Sugar isn’t to blame for obesity, says the Sugar Association. “Ditto”, says the Corn Refiners Association about HFCS or corn syrup. There is much finger pointing these days. Sweetened food products, especially soft drinks, are being held partly responsible for America’s widening waist lines and increase in juvenile diabetes. The Sugar Association, in turn, points out that most soft drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and not sugar. It says that HFCS is used almost 15 times more than sugar, in beverages. Sugar is not part of the problem, says Andrew Briscoe, president and chief executive of the Sugar Association. Ask the Corn Refiners Association, or Dr. Chaudry and they’ll tell you HFCS and sugar are identical in the way they are used by the body. HCFS is the chemical and nutritional equivalent of sucrose (refined sugar). It has the same calories, chemical composition and is metabolized in the same way as sugar. The American Medical Association, no less, concurs.

Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, said in a New York Times article that consumers were being duped. Sweet touts that CBS Evening News with Katie Couric ran a report, “Is high fructose corn syrup really so bad?”. The report was prepared by CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller who noted that high fructose corn syrup is just sugar with an image problem.

Dr. Muhammad Munir Chaudry, President of IFANCA calls the current attitude towards sugar and HFCS unfounded in facts and an over-reaction. “It is not like one is bad and the other is good. High-fructose corn syrup found its way into everything from soda to bread and yogurt because it was 20 percent cheaper than sugar and easier to transport. There is no scientific evidence that if you eat 40 pounds of sugar or 40 pounds of HFCS per year, you would fare worse consuming one over the other. Irrespective of which one you choose, use moderation. In excess, both are bad, especially for individuals with metabolic disorders.”

Dr. Walter Willet, the chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and a prominent proponent of healthy diets had said very much the same thing, way back in 2006. “There is no substantial evidence to support the idea that high-fructose corn syrup is somehow responsible for obesity,” said Dr. Walter Willett, in a New York Times interview. “If there was no high-fructose corn syrup, I do not think we would see a change in anything important. I think there is this overreaction.””

While consumers may, unwittingly, gravitate between HFCS and sugar, exhortation to keep them from too much of the sweet stuff, doesn’t seem to be having the desired impact. Now there are rumblings of higher taxes on sodas. Some politicians have even wanted to pair a vote for increased taxes on sodas with a decrease in tax on bottled water and diet soda.

According to a study published in the March 8, 2010 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, a price hike on unhealthy foods may keep adults from reaching for an extra handful of chips or can of soda. Over a period of twenty years, from 1986 to 2006, 5,115 young adults, ages 18 to 30, were assessed for their dietary habits. Researchers found that a 10% price increase was associated with a 7% decrease in the amount of calories consumed from soda and a 12% decrease in calories consumed from pizza. Researchers approximated that an 18% tax on such foods would result in approximately 56 fewer consumed calories per person, each day. “Our findings suggest that national, state, or local policies to alter the price of less-healthful foods and beverages may be one possible mechanism for steering U.S. adults toward a more-healthful diet,” they wrote.

Again, Dr. Chaudry would agree. “Ask someone to eat as much of Ghirardelli chocolate as they do of a Hershey bar. They would not, because Ghirardelli is so much more expensive. If food cost more, we’d eat with moderation, waste less and weigh less too.”

This article was originally published in Halal Digest,