"High-fructose corn syrup has a sweetness index of 120, so it's actually sweeter than sucrose. So you think well, gee, if it's sweeter, you should be able to use less. But they don't. They use more. The question is 'why is that?' That's a question that only the soft drink companies can answer. But I can give you my impression. It's because they know that the sweeter they make it, the more we buy."
-- Dr. Robert Lustig on the BBC2 documentary "The Men Who Made Us Fat" (2012)
"All the data says that high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose — table sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar, the stuff you put in your coffee — are exactly the same. The problem is not that high-fructose corn syrup is worse. The problem is that high-fructose corn syrup is cheaper. And when it became cheaper, it made sugar cheaper and therefore, started appearing in all sorts of foods."
We've criticized Dr. Robert Lustig for his views on high-fructose corn syrup based on his need to tell us the sources of sweetness "are exactly the same." Our criticism against Dr. Lustig also centers on the fact that he regularly points out that excessive fructose is a danger yet doesn't go after high-fructose corn syrup as a culprit.
In his statement on the BBC2 documentary by Jacques Peretti, Lustig makes two key criticisms. HFCS is different because it's sweeter and because it's cheaper, companies use more of it in processed foods. The doctor is definitely right on one point: "the sweeter they make it, the more we buy."
Comparing equal amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup isn't fair because in the real world, companies use more high-fructose corn syrup than they would use sugar, and put HFCS in foods that otherwise don't need sweetness. We also argue that there is a significant difference even if they are compared on equal amounts.
And Dr. Lustig finally admits there is a difference between sugar and high-fructose corn syrup or maybe the doctor admitted this to British TV as opposed to U.S. TV on the "Colbert Report."
Dr. Lustig testified in the case of S.F. v. Archer Daniels Midland. A Buffalo, NY woman sued for $5 million in damages, claiming that her daughter's diabetes had been caused by high-fructose corn syrup. The plaintiff referred to HFCS as "unreasonably dangerous."
In his affidavit for the plaintiff, Dr. Lustig asserted that the "dietary fructose from HFCS is metabolized differently from sugar (sucrose)."
The testimony came presumably in 2013, though we don't know whether this was before or after the appearance on the "Colbert Report." But his other statements make his take on the "Colbert Report" all the more confusing.
His "Colbert Report" appearance isn't the only time Dr. Lustig has said there is no difference between sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
Dr. Lustig should seemingly be one of the major advocates against high-fructose corn syrup. He thinks "sugar" is a major culprit in our diet. He is a strong advocate toward excessive fructose. Except for a few slight slips, Lustig tells us there is no difference between sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
On the "Colbert Report," Dr. Lustig said we consume on average 22 teaspoons of "sugar" per day as opposed to the recommended 6-9 teaspoons/day. And we sincerely take Dr. Lustig at his word that he wants those numbers to drop.
The easiest path to reduce those numbers is to change the politics. Stop subsidizing cheap corn and making high-fructose corn syrup such a cheap option in the processed food world. Food companies will respond to pennies and will make the switch away from high-fructose corn syrup as soon as the substance becomes too expensive.
After all, the switch from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup came because of pennies.
The 3-part documentary has been an intriguing look at the last 40 years of U.S. food policy. The BBC documentary has been running on PBS, so you have a few chances to find the documentary. Click here to find a series of YouTube videos that encapsule the 3 hours.
Part I started with Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture who started the mentality of over growing corn/soybeans. We also learn such tidbits as Ray Kroc being reluctant to do supersizing.
The hilarious angle within the documentary is that the Brits, who don't have regular access to high-fructose corn syrup, are able to tell us what Dr. Sanjay Gupta couldn't tell us about high-fructose corn syrup on "60 Minutes."
The documentary points out the damage of excess fructose on our bodies, and high-fructose corn syrup, by definition, has more fructose than sugar. Dr. Lustig has also made that point about the impact of fructose. Yet a processed byproduct with excessive amounts of fructose is not under suspicion by most of the U.S. media outlets.
We are encouraged to see Dr. Lustig make slight modifications on his view of high-fructose corn syrup. Right now, Dr. Lustig is still light years behind Stephen Colbert, an actor pretending to be a pundit.