Will dumping high-fructose corn syrup make Starbucks fare healthier?


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Starbucks, according to an article from Reuters, will revamp its food offerings at the end of the month. It’ll have more salad. Phase out food dyes and artificial flavorings. And get rid of that whipping boy of the sweetener family, high-fructose corn syrup, in the majority of its baked good offerings.

According to the article, ‘Reworked baked goods that will debut at month-end include Banana Walnut Bread, which is made from 11 ingredients -- a number closer to home-made, a reduced fat Very Berry Coffee Cake that is 20 percent fruit, and an organic blueberry bar that was previously available only in the Pacific Northwest and a handful of other markets.’


The Center for Consumer Freedom, a restaurant trade group, doesn’t think much of this. In a statement, it says: ‘Beet sugar, cane sugar, and corn sugar are 100% equivalent in all nutritional aspects. An apple fritter is an apple fritter, not health food. And no matter what Starbucks’ marketing whiz kids say, it will still have 420 calories and 20 grams of fat.’

Obviously, the Center for Consumer Freedom has a ... position. But that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong about this. Chemically speaking, there isn’t very much difference between cane/beet sugar -- which are 50% glucose and 50% fructose when digested -- and high-fructose corn syrup, which is about 55% fructose and 45% glucose.

For a few recent articles on the endless high-fructose corn syrup issue:

Poor High Fructose Corn Syrup,’ writes Dan Mitchell at the Big Money. He calls the trend toward touting ‘real sugar’ in foods cynical marketing opportunism, and notes that too much sugar of any type runs the risk of making you fat.

‘On the whole, the research tends to support the theory that HFCS and sugar in general are pretty much alike in terms of their effects on human health,’ he writes. The problem with HFCS, he adds, is that it’s subsidized and cheap -- and thus doesn’t cost much to toss in all kinds of foods.

HFCS is the new trans fat?’ writes New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle in her blog. ‘HFCS isn’t really high in fructose. It has about the same amount of fructose as common table sugar. Both are about half fructose and half glucose, and both cause metabolic problems when you eat too much of them. So go easy on the sugars!’

Here’s what a Mayo Clinic nutritionist has to say, that you might want to try limiting all kinds of added sugar:

‘If you’re concerned about the amount of high-fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners in your diet, consider these tips:

  • Limit processed foods.
  • Avoid foods that contain added sugar.
  • Choose fresh fruit rather than fruit juice or fruit-flavored drinks. Even 100% fruit juice has a high concentration of sugar.
  • Choose fruit canned in its own juices instead of heavy syrup.
  • Drink less soda.
  • Don’t allow sweetened beverages to replace milk, especially for children.’

-- Rosie Mestel