Oct. 11, 2010 (San Diego) -- High-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener used in soft drinks and many other products, isn't more likely than sucrose, commonly called table sugar, to promote weight gain, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society.
The study was supported by the Corn Refiners Association, a trade organization representing corn refiners who make high-fructose corn syrup and other products.
When overweight and obese people were given each type of sweetener, ''we saw no differences between the two treatments," says researcher Joshua Lowndes of the Rippe Lifestyle Research Institute at Florida in Celebration.
While high-fructose corn syrup has gotten a reputation as a "bad" sugar, the new study found that neither sweetener, when consumed as part of a sensible diet, promoted weight gain or fat accumulation.
To compare the two, Lowndes assigned 105 overweight or obese people, average age 38, to one of four groups. All were instructed to eat a diet that would maintain their current weight over the 10-week study.
They were assigned to drink milk sweetened with either high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose.
One group drank 10% of their calories from a high-fructose corn syrup-sweetened milk, and another group got 20% of their calories from the beverage.
A third group drank 10% of their calories from a sucrose-sweetened milk, and a fourth group drank 20% of their calories from the beverage.
The levels of sweetener consumed are typical levels, according to Lowndes.
They compared body weight before and after the study, as well as body fat percentage, fat mass, and abdominal fat. The participants visited the clinic weekly and reported their dietary intake.
''There were no differences in the amount of calories they decided to eat," Lowndes says of the sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup groups. "If there were differences, they are very small."
''Energy intake was up about 350 or 400 calories a day," he says.
At the end of 10 weeks, the difference in body weight for all groups averaged 2 pounds, he found. There were no substantial changes in body fat percent, fat mass, or belly fat.
Advice on Sweeteners
The study is small, cautions Connie Diekman, RD, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, who attended the presentation.
Even so, she says, ongoing research seems to suggest the study results make sense. "Evidence so far suggests it's the sugar intake, not the type" that leads to weight gain and other problems.
In 2008, the American Medical Association concluded that high-fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute more to obesity than any other caloric sweetener, but said that further research is needed on the health effects of all sweeteners.
When Diekman counsels university students, she doesn't tell them to avoid high-fructose corn syrup. She does advise them to limit their sugar intake.
"My recommendation is, all added sugars must be less than 10% of total calories daily," she tells WebMD. In practical terms, what does that mean?
If you can eat 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight, she says, ''a 250-calorie cookie may be more than you should eat."
Diekman is immediate past president of the American Dietetic Association and serves on the 2010 advisory panel for the National Dairy Council.
This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.