Sweetest Enemies: Sugar Pot and Corn Syrup Kettle

December 8, 2015 in Food Economics, Foodland, Health Claims by Joyce Bunderson

Which is blacker, the pot or the kettle? They have figured it out between the two industries, and the blackest one probably got some money from the slightly less black one. But they won’t tell us which one it was. You have to wonder who was advising the sugar/high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) producers. Certainly it appears that the lawyers needed to make a bundle. Surely, by now they have figured out that they really stand together as villains against public health. They filed a bitter legal battle in 2011. Now, after years of delays and legal finagling they announced their private settlement on November 20, 2015.

  • “The parties continue their commitments to practices that encourage safe and healthful use of their products, including moderation in the consumption of table sugar, high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners," the litigants said in a joint statement.

Does their joint statement make me feel warm, safe and comfortable? Am I so gratified as a public health professional that they are going to be considering ‘moderation in consumption?’ Is it reassuring to public health that these two industrial behemoths claim they are committed to safe and healthful use of their products? Hardly! By the way, if you follow my link to the joint statement, don’t miss the list of the major sugar companies and corn refiners listed on the same page; these are not small companies.

The HFCS producers were accused of falsely claiming that their product was as healthful as sugar. Yeah, that’s really bad; ‘cause we know how very healthful sugar is. What I truly love about this case is that the HFCS folks hit back with all the dirt on the sugar industry and how they have long engaged in an unsavory campaign of misinformation. Imagine that?

This certainly must be one of the best examples of the pot calling the kettle black, as has ever happened. Both sweeteners have been blamed for being a factor in diabetes, obesity and tooth decay. But let’s not pretend that those serious factors are the only impact of their empty calories. Whenever we’re replacing nutrient-dense foods with either of these two sweeteners, we are diminishing our quality of nutrition.

Looking back, it appears that the problem was greed. There’s certainly a humongous profit margin in both products – it seems that they would have had enough sense to avoid corporate lawsuit. Big sugar was seeking $1.5 billion and Big Corn Syrup - $530 million. But the legal guns were pulled out when sugar was looking at diminishing markets – then they both settled amid falling overall demand for sweeteners. (Yippee!!!) Whoever did better in the settlement may possibly get a bigger share of the diminished pie. Reuters shares the facts about the diminishing market.

  • “In 1999, the average American consumed 85.3 lb of corn sweeteners per year, compared with 66.4 lb of sugar, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. However, by 2014 corn sweetener consumption had dropped to 60.7 lb, while sugar consumption stood at 68.4 lb.

Overall, the average American consumed 131.1 lb of sweetener in 2014, down from 153.2 lb in 1999.”

For some years the sugar people were not too sweet on the HFCS people biting into their market. They got a new CEO who went after HFCS with a serious focus. So they had some “scientific research” done. The bottom line was that HFCS was shown not to be healthy, but the snag was that sugar could hardly claim it is an example of a health food by any stretch of the data.

Their research was probably about the claim that the body sees no difference in the two products, not about, which is unhealthier. They likely would not want to contribute to that kind of research.

I guess they decided that they better get their sticky selves together, ‘cause they both were getting lots of negative press with the very public suit and countersuit. Do notice that Americans are down by about 22 pounds a year since 1999. Still the numbers calculate out to just barely under 6 ounces (5.75) a day per person. Hopefully, lots of that sweetener is going to waste, because that is still way too much. That’s about 638 calories from sweeteners per day per person; and of course, we know that many people are not eating sugar. This leaves plenty of work to get down to the American Heart Association’s goal of 100 calories per day for women and 150 calories a day for men from sweeteners based on those notorious nutritionally empty calories.

My suggestion is that you don’t rely on Big Sugar or on Big HFCS (pots and kettles) to look out for what’s a safe, healthful or moderate level of consumption of either of their products. Continue to discover products in which no additional sugar is added, and exercise great caution in consuming those with substantial sugar or HFCS added. This is the season (between Halloween and New Year’s Day) for the highest sugar consumption of the year. It’s a good time to make plans on setting limits on what and how much you’ll allow yourself during the holidays. Potential payoff – better health.