europe sugar2


The world loves sugar, but not all sugars are created equal. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a common sweetener in American foods, has been a hot topic of debate, especially among Europeans who claim that their food is healthier because they use sugar from beets or sugar cane. In this article, we’ll investigate the truth behind these claims, exploring the differences between HFCS and other sugars, and whether the vilification of HFCS is justified.

(This will be the third and final article in our 3 part series. Please be sure to check out Parts 1 and Parts 2 here.)

I. Understanding Sugars: Sucrose, Fructose, Glucose, Lactose, and Maltose

Before we dive into the great sugar debate, it’s crucial to understand the different types of sugars that sweeten our world. Here’s a spoonful of knowledge about sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, and maltose:

Sucrose: The All-Time Favorite

Think of sucrose as the “Beyoncé” of sugars: a disaccharide superstar hailing from sugarcane or sugar beets, composed of glucose and fructose molecules bonded together. This versatile sweetener is found in a vast array of products, from baked goods to beverages. According to the Sugar Association, the average American consumes an astonishing 61 pounds of sucrose annually – talk about a sweet tooth!

Fructose: The Sweetheart of Fruits

Fructose is the “Juliet” of sugars: a naturally occurring monosaccharide found in fruits, honey, and some vegetables. Its sweetness surpasses that of glucose and sucrose, making it a popular choice for sweetening food products. However, remember that whole fruits also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals, offering a nutritional package deal that Shakespeare would approve of.

Glucose: The Body’s Energizer Glucose

The “Usain Bolt” of sugars, is a monosaccharide that fuels our cells. Our bodies convert the carbs we eat into glucose, powering everything from morning jogs to midnight snack runs. While glucose is present in some fruits, vegetables, and honey, it’s not as sweet as sucrose or fructose.

Lactose: The Dairy Darling

Lactose, the “Taylor Swift” of sugars, is a disaccharide found in milk and dairy products. Composed of glucose and galactose, it’s less sweet than other sugars. Beware, though – if you’re lactose intolerant, your body lacks sufficient lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, which can lead to not-so-fun consequences.

Maltose: The Malty Marvel Maltose

The “Houdini” of sugars, is a disaccharide with two glucose molecules that appears when enzymes break down starches like barley. Less sweet than sucrose, fructose, and glucose, maltose plays a starring role in brewing beer, making malted milk, and creating malted candies and baked goods.

II. High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. European Cane Sugar: Is One Healthier Than the Other?

Now, let’s discuss the elephant in the room: HFCS. Regular corn syrup is primarily glucose, while HFCS is produced by converting some glucose in corn syrup into fructose, varying in concentration. But is European cane sugar healthier than corn syrup?

In reality, it’s not that simple. Both sucrose and HFCS contain glucose and fructose; the main difference lies in their ratios. Ultimately, it’s essential to examine the potential health implications and environmental factors associated with each sweetener.

Health Implications

HFCS, commonly found in soda, candy, and processed foods, has often been blamed for the rising obesity and diabetes rates in the United States. However, scientific studies have yielded conflicting results, and no definitive consensus exists on whether HFCS is more harmful than other sugars. For example, a 2017 review published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported no significant difference in metabolic effects between HFCS and sucrose. In short, consuming excessive amounts of any sugar can contribute to weight gain, insulin resistance, and other health issues.

Environmental Factors

Regarding environmental impact, growing sugarcane and sugar beets can be resource-intensive, requiring substantial amounts of water and fertile land. On the other hand, corn is a hardy crop and can be grown in various climates, making it an attractive option for producing sweeteners like HFCS. Nevertheless, some argue that the widespread use of corn for sweeteners contributes to monoculture farming, which can lead to soil degradation and decreased biodiversity.

III. The Bitter Truth: Moderation Is Key

So, are European claims about American HFCS justified? As the saying goes, “the dose makes the poison.” While there is no substantial evidence to prove that HFCS is significantly worse than other sugars, it’s crucial to remember that excessive sugar consumption, regardless of its source, can lead to health problems. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men – and that’s something we can all agree on.


The great sugar debate is a complex and multifaceted issue, but one thing is clear: moderation is essential. While HFCS may not be the sole culprit behind health problems, it’s vital to pay attention to the amount and type of sugars we consume. Instead of demonizing one sugar over another, let’s focus on making informed choices and enjoying our sweets in moderation – whether they’re made with American HFCS or European cane sugar. After all, life is too short not to savor the occasional sweet treat, but remember, balance is the icing on the (sugar-free) cake.


  1. Almiron-Roig, E., Drewnowski, A., & Le Donne, C. (2009). Dietary sources of sugars in adolescents’ diet: the HELENA study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63(S3), S12-S20.
  2. American Heart Association. (2018). Added sugars.
  3. Bocarsly, M. E., Powell, E. S., Avena, N. M., & Hoebel, B. G. (2010). High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 97(1), 101-106.
  4. Bray, G. A., Nielsen, S. J., & Popkin, B. M. (2004). Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(4), 537-543.
  5. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2018). Sugar market monitor.
  6. Goran, M. I., Ulijaszek, S. J., & Ventura, E. E. (2013). High fructose corn syrup and diabetes prevalence: A global perspective. Global Public Health, 8(1), 55-64.
  7. Klurfeld, D. M., Foreyt, J., Angelopoulos, T. J., & Rippe, J. M. (2013). Lack of evidence for high fructose corn syrup as the cause of the obesity epidemic. International Journal of Obesity, 37(6), 771-773.
  8. McGee, H. (2014, March 11). The sticky science of high fructose corn syrup. NPR.


By Alan Wood

Musings of an unabashed and unapologetic liberal deep in the heart of a Red State. Crusader against obscurantism. Optimistic curmudgeon, snark jockey, lovably opinionated purveyor of wisdom and truth. Multi-lingual world traveler and part-time irreverent philosopher who dabbles in writing, political analysis, and social commentary. Attempting to provide some sanity and clarity to complex issues with a dash of sardonic wit and humor. Thanks for visiting!

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