Sugar Part 1: High Fructose Corn Syrup

June 4th, 2010

This post is part of my series on sugar. You can find the other blogs in this series here:
Sugar Part II: Artificial Sweeteners
Sugar Part III: Refined White Sugar
Sugar Part IV: Natural Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth


A friend of mine recently brought these commercials to my attention and I found them fascinating. She wrote an email and a post on her blog about this issue and I encourage you to check it out.

They were released more than a year ago and I’m sure most of you have seen them already, but I hadn’t (we live in Europe and don’t own a tv, so I can be a bit behind on things).

In some ways I think the commercials are kind of brilliant – very relatable and well done. But, that makes me even sadder watching them – because people are going to buy into them. Just in case you haven’t seen them – here’s one of them:

You can watch the other one’s Here and Here.

The main point of the commercial is to communicate that High Fructose Corn Syrup is “natural” – it’s made from corn and has no artificial ingredients. They also communicate that it has the same calories as sugar, and that “like sugar it is fine” when consumed in moderation.

Let’s talk about each of these claims and break them down a bit…

1.  Corn Syrup is natural – it’s made from corn and has no artificial ingredients.

Well, this is true… in part. Corn syrup IS made from corn. The corn is processed into corn starch which is then processed into syrup. Then enzymes are added to that syrup which converts the glucose into fructose. From what I could tell it’s true that they aren’t adding any artificial ingredients/additives to it. BUT, just because something is made from natural ingredients doesn’t make it good for us.

Any sort of processing changes food. Corn in its original natural state is rich in vitamins and minerals and can be very good for you. High Fructose Corn syrup has been stripped of those vitamins and minerals and is devoid of those health benefits. The processing of High Fructose Corn Syrup changes the molecular properties of the sugar from one thing into another. What you are left with at the end is VERY different from what you started with at the beginning. Now, I’m not going to say that all processing is bad – I mean maple syrup is processed a bit (heated) and I use that and would advocate for others to use that as a better sweetener. But, when processing so drastically changes the property of the food and is so different from the way that people would have traditionally eaten the food, well, it just makes me wonder how it’s really effecting our bodies and if we really have enough evidence to know for sure that it’s ok.

2.  HFCS has the same calories as sugar, and like sugar it is fine when consumed in moderation.

I’m not one to count calories and I think that the whole idea of calories is a little misleading. So, in my book, who cares if it has the same calories as sugar. Calories are not a very good measure of health.

As for comparing HFCS to sugar… There are conflicting studies on both sides of this some arguing that sugar and HFCS are the same and some arguing that they are different. Personally, I believe they are different and would rather err on the side of caution with this.

A study released in March 2010 compared rats given water mixed with high fructose corn syrup to rats given water mixed with sugar. Both rats were given the same rodent food and the same amount of calories. The study was done at Princeton University and found that the HFCS rats gained more weight and had more fat around their abdomen and higher levels of triglycerides circulating in their blood. To me this indicates a clear difference between sugar and HFCS.

Two studies published about a year ago also showed that nearly half of the “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.” Ok, so, that scared me. I mean we all know that mercury is toxic to our bodies and that it can be especially dangerous for children, so, that should be reason enough to avoid HFCS.

But, let’s assume for a minute that the commercials are right and that it is exactly the same as white sugar and both are fine when consumed in moderation. The fact of the matter is that white sugar isn’t hiding in EVERYTHING, High Fructose Corn Syrup IS (from soda, to bread, to condiments, to vitamins – that’s right, vitamins!) Read some labels and you’ll be shocked to find out how many foods and products contain this sweetener. So, even if it’s not any worse than sugar and is fine in moderation the average American isn’t eating it in moderation. In fact the amount of corn syrup in just one glass of the punch from this commercial would most likely be outside of the limits of moderation.

In western society we consume far more white sugar than we should, but I think most people consume far more High Fructose Corn Syrup than white sugar. So, cutting back just on HFCS in your diet would, for most people, dramatically reduce their overall consumption of sugars and sweets.

The truth of the matter is that sugar is slowly killing us, in whatever form it’s in. Some of us would argue that white sugar is not as bad as HFCS, but it is still wreaking havoc on our health and it’s time that we each, as individual consumers, got off the sugar addition band wagon and started truly eating sweets “in moderation” (**I’m talking to myself as much as to anyone else here**). It’s time that we started making better choices when it comes to which sweeteners we will consume. The next post in this series will address refined white sugar and its effects on our health and in the following post we’ll talk all about natural sweeteners.

SO, what do you think about these commercials? What do you think about HFCS? Do you avoid it? Why or why not?

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

Additional Reading and References:

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Food Revolution Friday
Food on Fridays
Wholesome Whole Foods
Vegetarian Foodie Friday
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17 Responses

  1. Drew Kime says:

    As far as I’m concerned, the main argument against HFCS is right here:

    The fact of the matter is that white sugar isn’t hiding in EVERYTHING, High Fructose Corn Syrup IS.

    It’s there because the corn subsidies make it so cheap that they spend massive amounts on R&D to figure out more places to put all of it. They make money on each bushel of corn regardless of the market conditions, so they have to put it all somewhere.

    • Beth says:

      Drew, you are absolutely right and that is a great point to add – I didn’t get into the politics of this issue, but it is important to note. Thanks for commenting on it. Things won’t completely change until these subsidies are changes as well.

