Sweet ignorance

One of the latest health crazes is the anti-high fructose corn syrup movement. The greatest fears are obesity, hyperactivity, and the general anti-heavily-manufactured-food idea. The greatest fault, however, is the ignorance of why it may be unhealthy. While high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is definitely heavily manufactured, it is not a direct cause of obesity and hyperactivity.

HFCS is as much a cause of obesity as air is to an asthmatic. Giving a kid some ketchup (yes, it’s in that too) will not cause him to get fat or cause a hyperactivity disorder like ADHD. Focusing on a single food product like HFCS (in this case, essentially the same as regular table sugar and as sweet as natural honey) is a poor choice according to Dr. James M. Rippe, cardiologist and biomedical sciences professor at the University of Central Florida, saying, “Americans are eating more of everything. It’s the excess calories and sedentary lifestyle that are having the greatest impact.” The American Medical Association agrees that HFCS does not contribute to obesity more than any other sugary product. Essentially, use of HFCS follows one of the top rules of industry: produce as cheaply as possible. Working around natural cane sugar by producing a cheaper synthetic alternative accomplishes that.

The U.S. government places tariffs on imported cane sugar and subsidizes the corn industry, making HFCS cheaper to manufacture than natural sugar. HFCS is manufactured from cornstarch, broken down and reformed by two enzymes, to yield almost-pure glucose (the most common form of sugar). A final enzyme converts some of the glucose into fructose, which is then distilled into a 90% fructose mixture. This mixture is then combined with the original glucose to yield the final product, high fructose corn syrup – about 55% fructose and 45% glucose

Some studies have shown a measurable level of mercury in some HFCS products; however, it was an almost negligible amount compared to the EPA’s limit. The corn industry has refuted that claim for the report’s use of outdated data, and it affirms that no mercury-based products are used in the corn refinery. The industry also has the Corn Refiners Association, which initiated the “Sweet Surprise” campaign to combat the anti-HFCS sentiment with an informational website and commercials.

HFCS is fine in moderation, just like any other sugary junk food. Even everyday items like ketchup, cereal, salad dressing, syrup, and salsa all contain some corn syrup as a main ingredient. One way to work around products containing syrup: buy foreign. Many foreign manufacturers, like Mexico, largely use natural cane sugar to sweeten their products instead of syrups – in fact, the Mexican Coca Cola is the real classic, since the formula change in 1985 from cane sugar to corn syrup. Some soda brands plan to release a limited run of non-HFCS products, like the “Pepsi Throwback” and Snapple, to test the waters.
Perhaps this corn syrup switch is just like New Coke. Once the public is outraged at this syrup substitute, the soda industry will shout “just kidding,” reintroduce natural cane sugar to their products, and make millions off our ignorance.


2 thoughts on “Sweet ignorance

  1. Cynthia1770 says:

    My google alert for HFCS picked up your post. “HFCS is as much a cause of obesity as air is to an asthmatic”. That’s an interestng analogy. But what if someone were to start tweaking the air we breathe. Normally
    it’s about 20% oxygen, 80% nitrogen and other gases. What if the ratio of gases were changed just 5%, and we only had 15% oxygen? How would the asthmatic fare then? You see, that’s what the Corn Refiners did when they designed HFCS. Take the variant HFCS-55 which is used to sweeten
    all national brands of soda, many fruit drinks, most lemonades, and ironically, most sports quenchers. HFCS-55 is 55%fructose:45% glucose.
    To the casual observer that appears to be only 5% different from the
    ratio of monosaccharides in table sugar, sucrose, namely 50% fructose: 50% glucose. But when you do the math a different number emerges.
    Every ratio may be expressed as a quotient and therefore calculated.
    55/45=1.22. Bingo! You now have a sweetener that has, compared to glucose, 22% more fructose. It doesn’t take long to find research on the metabolic dangers of excess fructose. For an excellent review try Dr. Dana Flavin’s review in LifeExtension.com. I realize that sucrose is 50%
    fructose but we have been guzzling these brews of excess fructose since
    1984. The results of obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease are apparent. We are a fat and sick nation. Finally, “HFCS” is really a black box. Since the monosaccharides are not linked as they are in sucrose, you REALLY don’t know exactly what ratio of fructose: glucose you are drinking or eating. Here’s a thought: if the the Cargill or Archer-Daniels-
    Midland were to make a 2% mistake and brew HFCS-57, the resultant
    imbalance would yield 57%fructose:43%glucose, or 32% excess fructose. StopHFCS.com has an extensive list of HFCS-free foods and
    beverages. To your health.

    • Citizen Aden says:

      I do not deny that irresponsible consumption of HFCS is certainly harmful to your health. Actually, I would love to see a full fledged return of cane syrup or other non-manufactured sweeteners to foods. However, blatant avoidance of HFCS, which is in essence only a combination of two natural sugar types, is ignorant and typical of bandwagoning that so frequently occurs in the health scene. Naturally, someone who never moves further than their couch or has a pancreatic disorder would and should look more closely at foods containing variable fructose/glucose levels. Otherwise, responsibility is the rule.

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