Monday, June 21, 2010

Sweet Surprise?

Thanks to a coworker, I recently came across the website which was developed by the Corn Refiners Association of America to educate consumers about "the facts about high fructose corn syrup". It has been a long time since I have been this shocked by corporate nutrition messaging. This website argues for the idea that high fructose corn syrup is no worse for you than regular sugar. I beg to differ...

The authors of the site have done their homework; they have listed every major argument against the consumption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and created a rebuttal. The website is an astounding feat of defense - obviously manufacturers are hearing the battle cry of consumers wanting to take back their food. Poor consumers, don't you realize that you are mistaken in thinking that completely novel products of technology shouldn't be a part of your diet?

Let's be honest...refined sugar isn't that great for you either. And the core argument of the website is that HFCS is nutritionally equivalent to refined sugar (way to aim low, guys!). But the process of obtaining juice from sugar cane is a pretty simple one that humans have been using for centuries. And evaporated cane juice is a fairly unprocessed sweetener that does not require chemical intervention. It contains sucrose, which is a naturally occurring molecule that consists of one glucose and one fructose, linked together.

HFCS starts out as corn...which becomes corn starch...which is then processed to convert the glucose to fructose. Then that high fructose (90%) product is cut with corn syrup until the desired level of fructose is reached. Boil corn...and you get cereal...not HFCS.

The site also offers plenty of research and expert opinion in favour of the idea that HFCS is no different than sugar. Buyer beware: there are new studies published every day to provide proof to either side of the HFCS debate. However, simply because a study gets published in a peer reviewed journal does not mean it was a high quality study. And scientific fact does not a single study make. Do a search on "high fructose corn syrup and obesity" on PubMed and you will see what I mean.

We need to take a step back and tap into some good old fashioned common sense: HFCS is the poster child for much larger problems. We are a society of hyper-processed starch junkies. So many of the foods we eat (breakfast cereals, baked goods, granola bars, crackers...) are simply a rearrangement of sugar, starch and artificial flavours and colours and texturizers. This is what is primarily responsible for our health woes. HFCS is also representative of a larger system of corporate domination of agriculture: from GM seeds that rob farmers of their autonomy to corporations benefiting from crop subsidies resulting in incredibly cheap ingredient components to make ridiculously unhealthy foods which they spend billions on advertising to ensure we fill our grocery cart with them. Many great documentaries and books exist on these topics filled with eloquent arguments which I couldn't possibly do justice.

Is HFCS a bad idea? Definitely. We will ever have unequivocal evidence of that fact? Maybe...maybe not.

So let's make a deal: avoid HFCS and foods that reek of processed sugars and starches in general and we will all be healthier, okay? Eat real food...and don't sweat the rest.

Time for you to weigh in on this juicy topic...


Marianne (frenchfriestoflaxseeds) said...

I've actually seen some of their ads on US TV stations as well, and they just irk me. Even if nutritionally speaking, HFCS = sugar, there are so many other reasons to avoid it, like you have mentioned - the GM crops, processed foods, etc, etc. But hey, they gotta keep their market, right?

Ban HFCS said...

Desiree, thank you for a well-written and thoughtful post on this important issue. as someone who has been researching this topic for some time but doesn't have the academic qualifications, it's very helpful to have someone like you weigh in.