• Contact
  • More on HFCS – Unanswered Questions

    I’ve gotten the following two e-mails, one day after the other. Both represent what I think are the two basic stances people have on High Fructose Corn Syrup.

    E-Mail 1:

    Ever since I first saw some information on your site about HFCS I’ve been trying to learn more. I now see a lot of sites and references to HFCS, how it’s made, the politics surrounding it, and so forth, but no real justifiable claims that it’s any worse for the human body than any other sweetener. The only semi-health-related claim I’ve seen is that “the body processes it more like a fat than a sugar,” which my brother (a biochemist) said is hooey, after giving me a 30-minute lecture on the chemical properties and structures of fats and lipids v. glucose and sugar molecules and the body’s metabolic processes for each. “Fat people drink lots of soda and soda has HFCS so HFCS makes people fat” isn’t the kind of logic I buy, even if it could be a contributing factor. The oft-cited HFCS study about mice and their heart and reproductive complications is troubling, but the experiment and its results are only ever told anecdotally; where’s the study? Has it been repeated? Has it been studied at all in people?

    E-mail #2:

    I’ve stumbled upon your website and have discovered foods that contain this waist-increasing heart-killing artificial sweetener. I am armed with information now when I go to the grocery store and will be ever-vigilant of what I purchase and what comes home with me. I’ve been hearing bad things about high-fructose corn syrup and am growing more and more concerned for my children’s health. How are they supposed to go out in the world, or more importantly, to school and eat their lunch and stay healthy? Is there any legislation in the works to ban this horrible substance? If they can ban cigarettes to minors because it causes lung cancer, how can they not ban a product that has been shown over and over again to cause obesity in children ultimately leading them to a life of diabetes, heart disease, and other sad illnesses?
    Thank you for your eye-opening website and just from a look in my pantry, I see a lot of junk food that needs to be, well, junked!

    One e-mail represents cautious skepticism, the other represents an out and out indictment of all things containing HFCS.

    The truth? Well, the truth is that we don’t know the truth. No one can say for certain that HFCS is better or worse than cane sugar. When we look to the Corn folks for information, all they point to is the fact that the FDA has allowed the use of HFCS, so it has to be safe, right?

    Of course, that’s a bit disengenuous on the Corn folks’ part, because the FDA has NEVER tested HFCS, nor accepted any outsourced test results. The have deemed HFCS as “generally regarded as safe”, which essentially means that No one has been reputed to have died of the stuff.

    Any excess of sweetener is a bad thing, whether it’s sugar or HFCS. The question that no one seems to be willing to answer is “Which is worse – Too much sugar or too much HFCS?” Until this question is answered, any indictment of HFCS is premature.

    That being said, there’s much to circumstantial evidence that excessive Fructose is really bad for you. I’ve mentioned some of the test studies here. The short version is that excessive frutose in the diet can lead to a magnesium imbalance in the body, spurring bone loss. The University of Minnesota produced a study where it was found that in men, fructose produced “significantly higher levelsˮ of trigylcerides in the blood than glucose does and that “diets high in added fructose may be undesirable, particularly for men.ˮ Finally, University of London researcher P.A. Mayes wrote that excessive fructose consumption causes the liver to release an enzyme called PDH that instructs the body to burn sugar instead of fat. Are these issues worse than those caused by cane sugar? No one seems to be able or willing to answer that.

    The one part of the HFCS debate which bugs me is the one that surrounds personal responsibility in regard to sugar intake. According to “An Omnivore’s Dilemma”, HFCS has not replaced sugar consumption in the US, it has merely added to it. In other words, not only are we consuming the same amount of sugars we did 20 years ago, we’ve added HFCS consumption on top of it. Before we can say “HFCS causes obesisty”, we have to be honest with ourselves and say “Too much sweeteners cause obesity”, because the consumption of both absolutely plays into our weight gains.

    It’d be nice to restrict HFCS intake, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s in more foods than many people realize. From ketchups to soups to even cough syrups, HFCS has been made a staple of the processed food revolution. Avoiding HFCS has been made a difficult proposition that many people, including myself, are too undisciplined to address on a daily basis.

    In addressing the above e-mails, it should be said that banning HFCS is an unlikely possibilty, at least not until we recognize our own culpability in its consumption. But its excessive usage needs to be addressed and reduced. I would love to see food processors explain their addiction to the stuff, and in the process of this confrontation, we find out just how bad (or not) the stuff is for people.

    Technorati Tags: Food, Food Politics, High Fructose Corn Syrup, HFCS

    Tags: FDA, Food Politics, health studies, HFCS, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar