Saturday, March 21, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup / Sugar Face Off

A recent piece in The New York Times attempts to address the recent backlash against HFCS. The article, entitled Sugar Is Back on Food Labels, This Time as a Selling Point , contains some interesting statistics and information on products that have recently made the switch from HFCS to sugar. It contains links to USDA sites as well as to the website created by The Corn Refiners Association as part of their campaign to convince Americans that HFCS is healthy and natural. However, to my eye this piece, written by Kim Severson, reads a bit like it could have gotten the The Corn Refiners Association stamp of approval. Sort of a quick fluff piece, it uses the frame work of recent sales trends in sweeteners to make two main points. The first is that "all" sugar is bad for you if not consumed in moderation. I agree that this very important for people to keep in my mind. Consuming any sugars out side of the natural whole food they are derived from should be done in moderation. ( Not that I necessarily follow this advice.)
The second seems to be that there is really no recognizable difference between HFCS and sugar in taste or effects on the human body. I do take issue with this. It is my understanding, (and I am no scientist), that HFCS is a man made sugar in which an entirely new molecular structure, not found anywhere in nature is created by multiple industrial processes in order to provide a sweetener that is higher in fructose than glucose ( so it taste sweeter), and is more stable under the high temperatures of industrial manufacturing as well as for the long shelf life necessitated by the industrial/commercial food system it is created for.
The lesson I have taken away from authors such as Nina Plank, Michael Pollan, and Sandor Ellix Katz is that history has shown that when we allow the traditional foods Man evolved along side to be replaced by industrial man made 'equivalents' our health suffers in ways never imagined at the time these new foods are introduced. If this has been true for the relatively simple process of creating white bread then why would we not be suspicious of a product that contains entirely new chains of sugars?

For other perspectives on this issue Check out these links...
Here is short piece on the Mayo Clinic sight concerning the question of HFCS and personal health.

Here is a link to an interesting and detailed article on the FDAs choice to refer to HFCS as Natural, as well as a discussion of the general problem of this increasingly popular food labeling term.

Here is section from a 2001 article entitled The Murky World of High Fructose Corn Syrup at the Weston A. Price Foundation website

"Consumers may think that because it contains fructose--which they associate with fruit, which is a natural food--that it is healthier than sugar. A team of investigators at the USDA, led by Dr. Meira Field, has discovered that this just ain't so.
Sucrose is composed of glucose and fructose. When sugar is given to rats in high amounts, the rats develop multiple health problems, especially when the rats were deficient in certain nutrients, such as copper. The researchers wanted to know whether it was the fructose or the glucose moiety that was causing the problems. So they repeated their studies with two groups of rats, one given high amounts of glucose and one given high amounts of fructose. The glucose group was unaffected but the fructose group had disastrous results. The male rats did not reach adulthood. They had anemia, high cholesterol and heart hypertrophy--that means that their hearts enlarged until they exploded. They also had delayed testicular development. Dr. Field explains that fructose in combination with copper deficiency in the growing animal interferes with collagen production. (Copper deficiency, by the way, is widespread in America.) In a nutshell, the little bodies of the rats just fell apart. The females were not so affected, but they were unable to produce live young.
"The medical profession thinks fructose is better for diabetics than sugar," says Dr. Field, "but every cell in the body can metabolize glucose. However, all fructose must be metabolized in the liver. The livers of the rats on the high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic."
HFCS contains more fructose than sugar and this fructose is more immediately available because it is not bound up in sucrose. Since the effects of fructose are most severe in the growing organism, we need to think carefully about what kind of sweeteners we give to our children. Fruit juices should be strictly avoided--they are very high in fructose--but so should anything with HFCS.
Interestingly, although HFCS is used in many products aimed at children, it is not used in baby formula, even though it would probably save the manufactures a few pennies for each can. Do the formula makers know something they aren't telling us? Pretty murky!
About the author
Linda Forristal, CCP, MTA is the author of Ode to Sucanat (1993) and Bulgarian Rhapsody (1998). Visit her website at
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2001
This page was posted on 12/03/03"

For a bigger picture read Nina Plank: Real Food, What to Eat and Why, The seven chapters on Corn in Michael Pollan's Book The Omnivores Dilemma, Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food, and Watch the Documentary King Korn, or do some of your own research.
I also recommend that you check out the You Tube videos made in response to the HFCS promotional videos, for pure entertainment value if nothing else.

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