The New Spin on High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Let’s face it….most of what goes down in this world all comes back to the almighty dollar.  Sure, there are lots of good people doing good things, but the power of money seems to influence way too many important decisions…like our health.

While watching the Food Network, I saw a most disturbing commercial.  Two teenaged boys are sitting at the breakfast table eating cereal.  One says to the other, “Don’t you know that cereal is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup?  Even a doofus like you must know that is bad for you!”  The other, with a smug look on his face says, “Nutritionally it is the same as sugar and it is fine in moderation.”  The first boy looks as if he’s just been enlightened.  An all-knowing, female concludes, “Get the facts…you’re in for a sweet surprise!”   At the bottom of the screen, the fine print reads “The Corn Refiners Association”. 

Talk about spin!!  Sure, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) probably IS fine in moderation…but what they don’t tell you is that if you eat like most people do, it is nearly impossible to moderate your HFCS consumption.  It is in just about EVERYTHING these days.  According to Michael Pollan, author of the New York Times Best Seller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, of the some 45,000 items sold in grocery stores, more than a quarter of them contain some form of corn (HFCS, corn sweeteners, corn starch, etc).  HFCS isn’t just in soft drinks either.  It is in virtually everything that was once sweetened with sugar (sugar was replaced by HFCS because the latter is significantly cheaper).  This includes fruit juices, pretty much every item on the snack/chip aisle, baked goods (including crackers, cookies, pretzels, sandwich bread, rolls, muffins, etc), ice cream…and yes, cereals.  The list goes on and on.  While you can check to see if HFCS appears on product nutritional labels, its difficult to ascertain just how you’re ingesting.  And what about at restaurants?  In Pollan’s book, he references McDonald’s, where there are unspecified amounts of corn sweeteners and HFCS in the majority of foods listed.  But remember, HFCS is “fine in moderation”.

So what is so bad about the stuff?  Well, for starters, it is very high in calories.  I don’t need to tell you we have an obesity epidemic in this country, which most believe has led to a significant increase in Type 2 diabetes.  The problem is compounded by the fact that the inclusion of extremely inexpensive HFCS (instead of it’s more expensive counterpart, cane sugar) allows processed foods to be sold for a pittance, further encouraging poor food choices and over-consumption.  This is particularly a problem in the lower-socioeconomic communities.  Pollan gives an excellent example of this phenomenon:  a dollar’s worth of potato chips are about 1200 calories, where the same dollar’s worth of carrots are 250 calories.  One dollar of soda is about 875 calories, where the same amount of juice is 170 calories.  People think they are getting more for their money, when instead they are injesting a truckload of empty calories, only to be hungry for more a short while later (and naturally, consuming more empty calories).  The vicious cycle to obesity and poor health continues.

I find this “Sweet Surprise” campaign by the Corn Refiners Association unconscionable, but not unbelievable.  Yes, there are those of us who spend a lot of time reading labels, avoiding processed foods as much as possible, and trying to make health a top priority.  However, many people will see that commercial and think, “Great!  Sugar Pops aren’t so bad after all!”  Well, when you do “get the facts” as they instruct, you’ll realize you’re far better off avoiding the stuff all together.

Above photo by I’m Sort of A Big Deal.

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2 Responses to “The New Spin on High-Fructose Corn Syrup”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Tracy,

    There was an article this week in USA Today about new research pertaining to high fructose corn syrup. Check it out here: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-12-08-fructose-corn-syrup_N.htm

    -Kevin on behalf of the Corn Refiners Association

  2. Tracy Says:

    Thank you, Kevin, for that link. It states that HFCS is no worse than sugar, nutritionally (which is, I believe, the reason for this entire campaign). That may be true, but that STILL doesn’t mean it is good for you!! Because HFCS is in such a high percentage of the foods we eat, it makes it difficult for most people to limit intake, which is a problem. And, as I stated in the post, foods made with HFCS tend to be inexpensive, leading the uninformed to make poor eating decisions. This is also a problem of national importance.

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