Many nutritionists and food industry critics interviewed in recent days have said they don't object to the proposed new name. Instead, they're focusing their energy on the overconsumption of sweetened foods that they blame for the ballooning of American waistlines and the associated rise in diabetes and heart disease. They just want Americans to consume fewer sugars of any type.
"Quite frankly, high fructose corn syrup is the same thing as sugar from a calorie perspective," said Laurie Tansman, nutrition coordinator for the Department of Clinical Nutrition at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. "The issue is that people are consuming too much sugar. The bottom line is people have the cut out the amount of added sugar they're consuming, especially if they have a weight problem."
But Kelly Brownell, director of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, in New Haven, Conn., said it's more complicated than that.
"There was a while when the prevailing science suggested there was something different about high fructose corn syrup; that it affected satiety differently," Brownell said. "Then, some science came out saying that wasn't so much the case.
"Then, the thinking was sugar is sugar. And then there was a recent study at Princeton ... done with animals, but pretty concerning," that suggested high fructose corn syrup was metabolized differently.
The Princeton researchers found that rats fed high fructose corn syrup gained more weight than rats fed table sugar -- even when they consumed the same number of calories.
In another study published in March and also sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, researchers found that over the course of six months, rats eating a diet rich in high fructose corn syrup gained more weight, had higher triglyceride levels in their blood and developed more belly fat than those eating rat chow only.
Brownell compared the industry's push to change the product name to cigarette maker Philip Morris "changing its name to Altria. If you get a really bad black eye, the solution is to just change your name. Most consumers won't notice."
In thinking about the corn sugar name as well as name changes of other products, Brownell said: "It shows how this is all about marketing and not morality. There doesn't have to be any relationship between the product and its name."
In 1965, James M. Schlatter, a chemist for G.D. Searle & Co., synthesized the chemical aspartame while working on ulcer drugs. He licked his finger, noticed the intense sweetness, and accidentally discovered the product that soon became a staple of the artificial sweetener business.
Because it's 200 times sweeter than table sugar, aspartame can be used in much smaller quantities, thereby reducing the calories associated with it. Aspartame originally reached the market under the brand name NutraSweet, where it became a popular sugar substitute in low-calorie and sugar-free foods and beverages.
Another manufacturer, Merisant, sold it under the brand name Equal. Eventually, agricultural giant Monsanto bought out Searle and continued to market NutraSweet.