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Crazy About High Fructose Corn Syrup

March 24, 2010

You know sometimes you just have a crazy feeling about things.  Sometimes that crazy feeling is just that, crazy.  And other times you may find out you are right.

Long before people became widely aware of the dangers of partially hydrogenated oils, I was scouring the markets for products without the dreaded ingredient.  There had been some early reports that showed potential health concerns, so avoiding these manmade fats just felt right to me.  At the time, my snack food options were limited to Mi-Del Ginger Snaps.  Luckily, they were pretty tasty.

My crazy feeling du jour involves genetically modified organisms.  Nobody is really paying that much attention to it today.  But since the largest genetically modified crops are corn, canola and soy, GMOs are in practically everything.  Most consumers have no idea this is going on, because in this country products that contain GMOs do not need to be labeled.

But for now, let’s focus on the present.  Because there has been recent news about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that I thought would be interesting to share with the class.  And even if you’ve seen the research already, now you can get my take.

Basically, for the first time a study has been conducted that definitively shows that HFCS is worse for you than sugar.  Well, at least it’s worse for rats.  But that’s good enough for me.

Most informed people should know that eating any form of sweets is a treat and that eating too many sweets isn’t a good idea.  A diet high in table sugar (sucrose) will most likely make you fat.  A diet high in HFCS will most likely make you fat.  And until now there hasn’t been a direct comparison between the two forms of sweeter that has controlled for overall caloric intake.

Let me put that last part another way.  When the two groups of rats consumed the same amount of calories, the ones that had HFCS instead of table sugar got significantly fatter.

Princeton professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight, and sugar addiction, said the following about the research:

When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.

Source: Science Daily
Note: Bolding added for emphasis.

Granted, they do not know exactly why this happens yet, but they know that it happens.  Clearly the research involving HFCS has turned a very significant corner.  You can track it over time.  This is a rough sketch of some research reports on the subject.

August 2, 2005 – Research May Provide New Link Between Soft Drinks & Weight Gain
July 30, 2007 – Not Enough Evidence To Indict HFCS in Obesity
February 12, 2009 – Women Who Drink Lots Of Soda At Higher Risk For Early Kidney Disease
March 23, 2010 – HFCS Linked to Liver Scarring, Research Suggests

It’s a slow steady drumbeat towards the conclusion that many people have intuitively drawn for years: that consuming HFCS, a cheap sugar substitute made in a laboratory and used primarily to lower ingredient costs, isn’t good for people.  On the other hand, up until now it has been very good for food manufacturing companies.

Naturally the president of the Corn Refiners Association maintains that HFCS is safe.

Of course the problem is that today HFCS is ubiquitous and in the most unlikely of places.  Almost all sliced sandwich bread on store shelves contains it.  And even brands that avoid HFCS in their bread still use it in their rolls and stuffing mixes.  Several brands of yogurt are full of the stuff, and so are “healthy” cereals like Special K, Smart Start and Raisin Bran.  I tried to wean my family off conventional Heinz ketchup for their organic version that uses sugar instead of HFCS, but they rebelled.

My primary concern isn’t necessarily health at this point.  If you want to eat healthfully, it would be prudent to stay away from sweets in the first place.  My primary concern is all the mucking around that is being done to our food supply for the sake of corporate profits.

Maybe next time you are at the grocery store you will do me a favor and read a few labels.  You might be surprised at what you find.  And perhaps you will decide to start voting with your credit card and leaving those products that contain HFCS on the shelves.

Although for me, some of the concern is the information that is not included on the label: Like the presence of genetically modified organisms or the use of BPA in can liners. While this may feel like crazy talk, I remember feeling the same way about partially hydrogenated oils and HFCS.

Let’s give it ten years, and then we’ll see.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. tsetzer permalink
    March 24, 2010 9:31 am

    You are not alone in the HFCS makes me crazy club. I will not reiterate your points but I whole heartedly agree with them and there is nothing that comes home from the grocery store without the label being read first…..but most of the things I purchase are whole foods that do not contain or need a label. I was amused when I heard there was actually a term for how I shop at the grocery store….I just thought it was interesting that I rarely went into the aisles beyond the first two closest to produce.

    There is no reason to drink soda. Ever. I had to laugh when recently cleaning the terminals on my car battery with baking soda and water when a passerby suggested that I try a can of coke if that didn’t work.

    Thanks for the lesson of the day Mr. Fussy!

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 24, 2010 9:55 am

    I banned HFCS from my diet a few months ago. I am concerned not only about health, but the whole govt.-subsidy-of-corn-farming thing. And don’t even get me started on the evils of corn-based ethanol.

