Sugar Part 1: High Fructose Corn Syrup

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:

This post has been entered in the following blog carnivals: Fight Back Friday June 4th Food Revolution Friday Food on Fridays Wholesome Whole Foods Vegetarian Foodie Friday Check out each of the links for lots of other great posts.