Thursday, July 26, 2007

High Fructose Corn Syrup

I've always considered myself to be health conscious, but as a mom I've become more health aware. Now I read all the ingredients on my foods and I've been shocked to see how many foods have high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). There's the obvious, sugar added to fruit juices and sodas. Then the not so obvious fruit jams, crackers, breads, ketchup, Children's Dimetapp, cereals...even the canned peas I bought the other day had additional corn syrup! I didn't think to check until I got home. Also, don't be fooled by claims such as 'All Natural Ingredients' on my Heinz ketchup bottle. Apparently the FDA has approved HFCS as 'natural' even though it is highly processed and often made from genetically modified corn.

This one surprised me (I know I'm a bit behind)

Aunt Jemina Lite Syrup ingredients:

Yuck, not any maple syrup to be found. One quarter cup of the 'lite' version has 100 calories. Compare that to Organic Central Market Maple syrup with only 50 calories for the same serving size and much more delicious.

Organic CM Maple syrup:
100% Organic Pure Maple syrup

Which would you rather eat? So, I had been buying whole grain organic waffles, then covering it with 'lite' high fructose corn syrup. Yum.

So, I set out to find out why there is so much HFCS in our foods and is it harmful?


In 1982 the US government institued sugar tarrifs and corn farming subsidies which drove the price of sugar up and rendered high fructose corn syrup, derived from corn, more economical. The food industry turned to HFCS as a substitute, with both Coca-Cola and Pepsi switching to HFCS in 1984 .

HFCS, Friend or Foe?

The Corn Refiners Association says:

"When compared to table sugar (sucrose), HFCS is not at all "high" in fructose. In fact, HFCS is nearly identical in composition to table sugar (sucrose), which is composed of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. HFCS is composed of either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose, with the remaining sugars being primarily glucose and some higher sugars. HFCS is used in foods and beverages because of the many benefits it offers. "

They go on to list the benefits:

  • sweetness matches table sugar

  • makes foods 'brown' better when baked and gives chewy cookies and snack bars a soft texture

  • protects freshness
Searching the web it is obvious there is a lot of controversy about HFCS. The biggest risk that I found documented in several places is that HFCS is metabolized in the body differently than other forms of sugar. The Seattle Times states it most simply:

"The problem with HFCS is not only that it is sweeter than other forms of sugar, but also that it does not affect appetite. Fructose adds to overeating because it does not trigger chemical messengers that tell the brain the stomach is full and no longer hungry, like food and drinks that contain regular refined sugar do."

Studies on the metabolism of HFCS make links to various health issues including wieght gain, diabetes, heart disease, loss of bone density, and cancer. Although these ill effects have not yet been proven in human clinical trials.

The truth is not clear, what is clear is that there is entirely too much added sugar, HFCS and artificial sugars in our foods.

So, I will be more dilligent about reading food labels and aim to limit the amount of foods we consume with sugar, especially HFCS.

Let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

Great observation! We can also expect food prices to start increasing with the madated use of ethanol as an oxygenate in gas. Talk to you soon!


Jennifer said...

interesting Marisa, i'm not familiar with that mandate. why is it now mandated and how does it impact us other than higher food costs.


Anonymous said...

EtOH doesn’t have as much energy per gallon as MTBE did, so this shrinks the amount of available fuel. It can’t be blended at the refinery gates and shipped through pipeline b/c of it’s affinity to water. This will lead to less fuel available and higher fuel prices.

Using EtOH is being pushed by the government b/c it is a renewable source of fuel. Politicians got on the bandwagon and claimed that it will be our solution to foreign oil dependence. It’s great for the corn farmers but now the farmers raising cows, chickens, pigs ect… are being hit with high feed prices. It’s never a good idea to use a foodstuff as a fuel. It leads to higher food prices.

Jenny said...

uhhh, i've been doing the same thing. organic whole wheat waffles smothered in chemicals (aka aunt jemima). Putting CM organic on my list.

Michele S said...

This is a great post and I limit HCFS whenever possible. But as you state, it's in everything. It looks like our government will again renew the Farm Bill and continue subsidizing the overproduction of corn by giving the big mega-farms all the money, thus making it the cheaper alternative to regular sugar. But that's a big win for the multi-billion dollar corporations that are making us sick by putting this in our food. Of course it's also a big win for the pharmacuticals that make us better.

Are they doing it on purpose? Make us sick to make us better?

Jennifer said...

I'm really interested to see the impact of increased corn cost on the use of HFCS. Will it still be more affordable alternative to sugar? Will the gov't just keep raising sugar tarrifs to ensure this?

And when will we get some solid research on the impact of HFCS to our health?