      Ann, I totally agree with your friends from Australia – I live in Europe now and cook most of our food from scratch anyway, and on the occasions when we are back in the states and eat something that was conventionally made or processed I’m always shocked at how sweet it is. Thanks for stopping buy my blog and for putting together Food on Fridays – such a great carnival and I’ve really enjoyed participating in it.

      Lib, I’m so glad this was helpful for you. I really enjoyed writing it and I learned somethings myself in the process :)

  2. Melodie says:

    That commercial is hilarious. I think it just goes to show that people don’t have the words to express why something isn’t healthy, or is, so it is easy to get swayed by someone who appears to have all the knowledge about something. Love the post. I invite you to link it up to my Vegetarian Foodie Fridays post. You don’t have to be vegetarian to link up and since I accept dessert recipes someone posting something more mainstream might learn something from this. Hope to see you there!

    • Beth says:

      Melodie, Thanks for letting me know that I could add this to vegetarian foodie Friday. For some reason I thought that it had to be a vegetarian recipe. I read your blog and had seen this weeks round up but didn’t think I qualified to enter. Thanks for letting me know – I did add my post to the list last night – for some reason though I got distracted and forgot to add your link – sorry – it’s fixed now. So, everyone, please go check out Melodie’s great site and carnival – you’ll find lots of great stuff! :)

  3. [...] Tara @ Feels Like Home (princess castle cake) 9. Beth Stedman (High Fructose Corn Syrup) 10. Crockpot SW Bean Medley – Frugal Meatless Meal 11. Kitchen Stewardship – Play with [...]

  4. Ann Kroeker says:

    Many years ago, we got to know some people who just moved to the States from Australia, and I asked them about some of the subtle differences in everyday things. One of the first observations they made was that almost everything they eat in America tastes sweet–even things that needn’t be sweet, like bread.

    I’ve started making my own bread as much as possible, but it’s not a habit yet. So we still buy bagged bread. We do, however, look for loaves without HFCS or sugar. They used to be hard to find, but some companies are listening to people’s concern and are altering their recipes.

    In America, one way we can make a change is by making our preferences known with our wallets. If we stop buying foods with those additives (which is hard to do, since as you point out they are hidden in so many products), we are demonstrating that we want alternatives.

    We can also blog about it. :)

    Great job, voicing and clarifying and educating your readers!

  5. Lib says:

    I am so glad you wrote about this. Andrew and I just saw those commercials a few weeks ago and we’ve both been meaning to do some research because the claims just didn’t ring true. I really appreciate the research you put into this post. Really helpful information, so thanks!

  6. You are right to say that Americans should make better choices, but pointing the finger at high fructose corn syrup because it’s easy doesn’t actually help anyone. Educated consumers shouldn’t jump on a band wagon for (or against) a single ingredient because they think it’s a shortcut to good health. In the mean time, scientific evidence supports the fact that the two sweeteners are handled the same.

    • Beth says:

      ConsumerFreedom, Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right that we shouldn’t just “jump on a band wagon for (or against) a single ingredient because [we] think it’s a shortcut to good health.” Cutting High Fructose Corn Syrup out of your diet won’t instantly make you healthy. It’s no shortcut. But, it is a step, one small step, towards better health.
      You are right there is research to support that HFCS and sugar are handled the same by the body, but reading the post I hope you picked up on the fact that I don’t think we should be eating sugar either – or at least not in the amounts that we currently consume. This is a series on sugar and sweeteners and I will address other one’s such as refined white sugar in an upcoming post.
      I also think that although there are studies supporting the idea that sugar and HFCS are treated the same by the body there are also studies like this new Princeton study which seems to suggest that they are not, although we are not sure why yet.
      I hope you stick around for the rest of the series and continue to push back.

  7. Karen Bannan says:

    I think the commercials are evil and misleading. It’s sad, really, how corn growers, who are already making a bundle on biofuels, refuse to admit that their product is making money at the expense of (mostly) children. I’ve written about this, too, and it’s really upsetting.

  8. Scatteredmom says:

    When vacationing in the USA, we can taste the difference as well, to the point where we will bring as much food as we can from home to avoid the HFCS. It’s not used as much here, and we notice the huge change as soon as we’re across the border. Interesting topic!

    I was a little irritated by the commercial though, making the mom questioning the whole HFCS thing as looking stupid.

  9. [...] Beth is writing a great series about Sugar that I reckon you’ll all enjoy reading. The post she submitted last week was about High Fructose Syrup. [...]

  10. [...] post is part of my series on sugar. You can find the other blogs in this series here: Sugar Part I: High Fructose Corn Syrup Sugar Part II: The Problem with Artificial Sweeteners Sugar Part III: Refined White [...]

  11. [...] post is part of my series on sugar. You can find the other blogs in this series here: Sugar Part I: High Fructose Corn Syrup Sugar Part II: Artificial Sweeteners Sugar Part IV: Natural Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet [...]

  12. [...] post is part of my series on sugar. You can find the other blogs in this series here: Sugar Part I: High Fructose Corn Syrup Sugar Part III: Refined White Sugar Sugar Part IV: Natural Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth In [...]

  13. eydie says:

    After trying a high fructose corn syrup free diet for my daughter, I see nothing good about it. She has had stomach issues for years and a pediatric GI in Atlanta suggested eliminating high fructose corn syrup from her diet. After one week, there is a huge difference!! It is in almost everything we eat on a daily basis—SCARY!

  14. [...] Sugar Part 1: High Fructose Corn Syrup (bethstedman.com) [...]

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