The real truth about corn sweeteners

In the past couple of years, there has been a lot of talk about high fructose syrup (HFCS) and just how bad it is for you. Things have reached the point that the Corn Refiners Association has felt the need to spin HFCS and tout it as a natural “corn sugar” that is fine in moderation. Some of the buzz has included the claims that HFCS and corn syrup are no different from regular sugar and honey.

Here’s the dealio, fellow Eco Warriors: HFCS, corn syrup, corn sweeteners, or whatever else the advertising stiffs want to call it is NOT the same as regular sugar. It’s not natural in any way, shape, or form.

First of all, the process of making HFCS is highly industrialized — this just is not something you can easily concoct in your kitchen. The corn kernels are spun at a high velocity and then combined with three enzymes (alpha-amylase, glucoamylase, and xylose isomerase). The resulting brew forms a thick syrup that is far sweeter than sugar. It’s also incredibly cheap to produce, which is why you find so much HFCS in fast food, junk food, sodas, and other food-like products.

In addition, the environmental impact of growing all that corn is HUGE. Most corn is grown as a solo crop and not in rotation among other crops, such as soybeans, which is a common practice in Recycla’s home state of Virginia. Corn depletes the soil — whereas soybeans replenish the soil, which is why the two are often planted in tandem — so farmers have to rely more and more on chemical fertilizers to pump nutrients back into the earth. Those fertilizers pollute the water, which leads to fish and other aquatic creatures being sickened or killed. The long-term impact on humans is still being studied, but the initial results don’t look good for the farmers who work with those fertilizers.

Another problem with corn is that most of what is planted is genetically modified and, again, the long-term impact on human health is just not yet known. In addition, since corn is usually riddled with bugs and other pests, farmers using pesticides, which are usually toxic.  Again, more polluting of the local water supply and more birds, fish, and other creatures being poisoned. And, again, the long-term impact on humans — the ones who use the pesticides, the ones who drink the water nearby, and the ones who eat the toxin-covered corn — is not good.

Next, HFCS does some seriously weird stuff to your body. Yes, the ads claim that HFCS and other corn sweeteners are fine in moderation, but it’s darn near impossible to consume them in moderation. As has been shown in movies like “Super Size Me” (and the accompanying book), “King Corn,” “Food, Inc.,” and “Fast Food Nation” (and the book that came before it), HFCS is highly addictive. No matter how much you consume, you always want more. Recycla can attest to this — on the rare occasions that she does eat a food HFCS in it, she always wants more, even if she’s full. The addiction is hard to break, which is why Recycla doesn’t buy any food with HFCS in it anymore.

Beyond that, there are no conclusive studies on what HFCS does to your body.  Certainly, there are valid reasons to be concerned about how it affects your weight, especially in light of the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S. Beyond that, no one really knows what it does to your long-term health.  It’s best to be safe and just avoid corn sweeteners whenever possible.

So what can you do? This is both easy and difficult — you need to get the corn sweeteners out of your diet. Simply refuse to buy foods and beverages that have HFCS and other corn sweeteners in the ingrdients list. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Any trip through a conventional grocery store will reveal hundreds of products that contain corn in some way — soda, juices, bread and crackers, ketchup and other condiments, spaghetti sauces, boxed mixes, and of course, ice cream most of the contents of the freezer cases. It’s far easier to eat crap than it is to not eat it.

Recycla has been working hard to get the HFCS out of her fridge and pantry. When she she did a spot-check last year, she found six items; this morning’s search revealed one product. In every case, these were items that either her husband bought at the conventional grocery store or that someone else had brought to her house.

So how do you keep the corn crap out of your house and out of your body? You need to make a commitment to 1) staying away from McCrap and other fast food and 2) cooking from scratch. Buy more simple ingredients (fruits, veggies, basic baking supplies, etc.) and make more of your own food. This means making your own herbed rices and pastas instead of buying boxed mixes. Making your own pasta sauces instead of buying jars loaded with corn-flavored tomato sauces.  Bake cookies instead of buying them. Pack a healthy lunch for school and work instead of eating in the cafeteria or buying McCrap.

Yes, cooking from scratch is a little more work, but it’s not that much more.  If you can’t do it every day, shoot for one more day than you’re currently managing. Once you are used to that, add another day of cooking to your week. You don’t have to be perfect, but try to do a little more than you are now. You’ll find that it gets easier with practice. Even better, your grocery bills should go down when you’re not buying processed foods.You’ll feel better too and ultimately will be healthier.

When you go shopping, read labels carefully. Corn sugars are often hidden deep in the ingredients lists. And the corn is often where you least expect it — last summer, when Recycla’s family was traveling, they made several stops at gas stations. While Mr. Recycla was gassing up the car, Recycla and the young Recyclas would go into the accompanying convenience store for drinks. The young misses learned to read labels very carefully so that they didn’t accidentally buy apple juice or lemonade that was anything other than apples and water or lemons, water, and regular sugar.

The good news is, more and more consumers are refusing to buy products with corn sweeteners of any kind, which has led to declining sales for many years running. This decline is what led the corn people to try to change the name of HFCS to corn sugar in an attempt to delude the American public. Luckily, people are smarter than that and aren’t buying the spin.

Recycla just realized that she’s been ranting for over a thousand words now, so she’s going to stop foaming at the mouth and let you weigh in with your opinion. What are your thoughts on corn sweeteners? Do you consume them or do you try to avoid them? Are you concerned about potential health risks?


6 thoughts on “The real truth about corn sweeteners

  1. Sing it sister! I didn’t know about the HFCS process of production, but I know that corn is a devastating crop and further dependency on it is unhealthy for people and the planet. When will our government stop giving corn farmers 50 cents on the dollar for it as a subsidy? Shameful!
    We’re working on it here, too. Thankfully all the Newman foods are HFCS free, so for those inclined for convenience while preparing dinner…

  2. The farmers around here seem to rotate corn and soybeans too. I don’t know what percentage of processed foods up here in Canada use HFCS compared to those in the States.

  3. Melissa, the farm subsidies make me see red. I’m supposed to pay higher taxes to support private-sector jobs? (And no, I am not in favor of any kind of corporate welfare.)

    I don’t buy a lot of processed foods – I do almost all the cooking chez nous – so HFCS is not a big issue for me.

    This wouldn’t even be an issue (well, maybe not) if the US didn’t have huge sugar tariffs to protect the 7 sugar beet farmers in Montana. We pay twice as much for cane/beet sugar as the rest of the world does. If sugar prices weren’t so high, food processors might not have sought a cheaper substitute. And the Coca Cola in this country would still taste good! Coke made with HFCS tastes like crap. The only time I have it is when I am abroad and can get cane sugar Coke.

    I googled to check on current pricing and saw that a bill was introduced today to eliminate the tariffs:

  4. Thanks for this great post! I too attempt to not eat any HFCS and I find it EVERYWHERE! A friend of mine moved here from Australia a few years ago and had some major stomach issues…. the docs couldn’t figure out what it was. From what I understand he cut out HFCS and the issue has disappeared. It’s simply scary that we (humans) keep producing altered food product despite the results that surround us. Again, thanks for the info!

  5. I am all for it, sugar I mean. Thanks for posting this out there. You know the problem is dumb people will still choose HFCS over sugar based on price. I personally drink fruit juice that comes in glass jars with real sugar. Keep up the good work.

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