Junk science about cane sugar

How could they tell I’d be so stupid?

Well it’s all junk food, so I suppose it deserves junk science but still, it’s disquieting to see so much nonsense prevalent in Greenwich – leaves not much hope for the less educated areas of the US. Greenwich mommies prefer cane sugar over high fructose syrup 575 – 1, according to a study I just made up. And they pay a premium to express that preference, even though there is zero, nada, no difference between sugar that comes from a test tube and that harvested by a sweaty exploited Cuban peasant.

Sugar cane sweetened sodas are becoming fashionable, mainly to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which many claim is associated with obesity and increased cardiovascular risk. Jim Laidler did an excellent job reviewing this controversy two years ago on SBM. To me this represents a general tendency to try to understand a complex question by oversimplifying, specifically by avoiding perceived “villains.” It may seem overwhelming to grapple with all the complex information involved in basic dietary health choices, like which beverages are best. Following simple rules, such as avoiding single ingredients that are perceived to be “bad,” therefore has an appeal. I also think this is part of the appeal of the naturalistic fallacy, a simple litmus test to what is good vs bad.

A recent commentary in the International Journal of Obesity seeks to set the record straight with respect to HFCS. The authors point out that, in reality, there is very little difference between sucrose and HFCS. Sucrose is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. There are two main forms of HFCS in drinks and processed food: HFCS-42 and HFCS-55, indicating the percentage of fructose they contain. So one form has slightly less and the other slightly more fructose than sucrose. Available evidence indicates that this is not metabolically significant. In fact HFCS-55 is slightly sweeter than sucrose and so products with this sweetener may use less sweetener, and therefore contain fewer calories.

The authors write:

HFCS existed as a benign and essentially non-controversial product for over 35 years until 2004 when Bray, Nielsen and Popkin published a commentary suggesting a potential link between HFCS consumption and obesity.1 These authors buttressed their argument by charting the consumption of high fructose corn syrup along with the prevalence of obesity in the United States between 1970-2000,


Later research showed that HFCS is not a unique cause of obesity (beyond the calories they contain), and there is no significant difference between the effect of different carbohydrate sweeteners on metabolism and weight gain. They also point out that there has been a lot of misleading research involving feeding animals a high carbohydrate diet consisting entirely of fructose, which cannot be extrapolated to HFCS consumption.

The scientific controversy is largely over. The Bray hypothesis, which was always weak, has not survived later research. But the meme that HFCS is harmful is out there, taking on a life of its own on the internet, and so the public controversy continues.

It’s astonishing to see Greenwich women (and it seems to be mostly women) who at least attended well-regarded colleges, stocking their carts with products they’ve selected on the basis of junk science or what their equally-ignorant pilates instructor has told them. Check it out, so to speak, and watch them buy homeopathic “remedies”, eschew cancer-causing plastic water bottles for glass, gluten-free Cheerios and a pack of Day’s Work (okay, maybe not this last item) and  stuff it all in filthy, germ-ridden organic hemp recycle bags, then carry it out into some of the most polluted air in the nation and drive it home in their Mercedes SUV. In so far as it implies even a faint stirring in the amygdala, cognitive dissonance is too kind a term for this behavior.


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13 responses to “Junk science about cane sugar

  1. edgewater

    bullseye… it’s why 10,000 loyal readers follow your blog.

  2. The irony in all this is many Greenwich moms who are tossing sugar cane products into their carts have spent hours lounging on beaches of island nations that produce sugar cane in abundance but never bothered to look at the teeth (or lack thereof) of the cane pickers. Spring is harvest time and stalks of it are sold like soda on the roadside and kids suck on the cane to get all the good sugar out of it. Good tasting but better than high fructose sugar? I don’t believe it for even a second.

  3. Walt

    Dude –
    Have you and Gid ever been on different sides of the same transaction? Do you get in a closing dispute and start shouting at each other “Mom liked you best!!”??? Do you tell him he was adopted to try and get the upper hand?

    Same thing with Francis. Does he come to the closing table telling you your “client” is making too much money, and the price should be reduced for the common good? That wealth needs to be redistributed?

    Is the GAR Evil Princess the arbiter of these disputes? Does she fly in on her broom, listen to both sides, and make a decision? Based upon who tickles her pink the most?

    Thanks in advance for sharing. I am working on a new treatment. Working title is “Dirt Whores”. I think you will like it.

    And who are you trying to impress with amygdala? You loser. You are a master of adoxography.
    Your Pal,

  4. Anonymous

    Average person ingests 35-50k calories/year in liquid form, and that’s a low ball number.
    @ 3,500 kcal/lb of fat, that’s 10-15 pounds right there

    Your welcome.

  5. Anonymous

    It’s astonishing, and a bit creepy, to picture a codger lurking in the aisles of stores in Greenwich to observe what products “women (and it seems to be mostly women) who at least attended well-regarded colleges” are putting into their carts. It’s scary to imagine how he discovers not only their purchases but also their educational histories. Cover up your transcripts, girls!

    Not only that, but the old pervert is exhorting others to indulge in similar behavior (“Check it out, so to speak, and watch them buy homeopathic remedies”) and to share the pleasure that this activity brings to him.

    As he himself describes “it implies even a faint stirring in the amygdala.”

  6. So Greenwich

    Perhaps it is not just the cane sugar vs high fructose corn syrup health piece but also the unwillingness to prop up the US subsidies of the corn market and the resulting impact on our environment. See Michael Pollen’s books. And I am not saying the well-educated at home mommies do it for that reason but a number of people do.

    • When the people and politicians advocate banning high fructose corn syrup they do so based on their spurious claim that HFCS causes obesity and heart disease and never mention Michael Poulin. And if you are concerned about high corn prices, you might do better to address those same politicians’ support for the equally fraudulent ethanol mandate for our fuel, a mandate that is entirely related to Iowa presidential primary politics and is responsible for almost the entire run up in corn prices.

  7. wickets

    plenty of W(hite)T(rash) dudes who drink Coke swear that the mexican (cane sugar) version tastes better

    • I have no problem with those who choose cane sugar over HFCS because they think it tastes better (seems dubious, but I don’t like soda, sugared or not). It’s when folks make it illegal for other people to ingest high fructose on the (false) ground that the meddlers are fighting obesity and addressing an issue they have a right to dictate to others that annoys me. In fact it gives me such a headache that I have to take three tablets of homeopathic celery leaf pain reliever just to go on with life.

  8. hmmm

    now your’re a lurking codger?…if someone from msnbc or msm has said what you said or even oprah would they be codgers or the like or would their word be taken as gospel? i thiink we know the answer but we can never be sure just as we will never know how many licks it takes to get to the center of the tootsie roll pop….

  9. Another Reader

    Wickets hit the nail on the head. I have met people who like the taste of cane sugar better and swear that Coca Cola with cane sugar in it is a superior product to Coke with high fructose corn syrup.

  10. GeorgeCrosley

    I’m with wickets. Mexican Coke with real sugar is way better than the domestic stuff. I just got back from Costco with three cases.