I am not sure how well I recently answered this question about my concerns about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I don’t want to imply that I’m knocking anyone else’s choices, but I also feel pretty strongly that our bodies and our planet would both be healthier and happier if we gave this substance the boot. To explain why, I’ll elaborate on my recent post on food choices.
There are lots of concerns I have about HFCS. There are more complete explanations elsewhere, like at this Huffington Post article by Joseph Mercola (who will be in town in October at the ICPA Freedom for Family Wellness summit) and this piece by Linda Forristal and this piece by Bill Sanda on the Weston A. Price Foundation website. If you’re a Wikipedia fan, here’s the entry on HFCS. But here’s how I see it. (Why aren’t my bullet points working?)
- * HFCS is not real food. Plain and simple, this is not something you find in nature. HFCS is not simply the sweet juice of the corn squeezed out
and concentrated. It is not a product you can make in your kitchen and jar yourself (well, unless you use some scary chemicals like the guys in the documentary King Corn). It is an industrial product that is made in a factory.
- *To elaborate, HFCS is not something that’s been around forever. Contrary to what the head of the Corn Refiners Association said in a recent NPR interview (about the group’s attempts to change the name to “corn sugar”), this substance as we now know it has not been in the kitchens of our “grandma and great-grandma.” I don’t recall Little Industrial
Food Processing Plant on the Prairie. The process to create the HFCS that is pervasive in our food system now was perfected in the 1970s, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that its use skyrocketed. So no, we have not been eating this forever and certainly not in the quantities that we are now. The argument “I grew up on it and I turned out fine” can’t hold water if you were born before, say 1985. (And really, are you fine? No allergies, skin problems, weight problems, mood problems or other health issues? Justbecause you don’t break out in a rash in the shape of a factory doesn’t mean you’re not feeling the effects of processed food in your body.)
- *It’s hardon the liver.Other sugars are used elsewhere in the body while fructose is metabolized only in the liver. And then it leaves fatty acid deposits. Ouch and ouch.
- *There’s nothing good about it. Sugar in any form should be eaten sparingly to avoid inflammation, but, unlike HFCS, at least molasses, maple syrup (especially grade B) and maple sugar, date sugar, and honey all have some vitamins or minerals that our bodies can use and fiber that makes them less of a shock to our system.
- *All non-organic corn produced in the U.S. is genetically modified. If something does not exist in nature, I don’t want it in my body. So HFCS is an industrial product made from an already engineered “food.”
- *Foods with HFCS are cheap because of cornsubsidies that make it more economical to fill up on junk food than on real food. Although there are lots of ways to make healthy food affordable, it takes effort and time that a lot of folks might not have. I counter that being healthy frees you from the time and expense of doctor visits and medication, but not everyone has the luxury of weighing that future savings when they are hungry in the moment. It is notfair that there is a disparity between who has access to what, and I hope I can get more involved in this issue. For now, though, I reject the notion that buying real food is an elitist choice. If I can afford to have a higher grocery bill because I choose to eat organic foods and to support local farmers who use sustainable methods, that’s one more dollar the corn industry and other industrial food giants are not getting.
As someone who does most of her grocery shopping (food that I don’t get directly from a farm or from my garden) in stores where they just don’t carry items with HFCS, I admit that this is not an issue I face every day like it is for most other people. It comes up when I go to a shop that makes its own ice cream and leave after just getting a taste because they check the ingredients in the back and return to say, “Yes, we use corn syrup.” Or it’s when my son sees some item another child has and I explain (tactfully in the moment or maybe with more explanation later) that we just don’t eat that (or, as I wrote the other day, we lie and says it has gluten since he’s accepted that he can’t eat gluten).
We haven’t entered public school yet, so he’s not at risk of getting HFCS there. And again, the gluten thing keeps us from all those bread and cookie products loaded with HFCS. But I wish I didn’t need a celiac disease bubble or a private school bubble around my kid to keep his body free of junk. And those things don’t help when he gets a smoothie or ice cream somewhere when a parent forgets to ask the teenager behind the counter for the ingredients. We don’t do a lot of going out for treats, but it happens. I can handle a little sugary ick, but I wish I didn’t have to worry about HFCS (or artificial color, or whatever it was that made my kid flip out last time after a day with Daddy).
