High-fructose corn syrup in soda has much more fructose than advertised, study finds

October 28, 2010 By Karen Kaplan

High-fructose corn syrup is often singled out as Food Enemy No. 1 because it has become ubiquitous in processed foods over about the last 30 years -- a period that coincides with a steep rise in obesity. One of the primary sources of high-fructose corn syrup in the American diet is soda -- in fact, many public health advocates refer to soda as "liquid candy."

That nickname is more apt than advocates realized, according to a study published online this month by the journal Obesity.

Researchers from the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine went shopping in East Los Angeles and bought 23 cans and bottles of popular beverages. Then they sent them off to a laboratory in Massachusetts that used a technique called high-performance liquid chromatography to determine how much fructose, glucose and sucrose were in each sample. Each beverage was tested three times, and all samples were unlabeled.

Before we get to the results, let's pause for a quick review on sugars. Fructose and glucose are simple sugars. Fructose is sweeter than glucose and has been shown to do more damage to your metabolism. Sucrose -- better known as table sugar -- is a 50-50 combination of fructose and glucose. The used in soda is supposed to contain no more than 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose, according to the Corn Refiners Association. (Another popular formulation is 42 percent percent fructose and 58 percent glucose.) This slight difference is the reason why we here at Booster Shots frequently say that HFCS is just as unhealthy as "natural" sugar.

But it turns out that some of the stuff they put in soda isn't HFCS, it's RHFCS -- Really High Fructose Corn Syrup.

The Keck researchers found that the sweeteners in Coca-Cola and Pepsi contained as much as 65 percent fructose (and only 35 percent glucose), and Sprite registered as much as 64 percent fructose (and 36 percent glucose).

"The type of sugar listed on the label is not always consistent with the type of sugar detected," they wrote. "Considering that the average American drinks 50 gallons of soda and other sweetened beverages each year, it is important that we have more precise information regarding what they contain, including a listing of the fructose content."

To make sure the high-performance liquid chromatography tests were accurate, the researchers also sent samples of pure fructose, pure glucose and pure sucrose. The test detected 9.9 grams of fructose in a 10-gram sample of fructose, 9.8 grams of glucose in a 10-gram sample of glucose, and 9 grams of sucrose in a 10-gram sample of sucrose.

The study included a few other surprises:

--Mountain Dew had 13 percent less sugar than advertised on the label, and Dr. Pepper had 8 percent less.

--Tested samples of Mexican Coca-Cola -- which is supposedly made with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup -- contained no sucrose, only fructose and glucose in a 52 percent-to-48 percent ratio.

--17 percent of the sweetener in Red Bull was fructose, even though sucrose and glucose are the only sweeteners listed on the label.

Here's what nutritionist Marion Nestle had to say about the study Tuesday on her blog, Food Politics: "I've been saying for ages that the sugar composition of high fructose corn syrup ( or HFCS) is no different from that of table sugar (sucrose)."

Nestle continued: "At most, HFCS is supposed to be 55 percent fructose, as compared to the 50 perccent in table sugar. Most foods and drinks are supposed to be using HFCS that is 42 percent fructose. A percentage of 55 is not much different biologically than 50, which is why the assumption has been that there is no biologically meaningful difference between HFCS and table sugar. This study, if confirmed, means that this supposition may need some rethinking."

The USC researchers pointed out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows for some wiggle room on nutrition labels. Sodas are allowed to have as much as 20 percent more of a nutrient -- including sugar and HFCS -- than is indicated on the side of the can. Even Cokes and Pepsis with 65 percent fructose instead of 55 percent are only 18 percent higher than advertised.


Related Stories

Recommended for you

The social costs of smell loss in older women

March 22, 2017

A new study of older U.S. adults conducted by researchers from the Monell Center and collaborating institutions reports that a woman's social life is associated with how well her sense of smell functions. The study found ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Oct 29, 2010
The abnormal results published in this study may have resulted from inadvertent errors in the analysis of the sugar content. For example, key factors in analyzing sugars were either overlooked or were not mentioned in the study, including not accounting for sucrose inversion (the breaking down of table sugar in certain Ph environments), or the presence of higher sugars (which were left out of the analysis or could have been erroneously added to the fructose content). Moreover, the authors did not specify which analytical method they used and how the samples were prepared, which could also compromise the findings from this study.

It is important to have the sugars content replicated by a recognized standard setting body, like the International Society of Beverage Technologists, to confirm the validity of the results before any inferences can be drawn.

Audrae Erickson
Corn Refiners Association
not rated yet Oct 29, 2010
What ever makes you sleep better at night. You poke holes in the research done. But Nestle's (I realize is not affiliate with CRA) comment above that 55 is close to 50 so we assume that it's not biologically different. Assume? Some things really aren't okay in moderation. Is smoking okay if in moderation? Just because it's a consumable doesn't mean that it's good for you no matter how you spin it. Corn syrup is not at an all time low in consumption because people don't like it anymore, people are realizing it's not good for them and choosing not to consume as much. With diabetes and obesity at an all time high, you really shouldn't need a study to tell you corn syrup or any other sugar substance for that matter is not good for you. But you keep trying to convince us otherwise!
not rated yet Oct 29, 2010
Audrae Erickson
Corn Refiners Association

Well I'm going to ignore the potential bias in your statement and ask you this,

Let's say we ban HFCS in food products but lift the ban on domestic ethanol production. Would you really have that big an issue with the study above in that instnace?
not rated yet Oct 29, 2010
Corn Refiners Association = for profit entity = say what is necessary to keep profits up


not rated yet Oct 29, 2010
Let's say we ban HFCS in food products but lift the ban on domestic ethanol production. Would you really have that big an issue with the study above in that instnace?

"The TRQ system is part of the U.S. sugar program that keeps the price of U.S. sugar generally twice as high as the world price through domestic supply constraints, import restrictions, and price supports for U.S. producers. "
Let's ban the US sugar subsides as well as the corn sugar subsidies.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.