Bakers Journal

Features Ingredients Technical
The final proof: October 2010


September 24, 2010
By Jane Dummer


Topics

When it comes to sugar and consumers, it’s
a confusing marketplace these days. Where did the communication go wrong?

When it comes to sugar and consumers, it’s
a confusing marketplace these days. Where did the communication go wrong?



Recent media headlines report that high levels of fructose in people’s diets
are responsible for a variety of health problems, ranging from obesity to
cancer. Journalists are using the terms fructose and high fructose corn syrup
interchangeably, confusing consumers. I think some of the confusion may have
resulted in the name stating high fructose corn syrup. However, this past
August, Sara Lee in the U.S. announced it would remove high fructose corn syrup
from its Soft and Smooth and 100 percent Whole Wheat bread lines because their
consumers had asked them to. Fructose and high fructose corn syrup are not
chemically the same.

While fructose is made up entirely of the
fructose monosaccharide, high fructose corn syrup consists of roughly equal
parts fructose and glucose. Fructose is 100 per cent the monosaccharide
fructose, whereas high fructose corn syrup is two monosaccharide compounds,
averaging out to be about 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent fructose,
depending on the grade.

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In many countries, high fructose corn syrup is a cheap alternative to expensive
sweeteners. For decades, corn syrup reigned as the industrial sweetener of
choice in America. Trade barriers made sugar pricier for American consumers,
and corn subsidies made the grain-derived corn syrup far less expensive. In
recent years increased ethanol production has boosted the price of corn, and
consequently, corn-based sweeteners. The average price of high fructose corn
syrup during the 2009 fiscal year was 31 cents per pound, while sugar prices
averaged 36 cents per pound, according to the United States Department of
Agriculture. 

Sandra Marsden, registered dietitian and president of the Canadian Sugar
Institute, explains that the price of Canadian sugar is significantly lower
than the price of sugar in most developed countries, including America and
Europe, where the costs of domestic subsidies for farmers are passed on to
consumers. In fact, Canada’s comparatively low-priced sugar has been cited as
an important competitive advantage in encouraging several food processors to
locate in Canada. It has also minimized the need for cheaper alternatives.

Dr. Thomas Wolever, professor in the department of nutritional sciences at
University of Toronto, and president of Glycemic Index Laboratories, says that
sucrose is widely used in the Canadian food industry. Unlike fructose, a
monosaccharide, sucrose is a disaccharide. Once consumed, the human body
converts sucrose into glucose and fructose (the same two compounds that make up
high fructose corn syrup). Wolever adds that humans metabolize glucose and
fructose differently. Therefore, when scientific studies report health concerns
about the consumption of fructose alone, we need to review the data to verify
if the diets in the study are artificially contrived (not resembling a typical
diet) and if there is over feeding of one particular sugar or ingredient, so that
we can fully understand and interpret the information.

John White, PhD, President, White Technical
Research, Argenta, Illinois sites a recent scientific study conducted by
Melanson et al. in Nutrition 23 (2007),103-112 that when fructose is consumed
in the form of high fructose corn syrup the measured metabolic responses do not
differ from the fructose in sucrose. Dr. White further describes high fructose
corn syrup as having many functionalities compared to sucrose. For example, it
is already in a liquid form, it more fermentable, it holds moisture better and
it is cheaper in most developed countries outside of Canada.  Dr. White feels confusion stems from
ignorance on the interpretation from scientific studies with artificial
diets.  He states that we consume a
mixture of sugars (over consumption but still a mixture) in a typical North
American diet and not just fructose or glucose isolated in large
quantities. 

As I was researching the information for
this article, I became very concerned that the media (even qualified health
journalists) have done a very poor job of translating scientific information
about sugars – including disaccharides, monosaccharides, sweeteners and sugar
substitutes – into accurate, easy to understand information for the consumer.
It seems that carbohydrate chemistry and human metabolism of it is more complex
than we originally thought and understood. 

As North America continues to struggle with lifestyle-related chronic diseases
such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, we are still looking for an easy-to-blame
culprit, whether it be fat, sodium, fructose or high fructose corn syrup. This
type of finger pointing only brings confusion to the marketplace. The answer to
chronic diseases caused by lifestyle mismanagement is multi-faceted.
Over-consumption of foods and beverages and under-activity of the consumer is
the foundation of the problem. The food industry has turned to rebalancing by
focusing on cutting calories while maintaining taste and flavour in an effort
to fix the problem. For example, one cookie company removed half the sugar
(sucrose) from its products and replaced it with a mixture of soluble fibre and
low calorie sugar substitute, creating a lower calorie option for a population
plagued by over-consumption. The question is whether the consumer will eat
fewer of the rebalanced cookies, or will they actually eat more, defeating the
purpose of offering a healthier option? Only time will tell, as we continue to
follow news about rising obesity rates, the nutrients we eat and the industry’s
response to ever-changing customer demand.


 


Jane Dummer, RD, is a leading dietitian for
the Canadian food and nutrition industry.  Jane offers services
specializing in agri-food, functional foods and food Safety.  Visit her
website, www.janedummer.com .


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