I know plenty of moms who are just as concerned as I am. But I also know plenty who complain that moms like me need to just calm down and not be so uptight. (Or even worse, that I am judging them because I have an opinion of my own and I stick to it).
No, really, being a healthy family is a lot easier than not. There’s no guarantee that eating a diet low in processed foods is going to keep us from any illness, but having experienced such a profound change in my own health through a change in diet, I do firmly believe that nutrition is our most powerful tool for health and well-being. Food is medicine.
These are some GREAT points, Mama! Also, your points about the corn subsidies really hit home with me and my family. My daughter is allergic to corn and trying to find food that she can eat anywhere but home can be a real challenge. Corn starch, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose … yuck … it’s everywhere! It really is a shame that our government has chosen to subsidize foods that have little to no health benefits and in many cases, such as with HFCS, can be downright harmful to us and our little ones! Thanks for all this good info!
Yes, I don’t think people realize that the government is behind the low cost of junk food (not that real food is expensive b/c farmers are trying get rich or something). Thanks for weighing in, Leigha! And thanks for the reminder that this is not just about looking hip by eschewing this stuff; it’s all about HEALTH! I just want people and the planet to be healthy and happy.
Great post! It saddens me to have to play the food police with my daughter – in an ideal world, HFCS and other dangerous man-made chemicals wouldn’t be something I would have to worry about… And, as you said so eloquently in your post, reading ingredients and making informed choices for us and our children makes us stand out and be the weird ones, when we’re just looking to preserve our health.
Great points! This whole “corn sugar” ad campaign just makes me laugh. It is utterly ridiculous. Not all sugars are the same, especially ones like HFCS that are incredibly processed. There was a recent study (I think at Princeton) about HFCS that found that you do gain more weight with that than with sugar–bodies do see the difference in natural versus highly processed sugars. I am not sure who is funding the studies that allegedly find HFCS is just fine, but I imagine it is the corn refiners. There is just too much evidence that shows this stuff is harmful! I am glad there are increasing options, and that more people seem to be aware of the dangers.
Metro DC Mom says
I so agree with this post. My mom thinks I’m crazy when I spend half my grocery trip reading labels. I need to get better about going out my way to the better stores so I can have more variety of HFCS free goods.
Jessica, I think your writing helps parents understand the issues and encourages them to take the power they have and use it well.
As a mother and grandmother who has long avoided high fructose corn syrup, I think the growing awareness of these issues worries the food industry. Individuals have the power to stop using these products, and parents have more power because they make decisions for their kids (the corporations want, of course, for kids to get hooked on their products and become future customers/consumers).
It takes energy and time to be thoughtful about the choices we make for our families. Blogs like yours, that point out the special interests of corporations, the flaws of public policy and the alternative choices parents can make, are invaluable. Great work!
Thank you. I try to avoid HFCS when I can, especially for my kids, for the simple reason that I grew up in Ireland, where it was not and is not used, and I don’t think any of us need it in our bodies. It’s just a tiny thing I do to try to make us healthier, but I’m happier to do it than not.
As a mother of a child who has had 2 anaphylactic episodes involving corn syrups I am very against it. At first it was because it was a deadly “food” for my child which led me to see how horrible it was for everybody! I’ve also read where your body processes this junk differently than other sugars made in nature; your body doesn’t know what to do with it!!!! We avoid it as much as possible in our home.
I’m so annoyed by HFCS. I do very little shopping in the big grocery stores bc of this. I needed some tartar sauce recently and was shocked to see it as one of the main ingredients! I was also irritated when I picked up Choc milk at Trader Joe’s ( a store I thought didn’t carry things with HFCS) got home and saw that HFCS was one of the ingredients.
I’m not as vigilant about sugar and treats. I have come to expect junky things to be in these treats but I certainly do not expect it to be in things like milk from TJ’s or tartar sauce. After watching Food Inc I am vigilant about reading labels.
Thanks for the great and informative post.
