Wednesday, October 20, 2010

HFCS at kidHaven

Hello Dear Readers,

Our regularly scheduled CSA posting will air THURSDAY instead of today. Today we have a change of plans.

Below is an article that I wrote for this week. I have written about HFCS before. But for this article I did more research and went back through all the facts, plus some new ones. Well at least they are new to me...Take a read and pop on over to kidHaven why dontcha!

The Low Down on High Fructose Corn Syrup

Recently you may have heard that The Corn Refiners Association petitioned the FDA to “rename” their ubiquitous product High-Fructose Corn Syrup to plain old “Corn Sugar.” On the CRA’s website the lobby group states, “Many people do not realize that high fructose corn syrup is composed of same simple sugars found in table sugar and honey-glucose and fructose--in virtually the same ratios.” Some readers might brush this off as no big deal. It is a product rename. And HFCS is just a sugar, so such a name is fitting? No?

The issue is slightly more complex. Because chemically speaking, sugars are all really different and the body does different things with them. There is sucrose and fructose, glucose and dextrose, lactose and maltose and many others. But while High-Fructose Corn Syrup is made from plain ole’ corn, it is only certain parts of the familiar plant. And those extracted and refined sugars don’t act the same way in your body as they would if you ate the whole kernel right off the cob.

Sucrose or table sugar is a disaccharide composed of a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose chemically bonded together with a relatively weak molecular bond. That bond is broken when it's in your tummy being digested. Now hold that thought, I am coming back to this.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup is different.

HFCS is produced by milling corn to produce starch, then processing that starch to yield corn syrup (think Karo Pecan Pie ingredients). Standard corn syrup is made up of almost entirely glucose molecules and glucose doesn't taste as sweet to the human tongue as sucrose. Regular corn syrup was all we had for a while, but it couldn’t function as a proper sugar replacement because it just doesn't taste right. Anyone who has tasted Karo knows what I am talking about. But in 1957 Richard O. Marshall and Earl P. Kooi added enzymes to that glucose corn syrup. Those enzymes broke down most of the glucose into fructose. The result is a syrup that is almost entirely fructose. High-Fructose Corn Syrup is derived by mixing the original standard Karo-like syrup (almost pure glucose) and the altered corn syrup (overwhelmingly fructose). The more fructose you add, the sweeter the mixture tastes on the tongue. HFCS 55 is 55% fructose and has a comparable sweetness to table sugar, only in liquid form. And in case you hadn’t already put two and two together, that is the particular HFCS that is used to make soda.

But that brings me back to the original question, Why is it a big deal that the CRA wants to rename their product “corn sugar”? The name “corn sugar” is not so false. HFCS is made from corn and it is a form of sugar. But many critics argue that renaming HFCS would align it with table sugar in the consumer’s mind. No doubt the CRA has the same intention. Remember earlier I told you when sugar is digested, your tummy breaks it into its glucose and fructose molecules. Glucose is used by the body in everything from basic energy to brain function; Glucose is also metabolized in every cell in the body. Fructose is altogether different. Fructose is only metabolized in the liver. Livers of lab animals fed large amounts of fructose have fatty deposits and cirrhosis similar to the livers of alcoholics. The fructose found in High-Fructose Corn Syrup is free or unbound because it is simply mixed in solution with glucose as opposed to bonded like in table sugar. Here’s why this is significant, research indicates that it is this free fructose that is the problem. Free or unbound liquid fructose is almost never found in nature. And although whole fruits contain fructose, they contain so much fiber that you’d be hard pressed to eat enough apples to ingest a dangerous amount of fructose. You would be way too full! Whole fruits also contain a whole host of healthy vitamins and minerals as well.

Earlier this year, Tom Laskawy, for, covered a Princeton University study of rats ingesting HFCS. The study concluded,

“Rats with access to High-Fructose corn syrup gained weight significantly more than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.”

The study goes on to say that

“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t, at least under the conditions of our tests.

In the last 30 years America has become the fattest country in the world. No shocker there. According to a new study by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 34% of the US population is considered obese while a whopping 70% is considered overweight. I am not saying that High-Fructose Corn Syrup is our only problem food in this country, it is not the smoking gun, per se. But it is certainly part of the problem.

