper. They are both small batch bourbon from Jim Beam (which, IMO, is horrid.)

    Also, if someone else is paying, try Jefferson’s Reserve the next time you’re in KY. One of those treats that rarely makes it for sale out of state. (It’s a “very small batch” bourbon, instead of mixing 200-300 barrels for bottling, the mix is batches of 8-12.)

  49. Sugar –

    good calls.

    A sweeter one is Wild Turkey’s Rare Breed. One I like cuz it’s rough is “Old Weller 107” or something like that. Cheap. Rough.

    Kinda like my… um…. never mind.

    Jeff’s reserve. Good. Mrs. Moose and I are planning a bourbon tasting trip sometime this fall (she went to college in southern Indiana and bourbon was a gift from the other side of the river!)

    Also – doesn’t Warren live in Evansville, IN, n now? he’s pretty close to bourbon country!

  50. Good call – I’ve had Basil Hayden, very eassy to drink. My friend owns a bar and has both Woodford Reserve and Basil Hayden.

    Knob Creek and Maker’s Mark are the only premium bourbons you see in most normal bars where I live. Other bourbons are only going to be in places that specifically cater to that type of drinker.

  51. Like MikeP said, one relevant comparison is with sugar-sweetened soda.

    Another relevant question is whether the change in risk associated with HFCS vs. sugar is comparable to the change in risk associated with consuming more calories in the first place.

    I still suspect that overall calorie consumption and exercise matter far more than the type of sweetener. I could be wrong, however.

    Oh, and sugar tariffs should be abolished, as should corn subsidies, yadda yadda.

  52. Why don’t didn’t they take the simple step of comparing it to sugar sweetened soda back around 1981 so as not to unwittingly cause an epidemic?

    Corrected it 4 ya!

  53. Oooh oooh, Dave W.! Pick me!

    Is the answer you are looking for market power and attendant diminished competition on product quality?

    Because if it isn’t, I’m going to be disappointed.

    Of course, in an industry where Coke and Pepsi will spend millions upon millions in a single advertising campaign in order to swing one percent of the cola market share, it is utterly obvious that there is too little competition.

  54. Sweetened sodas also compete with other beverages. If you want a sweet, cold beverage with caffeine, there’s always Starbucks. If you just want sweet and cold there’s plenty of juices and similar beverages out there. Looking only at colas is to ignore much of the competition.

  55. So, its, they can have my HFCS when they pry it out of my cold, dead, sweet, sticky pull-top tab ringed, fingers.

    Unless, of course, they had to be amputated because of the diabetes.

    Whoa, and Dave W. wins the thread!

  56. VM,

    Did she go to USI? (Or whatever they are calling it nowadays?) I grew up in Henderson. I used to go over there all the time to see friends. (I dated a girl from Newburg that went there.)

    And, if you have any interest in my favorite semi-obscure sport, campus has a disc golf course now.

  57. Sugar – Hanover college in Madison, IN.

    Frisbee golf rocks!

    good post, Dave W! I lol’d!

  58. Of course, in an industry where Coke and Pepsi will spend millions upon millions in a single advertising campaign in order to swing one percent of the cola market share, it is utterly obvious that there is too little competition.

    1. That isn’t why they have those campaigns. The money is spent to erect barriers to entry for would-be market entrants.

    2. Even if Coke and Pepsi really were comepting for each other’s market share at the margin (like back when they had the taste test commercials in the late 1970s), two virtually identical approaches to supplying a market is best described as a degenerate case of competition.

  59. Yes, I must admit that the line about amputated fingers clearly wins the thread, even if I have disagreements with him on the issue at hand (hah!). So in the interest of even-handedness, I applaud his thread victory.

  60. Herrn Doktor T:

    Your 3:29 post really fingers the crux of the matter. (flashes thumb’s up)

    but now you don’t need a partner to make love to a neck stump. You can bate on your finger stumps! (jest tryin to find the silver linin’ hier)

  61. VM,

    Northern Kentucky has some awesomotastical disc golf courses if you’re going to be passing through Cincinnati. Or, if you are coming through the Louisville side, try stopping by a Liquor Barn, they always have a very full selection of bourbons.

    OK, I’m going to stop now, I sound like KY tourist board troll at this point.

  62. KY is really cool – the mountains, etc. it’s got some neat geographic diversity, etc.

    Plus, BOURBON. Nuff said!

    *passes Sugar Free one of Dave W’s amputated fingers in appreciation (plus, an excellent garnish in an Irish Whisky)
    [keed keed]

  63. Don’t forget the spring meet at Keenland, including the Maker’s Mark Mile and the Blue Grass Stakes.

  64. [slurp]Diabetic finger[slurp]

    Sweet and delicious.

    Some day I’ll make Dave pay for all those diabetic cracks.

  65. two virtually identical approaches to supplying a market is best described as a degenerate case of competition.

    I remember the last time I shopped for a car. Virtually every car had exactly four wheels. I couldn’t even go to the specialty Mexican car supplier to get a five wheeled car. Talk about your degenerate case of competition!

  66. OK, I’m going to stop now, I sound like KY tourist board troll at this point.

    Wow. That’s not a healthy sentence.

  67. lunchy,

    Be nice, my hands are all sticky with HFCS that the evil corporations made me drink.

  68. At least your stickiness is SFW.

    /hrumph. (looks for towelette)

  69. When I was young, 50 some years ago, a 6 ounce bottle of Coke had 110 calories of sweetener (sugar) in it. HFCS is twice as sweet per calorie and a 12 ounce can of coke now contains 110 calories of sweetener (HFCS).

    Eliminating HFCS from soft drinks would require doubling the calories in them.
    Talk about FAT.

  70. What the Fuck!?!?

  71. Hey, you can’t get much stronger proof than “had high levels of reactive compounds that have been shown by others to have the potential to trigger cell and tissue damage that could cause the disease, which is at epidemic levels.”

    Why, that’s practically an ironclad guarantee.

  72. Why, that’s practically an ironclad guarantee.

    True enough. A study comparing HFCS and cane consumers, and normalizing for things like body fat and weight probably would be a better way to go and certainly seems like a do-able study. Maybe someday science will get around to it.

  73. Wait, didn’t Ron Bailey already assure us that HFCS has been proven not to be any less healthy than cane sugar?

    Oops, no he didn’t. That was Jacob Sullum.

    https://www.reason.com/blog/show/114549.html

    High-Fructose Corn Syrup Unfairly Maligned, Says The New York Times

    Jacob Sullum | July 5, 2006, 3:42pm

    A story in Sunday’s New York Times debunks the idea that there is something uniquely unhealthy about high-fructose corn syrup–specifically, that it contributes to obesity in a way that other caloric sweeteners do not. To begin with, the fructose/glucose breakdown of HFCS is essentially the same as cane sugar’s. And contrary to Fat Land author Greg Critser’s argument that the cheapness of HFCS led to bigger servings, a Pepsi spokesman says “the cost of the sweetener in the product is extremely minimal to the point of not even mattering.”

    Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, sums up the case against HFCS this way: “There’s no substantial evidence to support the idea that high-fructose corn syrup is somehow responsible for obesity. If there was no high-fructose corn syrup, I don’t think we would see a change in anything important.”

    Some real beauts on that thread.

    Full Disclosure: I don’t give a rat’s ass what you drink. I’d just like to see more honesty and less confirmation-bias arrogance in the comment threads.

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