Controversy regarding the health effects of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was recently addressed in a series of supplemental review articles published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.1 According to a press release issued by the Corn Refiners Association, the scientific review "refutes a unique link between obesity and high fructose corn syrup".2 For insights into the history of this controversy, look to the CAS databases for references to relevant patents and journal articles, as well as details about chemical substances related to HFCS.
In general, HFCS is a sweetener manufactured by processing corn into fructose-containing syrup. An important step is the enyzmatic conversion of glucose to fructose by glucose isomerase (CAS Registry Number® 9055-00-9), a reaction first described in the literature in 1957 by Richard O. Marshall and Earl R. Kooi3 and patented in the U.S. in 1960.4 The process for industrial-scale manufacturing of HFCS was patented in the U.S. in 1971.5 Since then, HFCS has been used extensively in the food industry as a sweetener to replace cane- and beet-derived sucrose.
Glucose and fructose are simple sugars, or monosaccharides, while sucrose is a disaccharide composed of fructose bound to glucose in a 1:1 ratio. Although its name implies high levels of fructose, HFCS is similar in composition to sucrose but with the sugars unbound as monosaccharides. According to the Corn Refiners Association,2 there are two common formulations of HFCS, both of which approximate the sweetness and caloric content of sucrose:
- HFCS-42 = 42% fructose, 53% glucose, and 5% other sugars
- HFCS-55 = 55% fructose, 42% glucose, and 3% other sugars
In 2004, an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition described a correlation between the consumption of HFCS-sweetened beverages and obesity in the U.S.6 Despite the similarities between HFCS and sucrose, the findings led to widespread public concern regarding the increasing prevalence of HFCS in food and beverages. Only limited evidence has since been published to support or refute the correlation. In fact, the American Medical Association's Council on Science and Public Health recently reported, "Only a few small, short-term experimental studies have compared the effects of HFCS to sucrose, and most involved some form of industry support."7 As a consequence, the Council concluded:
- "At the present time, there is insufficient evidence to restrict the use of HFCS or other fructose-containing sweeteners in the food supply or to require the use of warning labels on products containing HFCS."7
You can use SciFinder® or STN® to search the CAS databases for additional information about glucose, fructose, sucrose, glucose isomerase, and HFCS. If your organization is enabled to use the web version of SciFinder, you can click the links in this article to directly access details of the substances and references.
Peter S. Carlton, Ph.D.
- Fulgoni, V., III. High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Everything You Wanted to Know, but Were Afraid to Ask. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2008, 88, 1715S.
- Corn Refiners Association. http://www.corn.org (accessed Feb 18, 2009).
- Marshall, R.O.; Kooi, E.R. Enzymatic Conversion of D-Glucose to D-Fructose. Science 1957, 125, 648-649.
- Marshall, R.O. Enzymatic Conversion of Dextrose to Fructose. U.S. Patent 2,950,228, Aug 23, 1960.
- Production of Fructose-Containing Sirup. U.S. Patent 3,616,221, Aug 26, 1971.
- Bray, G.A.; Nielsen, S.J.; Popkin, B.M. Consumption of High-Fructose Corn Syrup in Beverages May Play a Role in the Epidemic of Obesity. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2004, 79, 537-543.
- American Medical Association. http://www.ama-assn.org (accessed Feb 18, 2009).
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