By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
It ’s been called the “crack cocaine of food” by some health advocates. But now, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is getting an extreme makeover thanks to a new ad campaign. If you haven’t seen these surreal TV commercials, let me warn you that you’ll probably have to pick your jaw up off the floor or double-check your hearing. I know I sure did.
The new commercials, featuring everyday folks incredulous at being offered juice and desserts made with HFCS, are an effort by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to hit back against the bad rap the sweetener is getting.
“It’s got high-fructose corn syrup in it — you know what they say about it!” one mom tells another when she’s offered fruit punch in the ad. Another commercial features a man hesitating to accept an HFCS-laced popsicle from his girlfriend. In both commercials, when the HFCS-pushing character asks what’s wrong with the sweetener, the other character just can’t say. In other words, the good folks at the CRA are telling you that you are stupid for thinking there is something wrong with HFCS. But these ads aren’t just condescending, they are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public about the safety of HFCS.
The New Natural
Talk about putting lipstick on a pig! Here’s what the Corn Refiners Association actually have the audacity to say on their website:
- “Research confirms that high fructose corn syrup is safe and no different from other common sweeteners like table sugar and honey. All three sweeteners are nutritionally the same.”
- The American Medical Association (AMA) recently concluded that “high fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners.”
- HFCS contributes energy (calories) and provides building blocks for other molecules the body needs (e.g. proteins and fats).
Oh, give me a break!
This isn’t the first time industry has tried to make HFCS look good. The sweetener made the news earlier this year when Cadbury Schweppes, manufacturer of 7-Up, used the phrase “All Natural” in its marketing – even though the uncola contains copious amounts of HFCS.
Can HFCS really be considered “natural?” Legally yes, says the FDA. But remember, this is the same government agency that considers genetically-modified foods natural. A happy coincidence since most of the corn used to create HFCS is genetically modified.
Here’s a little history: Back in the 1970s, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture made a bold move when he enabled the development of a compound called High Fructose Corn Syrup. It seemed to make sense at the time. American corn farmers were struggling with low profits and a huge corn surplus and consumers were clamoring to keep food prices down in the face of inflation.
More stable than sugar against moisture and other elements, HFCS can literally travel thousands of miles and sit on the shelf of your local convenience store forever and (almost) never go bad. Cheaper ingredients meant cheaper groceries for the American consumer. A win- win situation, it seemed. And, because of the unusually long shelf life of HFCS, foods like store-bought cakes and cookies could be sold with practically no expiration date. (Tell the truth, you always wondered how they made those Twinkies last forever, didn’t you?)
Despite misleading labels that read “all natural,” there’s nothing natural about HFCS. After all, you can’t cook it up at home using a few ears of corn. The process of creating HFCS starts with corn – actually corn starch – and takes place in a series of stainless steel vats and tubes in which a dozen different mechanical processes and chemical reactions occur — including several rounds of high-velocity spinning and the introduction of three different genetically-engineered enzymes to incite molecular rearrangements.
The enzymes turn most of the glucose molecules in the corn into fructose, which makes the substance sweeter. This 90 percent fructose syrup mixture is then combined with regular corn syrup, which is 100 percent glucose molecules, to get the right percentage of fructose and glucose. The final product is a clear, goopy liquid that is as sweet as or sweeter than sugar.
The ‘Plus-Size’ Sweetener
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that, in 2007, American’s each consumed more than 40 pounds of HFCS. On average, data from Emory University shows that 10 percent of our daily calories come to us in the form of HFCS. One analysis of government consumption data found that the per capita intake of the sweet syrup had increased by more than 1,000 percent from 1970 to 1990, exceeding the changes in the intake of any other food group tracked by the Department of Agriculture.
No wonder this sweetener has been linked to the obesity epidemic.
But it isn’t just the amount we are consuming. Fructose adds to overeating because it doesn’t trigger chemical messengers that tell the brain the stomach is full and no longer hungry, like food and drinks that contain regular refined sugar do. So we eat, and eat, and eat.
All of this eating doesn’t just pack on the pounds, it also sets us up for metabolic syndrome. A new study by St. Louis University clearly shows that HFCS, especially when it is paired with dietary trans fats, promotes sedentary behavior and contributes to obesity. Worse yet, this food additive combo triggers inflammation, impaired insulin sensitivity and boosts triglyceride levels.
But HFCS has an even darker side. There is new evidence that consuming this sweetener on a long-term basis contributes to the development of fatty liver disease. While the accumulation of some fat in the liver shouldn’t worry you, a diet high in HFCS could create higher fat content in the liver that has been associated with liver-damaging inflammation and the formation of fibrous tissue. In some cases, this can progress either to cirrhosis, which can produce progressive, irreversible liver scarring.
Here’s the problem, though: Early-stage nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) rarely causes any symptoms, so unless it’s detected during a blood test for high cholesterol, it can go unnoticed. But here’s the good news: NAFLD is reversible if caught early enough. Treatment involves lifestyle changes like losing weight, exercising regularly, attaining and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and, if you are diabetic, getting your blood sugar levels under control.
Without treatment, however, NAFLD can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure in some people. This risk is highest in people older than 45 who are affected by obesity, diabetes or both. Some estimates suggest that as many as one in four people with NAFLD may develop serious liver disease within 10 years.
So if anybody asks you what’s wrong with HFCS, just smile sympathetically and say, “Where would you like me to start?”
One Last Thing . . .
High fructose corn syrup is ubiquitous. If you had the time and inclination to roam the supermarket, you’d find this manufactured sweetener in yogurts, marinades, condiments like ketchup, salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, canned soups, canned fruit and, of course, soda pop. But here’s a shocker – it’s also found in breads and cereals!
HFCS prolongs the freshness of bread and retains moisture in products like bran cereals and granola bars. Chewy cookies, snack bars and other baked goods also derive their soft and moist texture from HFCS since the sweetener resists crystallization after baking. This highly processed sweetener also inhibits microbial spoilage by reducing water activity.
Avoiding HFCS can be tricky – and you probably need to bring a magnifying glass to the supermarket. But checking ingredient labels for HFCS is the only way you can be sure you aren’t eating this “natural” sweetener.
This Just In . . .
Thanks in large part to Al Gore and more severe weather over the past few years, global warming has taken center stage. But here’s something you probably haven’t heard – global warming may be linked to the development of kidney stones!
In a recent study at the University of Texas, Dallas, researchers created several climate models that showed a widening of the “stone belt” – an area in the Southeastern United States where the prevalence of kidney stones is 50 percent higher than anywhere else in the country. The models predict that the Southeast’s neighbors – the Midwest and Northeast – will experience a radical rise in temperature that could cause dehydration as people adapt. The result of this dehydration – kidney stones.
If you already suffer from kidney stones, you don’t need to wait for the rest of the country to share your agony. You can get relief now, before things heat up. Try some marshmallow root tea to cleanse the kidneys and expel stones. And drinking lemon juice in water or fresh apple juice may help alleviate the pain.
Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. “Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004; 79: 537-543.
Brikowski TH, Lotan Y, Pearle MS. “Climate-related increase in the prevalence of urolithiasis in the United States.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U S A. 2008;105:9841-9846.
Ouyang X, Cirillo P, Sautin Y, et al. “Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.” Journal of Hepatology. 2008;48:993-999.
Tetri LH, Basaranoglu M, Brunt EM, et al. “Severe NAFLD with hepatic necroinflammatory changes in mice fed trans-fats and a high fructose corn syrup equivalent.” American Journal of Physiology. Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology. 2008 Sep 4. [Epub ahead of print]