Just say NO! to High-Fructose Corn Syrup

My son’s elementary school promotes the anti-drug campaign Just Say No To Drugs! each year. It’s a wonderful awareness campaign. I really wish they could include high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in that campaign. Does that mean I am comparing HFCS to drugs?  No. But I believe it’s something our kids should be taught to avoid, for their long-term health.  I know, for those of you out there that feel some HFCS won’t hurt and tell me, besides “my kids don’t drink sodas”, well, I may have some news for you. HFCS is in almost everything on the grocery store shelf that requires a sweetener. Why? Because it’s a much cheaper ingredient than sugar in the manufacturing process and it extends shelf life. Cheaper ingredients, extended shelf life means less cost to the consumer. Less cost equates to a  higher volume of products that will fly off  the shelf and into America’s stomach. Ugh!

In case you’re not familiar with what exactly HFCS is, I’ll give you the less technical, modified version of the manufacturing process. First off, it’s an artificial sweetener. Granted, it’s a byproduct of corn (which isn’t artificial) but it is processed in such a way that it becomes artificial. Corn kernels are soaked in warm water containing sulfur dioxide. This warm solution hydrates the kernels and makes it easier to separate its starch, hull, protein and oil components. After soaking, the kernels are wet milled to remove the oil containing germ. In this process, the wet starch is mixed with a weak solution of hydrochloric acid and is heated under pressure. The hydrochloric acid and heat break down the starch molecules and convert them into a sugar.  Next, the remaining corn starch is washed, and three types of enzymes are added to the resulting mixture. The resulting syrup is then place through an evaporation process to create the desired consistency for shipping. Sound natural to you?

Me neither. But the Corn Refiners Association put a lot of effort and money into “debunking” myths surrounding HFCS. One of them being that it’s the leading cause for America’s obesity epidemic. I’m not blaming obesity on HFCS, but it is in most processed foods that America eats.  When HFCS is ingested, it travels straight to the liver which turns the sugary liquid into fat, and unlike other carbohydrates HFCS does not cause the pancreas to produce insulin; which acts as a hunger quenching signal to the brain.  It makes sense to me that eating food that gets immediately stored as fat and never feeling full might lead one to obesity.

Because HFCS extends the shelf life of foods, and farm subsidies make it cheaper than sugar, it’s added to a staggering range of items, including sodas, yogurt, cereals, crackers, ketchup and bread — and in most foods marketed to children. So, unless you’re making a concerted effort to avoid it, it’s pretty difficult to consume high-fructose corn syrup in moderation.  Try buying a loaf of bread at your local super market chain that does not contain HFCS. I nearly went blind reading all those tiny labels trying to find one. I gave up and purchase my HFCS free bread at Trader Joe’s.

A pilot study reported that some HFCS manufactured in the U.S. in 2005 contained trace amounts of mercury. The mercury appeared to come from sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid, two chemicals used in the manufacture of high-fructose corn syrup. The Washington Post wrote an article on January 28, 2009 that stated “Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies. The chemical was found most commonly in HFCS-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.”  Now I don’t think I need to point out that ingesting mercury, a neurotoxin, is bad for your health. For the complete Washington Post article, click on the link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/26/AR2009012601831.html

The good news is, I think the tide is turning. Public outcry and perhaps a few lawsuits thrown at food/drink manufacturers (Kraft was sued in 2007 for claiming Capri Sun was “all natural” even though it contained HFCS) has prompted some companies to switch from HFCS to sugar in their sodas/drinks.  Soft drinks groups, HFCS’s core consumers, are “preferring to switch to sugar given the poor health image of high-fructose corn syrup,”  Credit Suisse’s report stated on January 7, 2010 (http://www.agrimoney.com/news/corn-groups-hit-as-drinks-makers-return-to-sugar–1183.html). Snapple, Ocean Spray and Capri Sun had switched some months ago, with Gatorade in November saying it would replace corn syrup with sugar. That’s huge! Mainly because corn syrup was selling for about half the price of spot sugar.

My hope is that more people read ingredient labels so they are aware of the types of additives they are consuming.  Next time you pick up something at the grocery store, spend a minute reading the ingredient list and ignore the marketing on the front of the package. My family just says NO! to HFCS and perhaps more families out there will join us. And live long, healthy lives.

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4 Responses

  1. I really appreciated your explanation right to the point.
    My family and I avoid HFCS since I noticed that my daughter got sick every single time she took it. She has some food allergies, and I believe HFCS had an important role on them.
    I take a few seconds reading the ingredients of every single food that we are going to eat.
    Life without HFCS is an adventure, and it is a pleasure.

  2. Thanks for a good explanation about HFCS. I wonder why health experts and diet writers are rarely telling about it? I think it would be good to show comparisons of how other countries are using it (or avoiding it).

    I think it would hurt the profit margins of many food producers in the USA if the truth about HFCS was openly told. And yes, students should be told about this subject.

  3. I love all the HFCS commercials that keep trying to tell us that our bodies don’t know the difference – “sugar is sugar”. I’m not sure how they get away with this since in August 2010, the journal Cancer Research found that not all sugars are the same. Tumor cells love both glucose sugar and fructose sugar, but fructose directly causes cancer cells to reproduce and spread in a way that glucose does not.

    Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/029374_cancer_high_fructose_corn_syrup.html#ixzz1QRJd0wCa

    These findings have been enough for me to never buy any products containing HFCS for my family again. I even contacted companies that make my favorite products and asked them to remove it. I figure the more they hear about it the sooner they will begin to change.

  4. Thank you for the explanation of the process. My son was diagnosed with ADHD in October of 2010 and we found that when he consumes any product containing HFCS it triggers negative behavior. We have since eliminated this ingrediant from his diet and he now knows to check the ingredient panels and ask at restaurants. You are correct that it is in almost every product even products that you would not think need a sweetner. I have found that Sara Lee makes bread without HFCS and Hunts ketchup is free of it as well. I have also found a great app for smart phone users, it is called Fooducate. It is a free app and gives products a grade based on the ingredient structure. This app also lets you know if the product contains controversial ingredients such as artifical dyes or HFCS.

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