If you always had a bad feeling about HFCS, you are not alone. Many of my close mom-friends have concerns about HFCS and want to cut it out of their diets. Most people I know do not drink soda regularly, so they assume that they ingest little if any HFCS. But the problem is HFCS is everywhere. HFCS can be found in yogurt, muffins, breads, ketchup, pasta sauce, salad dressings, juice drinks. HFCS can even be included in products that are labeled “All Natural” because the FDA does not have a legal definition for the term “All Natural”. All the FDA asks with a label of “All Natural” is that the produce be derived from something in nature. HFCS is under that definition of “All Natural.

Many companies are reformulating their products to eliminate the HFCS and instead include sugar, cane sugar, cane juice, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, brown rice syrup, malt syrup, or some other form of naturally occurring sugar. Unfortunately on the other end of the spectrum, The Sugar Association (Washington’s Cane/ Beet Sugar Lobby) is reaping the benefits from all the increased business. And they want you to believe that High Fructose Corn Syrup is BAD, and Cane Sugar is GOOD. Cane Sugar may not be as bad as HFCS, but it is still linked to a whole host of degenerative diseases because it also contains fructose. Don’t be fooled.

Since cutting HFCS out of my family’s diet, the most important thing I have learned to do is to READ LABELS. Here are a few suggestions:

· Go grocery shopping when you have time on your hands (but aren’t hungry).

· Never pay attention to any health claims on the front of the package, they are not regulated as strictly as the nutrition panel on the back.

· And never assume that just because you know, love or respect a certain brand they are above including some questionable ingredients. Just recently I discovered that the brand of Half and Half offered in my office contains milk and cream AND less than 2% stabilizers?! I wasn’t aware that milk and cream needed to be stabilized.

If you have never looked at the ingredients on your favorite yogurt or ice cream, turn the package over and start reading. HFCS is unnecessary. You and your kids don’t need it. You didn’t grow up eating it. You really didn’t, because HFCS wasn’t in the food supply in such an omnipresent way until about 20-30 years ago.

The controversy over HFCS is not new. Our national obesity epidemic has dominated the medical media coverage recently, with many experts pointing the finger squarely at HFCS. And as I mentioned, many food manufacturers have eliminated the ingredient due to pressure from their customers. So, there are plenty of foods in the grocery store without HFCS. But you do have to look for them. My recommendation? If you want to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, start by buying products that do not contain HFCS. They are out there. Then you can make the decision to go further and choose products with lower amounts of added sugars, or products with no added sugars. As you begin to eliminate some of the sugar in your diet, you may just find that you never needed as much as you originally though you did.


  1. That is THE most comprehensive, clear and understandable explanation of HFCS that I have ever read. Thank you! I should be more cautious- I know some squeezes into our house in salad dressing and even bread when I'm not on my toes at the grocery.

    Several years ago I decided to never eat store bought sweets. If someone bakes- hey, I'm all over it. But cookies, brownies, cakes from the store... I can skip them and not miss them. It was such a simple change but made a difference.

  2. YAY!! I'm glad you posted this. My family has a bit of a weight problem and in an effort to help the problem, I've tried to eat more naturally. Sometimes I do all right and others not so good, BUT I'm trying. My mom recently gave me an article from the newspaper called "Added sugars are clearly not the cause of obesity". Basically they blame too many calories, too little exercise, and lack of moderation in food consumption. Then it goes on to say that HFCS and table sugar are nearly identical and HFCS is not the problem.
    I agree with them about too many calories and too little exercise but sugar is part of the problem too. We eat/drink way too much of it. My bro-in-law dropped 30 lbs. just by quitting pop.
    Thanks for the clarity on HFCS.

  3. I also liked My Kids' Mom's suggestion about not eating store bought treats. That is such an awesome idea.

  4. I think that's a great idea too. I am totally trying to manage my husband's affair with sugar. That might be a good rule to implement.

  5. Ditto @My Kids' Mom....thank you for this excellent explanation of HFCS!