24 March, 2010

High Fructose Corn Syrup: Bullshit Exposed

For the past two years, an advertising campaign by the Corn Refiners' Association has tried to convince the public that people who avoid high-fructose corn syrup are misinformed tongue-tied idiots.

You've seen these ads.
"You know what they say about high-fructose corn syrup..."

"What?  That it's identical to sugar?  That it's fine in moderation?"

"Uh, I...hurr hurrf durf durrp.  Duh.."

Well, here's a sweet surprise for the corn pimps at the CRA.

Photo by Denise Applewhite, courtesy of
Princeton University.
A research team at Princeton University has demonstrated a clear link between high fructose corn syrup and obesity.  The team - undergraduate Elyse Powell, psychology professor Bart Hoebel, visiting research associate Nicole Avena and graduate student Miriam Bocarsly, pictured at left  - published the results of two studies earlier this month.

In the first study,  one group of male rats were given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow.  A second group of male rats received water sweetened with table sugar (sucrose,) with the standard diet.  Even though the HFCS solution was only half as concentrated as level to be found in most sodas, and the sugar in the sucrose solution was the same as found in soda, the high-fructose corn syrup-ged group gained much more weight

The second experiment monitored weight gain, body fat and triglyceride levels in rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup over a period of six months. Rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed abnormal weight gain, elevated triglycerides, and increases in body fat compared to rats on a standard rat chow diet.  Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet.

In an article published on Princeton's website, psychology professor Bart Hoebel said:

"Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests.  When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight."

Consumers, of course, have had a bad feeling about high-fructose corn syrup for years, which is why the Corn Refiners Association has to advertise the so-called "benefits" of HFCS to begin with.  And the backlash against HFCS is growing as shoppers read ingredient panels and realize just how prevalent the ingredient is.  How can something be used "in moderation" when it is virtually everywhere?

And companies are following the lead, giving customers what they want.  ConAgra has announced that starting in May 2010, Hunt's Ketchup will be reformulated with sugar rather than HFCS based on customer demand and the results of taste tests that have proven consumers can not only taste the difference between HFCS and sugar, but they prefer sugar.   Other companies moving from corn sweeteners to sugar include Del Monte Light Fruit, Kraft Foods' Wheat Thins, Oroweat breads, Pillsbury, Snapple, and PepsiCo's GatorAde.

The Corn Refiners Association isn't going to go down without a fight, though.  They realize that  customers are turning against them despite their best efforts at advertising and spin, so in January, they managed to convince the FDA to allow high-fructose corn syrup to be listed on ingredient labels simply as "corn syrup."  The FDA has since reconsidered and has decided to review that decision, but it certainly wouldn't hurt if you wrote or emailed the FDA letting them know what you think about that labeling rule.

Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Ave
Silver Spring, MD 20993-0002

Click here to go to the FDA's Contact Website



Stella said...

Very interesting. And there's no doubt that high fructose corn syrup is just plain bad for us humans. Any super refined food that isn't 'whole' is really. The mercury issue with high fructose corn syrup is concerning also...

tree ocean said...

Thanks for the info. I have recently tried to avoid HFCS. Then as I was reading your article, I saw "soda", so I checked that coke I was sipping...yep, HFCS. Guess I'll go back to the beer...but I used to use corn sugar* in the homebrew, is that the same?

*Cheap way to boost the alcohol content but too much makes a watery brew.

Scott Spolverino said...

Glad HFCS is going down. Not only is it terrible for you but it makes beverages taste too sweet and gives it a thick, gooey texture. Gross. Sugar or agave syrup, please.

Dave said...

Stella - I haven't checked out the "mercury issue" but thanks for the heads-up, I'll look it up.

tree - There are alternative beverages that use sugar instead of HFCS. If the Hannaford near you carries Coke bottled in Mexico, try it - it's made with sugar instead of HFCS, and it tastes just like Coke used to when we were kids. Also, take a peek in the "Made in Maine" aisle (does Hannaford still do that? They used to...) and see what's available for locally-made beverages, there's quite a few root beers and such made more or less locally to you that use sugar.

If you got your corn sugar from cooking corn cobs, it's not the same thing. High-fructose corn syrup is made by chemically treating cornstarch to convert the starches to sugars. It's not the same process as getting cane sugar, or corn sugar either.

Scott - That thick gooeyness is why many low-fat salad dressings are wicked high in HFCS. It adds "body" to the dressing in the absence of oils. Check out the ingredient labels of some of those damn things and you'll be amazed at how pernicious the stuff is.