What is the new name for high-fructose corn syrup?

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has undergone a rebranding effort by the Corn Refiners Association, which represents the corn refining industry in the United States. The new name they have introduced for this controversial sweetener is “corn sugar”. This change is meant to counter the negative public perception of HFCS and reposition it as a natural sugar made from corn.

Why the name change from HFCS to corn sugar?

There are several reasons the Corn Refiners Association felt the need to rebrand high-fructose corn syrup:

  • The name HFCS has developed a bad reputation over the years as an unhealthy processed ingredient associated with the rise in obesity rates.
  • Consumer awareness of HFCS has increased and there is public confusion over what it is – the “high-fructose” part sounds like it is high in fructose sugars.
  • Ordinary corn syrup actually has no fructose, while HFCS has had some of its glucose converted to fructose. This makes its effects different from traditional corn syrup.
  • HFCS has been demonized by some health advocates and in the media as an unnatural factory-made product associated with diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver.
  • Food companies using HFCS in their products have received negative publicity for including what the public sees as a dangerous, processed ingredient.

The Corn Refiners Association hoped to overcome these negative associations by renaming the product something that sounds more natural, familiar and appealing to consumers.

Corn sugar – just a new name or an actual different product?

The term “corn sugar” is simply a new name for high-fructose corn syrup. The Corn Refiners Association did not actually change or modify HFCS itself in any way. It is still manufactured through the same enzymatic process that converts some of the glucose in corn syrup to fructose, resulting in a sweetener that is 55% fructose and 45% glucose.

Calling HFCS “corn sugar” is misleading to consumers, since it glosses over the fact that HFCS contains higher levels of fructose than regular corn syrup. The industry claims it is a natural product because it comes from corn, but processing is required to generate the sweeter HFCS.

FDA ruling on the use of “corn sugar”

The FDA has ruled that “corn sugar” cannot be used as an acceptable name for high-fructose corn syrup on nutrition labels and ingredient lists. However, the FDA had no objection to the Corn Refiners Association using the term “corn sugar” in their advertising and marketing.

This means that food manufacturers using HFCS cannot actually call it corn sugar on their product packaging. But HFCS can still be referred to as corn sugar in television commercials, print ads, websites, and other promotional materials outside of regulated food labels.

Criticism and controversy over the new name

Calling HFCS “corn sugar” has stirred up a lot of controversy and drawn criticism from health experts, consumer advocates and the sugar industry. Some of the main complaints about the rebranding effort include:

  • It is misleading – corn sugar implies HFCS comes directly from corn and undergoes little processing, when in fact enzymatic processing is used break down corn starch into glucose and then convert glucose to fructose.
  • The name trivializes concerns about HFCS by making it sound more appealing and natural.
  • It is confusing for consumers if HFCS is referred to by two different names, one of which obscures what the ingredient really is.
  • It is an attempt to cash in on the positive image of sugar and hide the differences between sugar and HFCS.
  • The sugar industry feels it is deceptive marketing that falsely implies HFCS is equivalent to sugar.

Nutritional differences between HFCS and other sugars

The Corn Refiners Association argues that high-fructose corn syrup is nutritionally equivalent to table sugar. But there are some subtle differences in the composition and health effects of HFCS compared to ordinary sugar:

Nutrient High-fructose corn syrup Table sugar (sucrose) Glucose Fructose
Composition 55% fructose
45% glucose
50% fructose
50% glucose
100% glucose 100% fructose
Calories 4 calories/gram 4 calories/gram 4 calories/gram 4 calories/gram
Sweetness Similar to sugar Standard for sweetness comparison Less sweet than sucrose Sweeter than sucrose
Glycemic index Moderate (63) Moderate (65) High (100) Very low (19)
Insulin response Moderate Moderate High Low

As the table shows, HFCS and sugar are very similar in calorie content, sweetness and impact on blood glucose (glycemic index). Sugar has equal amounts of glucose and fructose, while HFCS has slightly more fructose. Some research indicates HFCS may induce a greater insulin response compared to regular sugar.

Is HFCS worse for you than sugar?

Considerable scientific debate still exists over whether HFCS poses more health risks than regular sugar. Some key points in the controversy include:

  • HFCS and sugar are essentially equal in calories and sweetness. Excess intake of either can lead to weight gain.
  • The higher fructose content of HFCS may cause slightly worse effects on metabolism than sugar in animal studies, but human studies are inconsistent.
  • HFCS is ubiquitous in processed foods, unlike sugar. This may promote overconsumption of calories and fructose.
  • HFCS may contribute to obesity, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, but studies disagree on the links.
  • The dramatic rise in use of HFCS parallels increasing rates of obesity, but this alone does not mean HFCS directly causes these conditions.

Overall there is no definitive evidence that HFCS alone is worse than table sugar. Both can contribute to health problems when consumed in excess. But the higher fructose content and widespread use of HFCS may potentially have subtle negative effects.

Advantages of HFCS

Despite the controversy around high-fructose corn syrup, food manufacturers continue using it for reasons including:

  • HFCS is cheaper to produce than cane or beet sugar.
  • It is easy to mix into beverages.
  • It helps maintain moisture in baked goods.
  • It extends shelf life and prevents staleness.
  • It can withstand high temperatures in processing.

Food industry demand for HFCS remains high, though some companies have responded to public concerns by using only sugar in certain products.

Alternatives to high-fructose corn syrup

There are several alternative sweeteners consumers can look for if they want to avoid HFCS:

  • Table sugar (sucrose) – Products sweetened entirely with cane or beet sugar.
  • Agave nectar – Derived from agave plants, with a syrupy texture.
  • Brown rice syrup – Made by breaking down brown rice starch.
  • Honey – Use of this natural sweetener has increased.
  • Maple syrup – 100% pure syrup from maple trees.
  • Molasses – Full-flavored byproduct of sugar refining.
  • Stevia – Herbal sweetener extracted from stevia plants.

Reading labels to identify HFCS and selecting products made without it is the best way for consumers to avoid high-fructose corn syrup if they are concerned about potential health issues.


The corn refining industry introduced the term “corn sugar” as an alternative name for high-fructose corn syrup. The FDA ruled food labels must still list HFCS, but advertising and marketing can use the “corn sugar” name. Critics argue this rebranding strategy misleads consumers about the composition and health effects of HFCS. While the debate continues over whether HFCS is any worse for health than regular sugar, those wishing to avoid it can check labels and choose products made with alternative sweeteners.

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