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Sweetness Versus Science


Corn in the USA

The Science Behind America's Favorite Sweetener

The Debate

The Princeton Study

America's Return to Sugar


References & Links

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The Princeton Study

    The controversy around high fructose corn syrup has been a heated battle since the early 2000s.  Some scientific studies have received more news coverage than others, for example the March 2010 Princeton University released study on rats fed HFCS versus sugar has garnered great attention by the media.  The Princeton study received more coverage because its findings compared consumption of sugar versus consumption of HFCS and found that rats given HFCS over a six-month period gained significantly more weight than rats given the same number of calories from table sugar (Parker, 1).  Previous studies have focused on fructose, how fructose is metabolized in the body in the short-term, and other components in HFCS like trace amounts mercury and carbonyls.  This study made a direct comparison between sugar and HFCS and sugar came up on top.

    The Princeton study can be examined as a case study of the way scientific research has been treated by both advocates for HFCS and critics of the sweetener in the greater controversy.  HFCS advocates quickly rebutted the research findings with a press release and quoted scientists who argued that the research methods were flawed for example, Sweet Surprise quoted the author of Food Politics, Marion Nestle, who said, “Although the authors say calorie intake was the same, they do not report calories consumed nor do they discuss how they determined that calorie intake was the same.  This is an important oversight because measuring the caloric intake of lab rats is notoriously difficult to do (they are messy),” (Nestle, 2010).  HFCS advocates attacked the findings from a scientific methodology standpoint to give their arguments legitimacy and discredit the potentially damaging evidence against HFCS.

    On the other hand, critics of HFCS celebrated the finding and explained its meaning in simpler terms for the public.  For example,, an environmentally focused online news source, stated about the research that it found an answer to a missing piece in the debate, evidence that directly compared the effects of HFCS and table sugar and showed that HFCS was worse (Laskawy).  The author of the article goes on to say about the research that, “we now have at least some scientific evidence to suggest that without having pumped ourselves full of HFCS over the last 30 years, the American waistline (and its liver and blood chemistry) would look very very different,” (Laskawy).  This reporting clarified the issue around HFCS then heavily supported the research findings.  Sadly, with such competing stances and interpretations of the research findings it is difficult for consumers to decide what side is correct.  Signs that consumers are now skeptical of HFCS can been seen in ingredient changes in common American products, for more on this switch go to the America’s Return to Sugar section.



Lab Rat

Figure 4: Lab Rat, photo by ressaure

Corn Sweetener Train Car

Figure 2: Corn Sweeteners Train Car, photo by boeke

Soda Top

Figure 3: Soda Top, photo by Morton Fox

Last updated:  5/7/2010


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