Corn sugar and metabolism: ancient history

May 2, 2011 at 10:45 am Leave a comment

Let’s add this one to the current corn/sugar debates:

This is a 1928 ad from Corn Products Refining Company. Cerelose is a trade name for dextrose, which is a crystalline form of glucose. Recall that normal sugar is sucrose: glucose and fructose combined.

Already by the 1920s corn was an important source of food ingredients, especially sugars produced through enzymatic transformations of corn starches. Several important historical forces were pushing corn into the food supply, especially candy:

  • Wheat and sugar shortages in WWI–corn was a favored substitute.
  • New technologies of sugar extraction–corn was a domestic and cheap source of sugar products.
  • Prohibition–grains that used to go into alcohol were now diverted to other food processing uses.

What is really interesting about this ad for Cerelose, though, is its appeal to the new science of sugar metabolism.

Recall the recent alarms raised by Gary Taubes in his account of the dangers of sucrose and HFCS: the big problem is the fructose, which is metabolized by the liver and believed to be implicated in metabolic syndrome (see my post on “toxic sugar” here).

The current damnation of (refined) fructose goes hand in hand with the demonization of high fructose corn syrup and its increasing portion of the national caloric burden. But as we can see from this Cerelose ad, the effort to distinguish “good” glucose from other sugars is not new. In fact, here the promotion of glucose as the most metabolically ideal sugar is in the service of promoting nothing other than sugar derived from corn, an irony that might not be fully appreciated by the current foes of “corn sugar”.

The ad claims that since Cerelose (glucose) is directly utilized by tissues, it won’t make you fat. The implication is that beet and cane sugar–sucrose–which combines fructose with glucose, will make you fat because it is not the “normal blood sugar” of the body. Incredibly, this is almost exactly the conclusion Taubes is popularizing based on current research.

Is it true that Cerelose, or glucose, tends to form tissue rather than fat as this ad claims? This would raise a beacon of hope for all of us who are looking at our sugar bowls with a little more trepidation… But unfortunately, glucose is no where near as sweet as fructose. That’s why its HIGH fructose corn syrup that substitutes for sucrose; plain old corn syrup (glucose) just isn’t sweet enough.

Will dextrose/glucose based candies start promoting “fructose free” on their labels? Back in the 1940s, candies advertised that they were “high in Dextrose” for extra energy, so it wouldn’t be totally unprecedented.

I’ve written several posts on corn sugar, as it comes up again and again in the candy archives. Here’s a round up of relevant previous posts:

Entry filed under: Health, Ingredients, Marketing. Tags: , , .

Another Copy of Oh Henry! Eat More, Weigh Less: Bulking up Candy with Vegetables

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

Samira Kawash, PhD
Professor Emerita,
Rutgers University

(C) Samira Kawash

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