High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Sugar, Corn Syrup… what…?

17 09 2011

The corn industry is a big one in US and corn is so cheap because  is subsidized, there is basically too much corn. Because of this, obviously, corn based products are too cheap.

One of said byproducts is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Lately, after years of being under the radar, HFCS has been getting some negative attention because it has been linked to obesity and type two diabetes among other problems. The corn industry says those studies are inconclusive because there are other studies showing nothing… guess who is behind many of the studies that show nothing? Yes, you got it, the corn industry. Other studies that “show nothing” basically say that HFCS is not good, but they don’t compare it to other sugars, so the HFCS lobby takes it as “there is no info about other sugars, it is as good as other sugars… therefore it’s good”. They maintain that sugar is sugar and that HFCS consumed at the same levels that white sugar will cause the same effects. They have also launched some quite naive campaigns in which happy pretty people say things as “You are giving that to your kids, it has HFCS! You know what they say!” “What do they say” uncomfortable silence… “That it is natural, that it comes from corn?” These commercials were promptly parodied by several videos as the one we see below:

They are not just a bunch of impersonal conspiracy theory  loonies. They are the scientists that work hard in producing objective science. There are several studies that show that consumption of HFCS is bad for lab rats, but my favourite is this one, in which an equivalent of HFCS and sucrose (white sugar) was given to two groups of rats, besides two other groups, one that had a diet of rat food only. Of course this one group presented no health problems, but the interesting results are that sugar and HFCS do not have the same effects on the organism. The rats that were exposed to HFCS showed a higher increase in fat around the waist, the fat that has been linked with heart disease and type two diabetes. Basically sugar from HFCS is not the same than cane or beet sugar and it causes worse health problems.

The problem also arises in defining what is natural, which can be defined however you want in the food industry. The corn lobby wants us all to believe that HFCS is all natural, after all, it comes from corn, right? Corn starch (a complex carbohydrate) is treated with diverse enzymes to degrade it to smaller carbohydrates: glucose and fructose. Those enzymes come from transgenic bacteria, so if you do have a problem with transgenics, you will have to add that to your list (of course, the corn is already transgenic). Now, HFCS lobbyist say that fructose and glucose are found in nature together, in fruits precisely, and then it is OK. The problem is that the ratio of fructose to glucose is different in HFCS (*high fructose*), and this triggers a different metabolic pathway than other sugars, leading to more a different regulation of insulin in your body. Notice that when the corn people advocate that the percentage of fructose is similar to other sugars they are not talking about fruits, but about sweeteners.

Now there are also other problems. The corn industry repeats once and again that there is no problem with HFCS if it is consumed in reasonable limits. But if you do not make a conscious effort in keeping HFCS out of your pantry, it is impossible to consume it in reasonable limits. HFCS is everywhere: in your soda (not a surprise), potato chips, cereal bars, yogurts, bread, honey (bet you didn’t know that one!), dressings, ice creams, basically anything you can think of; and this makes really impossible to consume moderately, especially since you don’t know how much you are consuming per serving and what are those “reasonable limits”. By the way, one can of soda has an equivalent of HFCS to 12 teaspoons of sugar… is that reasonable?

This is how I make it: I just do not buy anything with HFCS (incidentally, look for “pure honey” in the supermarket), then if every once in a while I must eat out something I cannot control or I am dying for something sweet as a soda drink, the amount of HFCS that I will have taken will be minimal through the year. It took us some time to find the brands that had no HFCS, but once you find them shopping in the supermarket becomes fast and easy.

But wait… there is more!

Because of its bad name the corn industry is lobbying to change the name from HFCS to corn sugar in the hopes that no one will notice and they will buy the same crap if it has a different name (They already tried to change it to corn syrup unsuccessfully). They have not yet been approved but they are already using that name for advertising. The FDA is not happy about this and they have warned them to not use such a name until they are approved. Unfortunately, they cannot do more than warn. One of the problems is that “corn sugar” is already  being used for dextrose, which is just a form of glucose. And be careful, there are some products that have not HFCS but High Maltose Corn Syrup instead, another fabricated sugar from corn.

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4 responses

17 09 2011
Hanna

it’s in honey? lamesauce. I mean I get honey from my parents bees (yes I am super lucky…they also give me beef and some veggies). But that just seems super sneaky. On a side note, we have managed to switch over to unrefined cane sugar as you can buy it at Costco (um, or at least my parents buy it at Costco…I swear I do pay for it though), as I am uncomfortable with how much sugar is GMO beets.

19 09 2011
Constanza

Honey can have HFCS or a derivative because some bee breeders feed their bees with HFCS to increase the production. One of the problems is that when it reaches a certain temperature (during summer) HFCS is not stable and it decomposes, one of the furanosids is toxic to the bees and they die. I really would rather not to have digested HFCS in my honey, and I want my honey from flowers, which is what I am paying for after all. I have not considered buying raw sugar, we used not to eat much sugar, but lately I’m baking quite a bit, maybe it’s time to think about it.

18 09 2011
Edu

In Costco you can also get Mexican Coca-cola, that is made with cane sugar (and tastes much better too).

19 09 2011
Constanza

Yes, we have bought it in the past, I think from Giant Eagle. It tastes much better too, in my opinion.

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