Learn the Lingo
There are so many ways to say sugar, it's easy to get confused. Refer to this glossary when scanning ingredients labels.
Sucrose: White sugar is made up of sucrose, which naturally occurs in sugarcane or sugar beets. Sucrose contains equal parts glucose and fructose.
Fructose: A naturally occurring sugar found in fruits and vegetables that produces a lower post-meal rise in blood glucose than sucrose.
Glucose: The body obtains this naturally occurring sugar from carbohydrates, which are composed of chains of glucose.
Lactose: A sugar derived from milk.
Maltodextrin: A carbohydrate derived from starch that's often used as filler in processed foods.
Corn syrup: A syrup made from cornstarch that's composed primarily of glucose.
Crystalline fructose: A cornstarch-derived, crystallized sweetener that contains close to 100 percent fructose and is found in sweetened foods and drinks.
High fructose corn syrup: A cornstarch-derived syrup that's made up of a combination of fructose and glucose. It is typically used as a sweetener and preservative in processed foods. See below for more information.
The latest on high-fructose corn syrup
Think most of the sugar you're eating is cane sugar? Scan the ingredients list on your packaged products—sweets, colas, bread, ketchup, and countless others. Chances are they're sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. The liquid sweetener, which is cheaper than sugar (thanks to government corn subsidies and tariffs on imported sugar) and can extend a product's shelf life, counts for nearly half of all the caloric sweeteners Americans consume. Since 2004, when a landmark study linked high-fructose corn syrup to the escalating obesity epidemic, the sweetener has become highly controversial. Adding to the controversy is a current Corn Refiners Association ad campaign defending the product.
High-fructose corn syrup is a thick, sweet liquid derived from corn. During processing, the glucose in cornstarch is converted into fructose. The final product contains either 42 percent fructose and 53 percent glucose or 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose. Compared with sucrose (sugar), which is half fructose and half glucose, high-fructose corn syrup isn't too different. That's the main argument made by scientists who say the hullabaloo over the sweetener is unfounded. A 2008 review of data on high-fructose corn syrup and sugar, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, said it was unlikely that high-fructose corn syrup caused the current obesity epidemic. The American Medical Association's Council on Science and Public Health came to the same conclusion in a report last year. Both reviews suggest the obesity epidemic has instead stemmed from an increase in total food consumption. In other words, supersized soda has done more for Americans' burgeoning waistlines than the type of sugar it contains.
Critics of the liquid sweetener, pointing to the 2004 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article that spurred the high-fructose corn syrup debate, say there's an association between the rise in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (most of which contain high-fructose corn syrup) and the rise in obesity in the United States. Though the jury's still out on whether the sweetener is as detrimental to public health as previously thought, it would be wise to eat high-fructose corn syrup in moderation. Most products that contain the sweetener (think packaged desserts) are high in fat or saturated fat, loaded with carbohydrates, and nutritionally deficient. So instead of snacking on canned fruit—the syrup it's often submerged in contains high-fructose corn syrup—eat it raw. Choose 100 percent fruit juice over drinks "made with fruit juices." And pick plain milk over strawberry flavored.