  3. mirdreams permalink
    March 24, 2010 10:31 am

    And me, the most anti-food crazy person you’re likely to meet, I tend to go for the BBQ sauce (or marinade or etc) without the the HFCS just ’cause it shows me that they care what they put in their BBQ sauce and therefore it will taste better. But I’m keeping my Diet Coke and you can pry it from my cold dead hand.

  4. beck permalink
    March 24, 2010 10:42 am

    I’m with you on the No-HFCS Bandwagon and have been there for a few years now. I find it disquieting that it is in SO many products. Though the occasional product slips by me, I’m finding it easier and easier to avoid it. And lots of companies are now stating outright that their products are HFCS free on the packaging.

    I want to know why so many products are so sweet. Not everything should taste sweet. It seems like Americans have become conditioned to expect just about every category of food to be sweetened.

    Have you seen the ads, sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association, that states that, “like sugar, HFCS is fine in moderation”? I hate the smug tone of them, and the blatantly dishonest message they’re sending.

  5. Joni permalink
    March 24, 2010 11:20 am

    You are so going to love Dr. Thornton. We met last week so she could check out Ric Orlando’s menu, and she was describing to me how HFCS is actually ADDICTING!

  6. James permalink
    March 24, 2010 4:20 pm

    In general, Americans do need to get rid of their sweet tooth and avoid unnecessary simple carbohydrates but, making a martyr out of HFCS is not going to fix the problem. For those that might see sugar as a better alternative until people gain self-control, you should know that sucrose, is actually two smaller sugars, glucose and fructose, joined together. Upon entry into the acidic environment of the stomach, the bond between the two breaks leaving you with the same components found in HFCS, fructose molecules in a solution of glucose. In reality, your body handles the two identically. Personally, I would take either one over putting chlorinated sucrose (splenda), synthetic peptides (aspartame), or drug-like alkaloids (stevia) into my food.

    To comment briefly on HFCS addiction, yes you can get addicted to HFCS, as well as hearty whole grain breads, protein packed steaks, and delicious cultured butter. Our bodies crave calories and when we eat foods jammed full of them, a little reward circuit is triggered in our brains. It is a leftover from our hunter-gatherer days and it used to let us know we did a good job finding food and surviving another day. The only way to avoid addicting of any kind and ultimately stay healthy in all aspects is self-control and moderation.

  7. March 24, 2010 5:56 pm

    Actually, diet coke is a go – it uses artificial calorie sweeteners. They’ve got their own theories about how it controls/doesn’t control caloric cravings of their own, but since they’re calorie free, they are HFCS free.

  8. Justin permalink
    March 24, 2010 7:18 pm

    The deeper issue is of course the complete saturation of corn found in the mainstream food supply. It is horrifying. One only needs to read Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” or many other treatises to understand how deep the conspiracy of corn is in our “food” system. I’m all about local and whole food, especially grass fed meats and getting away from our industrial, corn and grain based food economy.

  9. March 24, 2010 7:30 pm

    …you should know that sucrose, is actually two smaller sugars, glucose and fructose, joined together. Upon entry into the acidic environment of the stomach, the bond between the two breaks leaving you with the same components found in HFCS, fructose molecules in a solution of glucose. In reality, your body handles the two identically.

    Sucrose is a molecule that bonds fructose and glucose. HFCS is a non-molecular mix of roughly equivalent proportions of fructose and glucose.

    A study says that at least the bodies of rats do not appear to handle the two identically.

  10. Peonys permalink
    March 24, 2010 10:44 pm

    I waver in my shopping. Sometimes I am very diligent in not purchasing foods with HFCS or hydrogenated oils. Other times, well, I just want the Oreos or other snack food that I grew up with.

    Thanks Daniel B. for the information link about BPAs in can liners. I wasn’t aware of that. I wonder, would frozen food be any more safe? Or do those plastic bags have BPAs as well? Gosh, I am thankful for my CSA share. If only I had the time to do my own canning.

  11. March 25, 2010 9:56 am

    Haven’t touched the stuff in years. I’ve always been a label reader in the supermarket. The easiest way to avoid HFCS is to avoid processed and fast food.

    I want to see this country get to the point where I am others like me are the norm and not made to feel like freaks for not eating like the masses.

  12. March 25, 2010 9:57 am

    Haven’t touched the stuff in years. I’ve always been a label reader in the supermarket. The easiest way to avoid HFCS is to avoid processed and fast food.

    I want to see this country get to the point where I and others like me are the norm and not made to feel like freaks for not eating like the masses.

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