I avoid all corn products for my family. I pointed out fructose and it’s role in Gout and other inflammatory diseases to my mother-in-law. She was shocked when she looked at the products she eats every day and found so much of it in there. Sadly, most people do not have the motivation to avoid it because it is so prevalent, maybe mistakenly believing if it is so pervasive it must be OK for my health. More discussion such as this will hopefully give more people the information they need to change their food choices and their health. Thank you for your important post!
Thank you for spreading this important information! I have found stores I can shop in where nothing has HFCS and it makes me so happy. If I am in a mainstream store, I read every label to make sure I know what I am buying and will not buy anything with HFCS. There is nothing good about chemicals, colorings or additives adn I so so happy to see more people thinking and spending with the same attitude. Once people start reading and eliminating it, the habit becomes normal and easy. I hope more people will adopt this after reading your blog and watching your CNN report.
ok,i get it. its something ive heard before and didnt know how to respond to it. my question is this,ive always been an athlete,exercising and eating “healthy”, so as of now iin light of this issue, where should i shop for organic or true natural foods?
Great CNN interview. I live in a state with a large Hispanic population. Several years ago I bought a coke in a small Hispanic neighborhood store. As I was drinking it, I thought it tasted different…better. I read the bottle and it was made with sugar, not HFCS. It was also bottled in Mexico. I told my circle of friends about it and we all started buying ‘Mexican cokes’. Now American soda companies are noticing…. Mountain Dew Throwback is one example of American soda companies using cane sugar instead of HFCS.
The Veterans med center here has a weight management program for vets and I went to a few classes, hoping to glean some nutrition info. One class talked about HFCS and the speaker said that HFCS is a sugar but a manufactured complex sugar that our bodies don’t recognise, so it is converted straight to fat. She said our bodies (like electricity) go for the path of least resistance… natural sugars are easy to metabolise, but HFCS is not easy. So our bodies just store it using the easier sugars first.
Two weeks ago I tried to buy BBQ sauce at the military base commissary…. Every single bottle of BBQ sauce had HFCS as the first or second ingredient.
Something else I wanted to comment on was caffeine. Awhile back I was going to drive through Canada. A friend in the states asked me to pick up a case of orange soda for him (I can’t remember which orange soda it was, but it is common in the states) I asked him why he wanted me to buy this for him in Canada, he said because it is caffeine free in Canada. So why are we loading up soda with added caffeine????
What are doing to our food?????
..don’t get me started on GM foods…
Great piece on CNN. Working on school food can be so frustrating especially when you hear the school administration saying that we have great food – and then you ask them to read the labels. For instance, the chocolate milk, strawberry milk, and even the regular milk all have HFCS as their second ingredient!! It is unbelievable that our public school leaders think that hanging up signs about eating healthy and adding maybe a fresh fruit 2 days per week is the answer when they are still offering the junk! Their answer it sells – it makes the schools money and we all know they need the money but I say NOT at our children’s expense!!!! Thank you for speaking out – and let’s keep fighting the good fight by educating our children.
Thanks for the great info! I did mention GMO and sugar metabolism/effects on the liver in our interview, though those didn’t make it to air. I have a friend whose husband started a BBQ company named Pork Barrel BBQ with all natural ingredients. http://www.porkbarrelbbq.com/
Good question! Depends on where you are. Start out by eating “real” foods and not packaged stuff. Look around the perimeter of the grocery store for produce, meat, eggs, dairy. Better to get these at a farmer’s market or through a CSA share or farm delivery service like South Mountain Veggies, Arganica, or even Washington’s Green Grocer. If you are going to buy processed/packaged stuff, go to a health food store. If you are in DC Metro, check out My Organic Market, Healthway (both have several locations), Kennedy’s/Nourish Market in Falls Church, Roots somewhere up in MD, Takoma Park/Silver Spring Co-op and Whole Foods (several locations)
Thanks. I hope so, too!
Inflammation is a word people have to start understanding as a cause for so many problems!
Wow, how scary. I’m so sorry. I hope they are okay. Yes, as I understand it, fructose is metabolized only in the liver and not used by the body.
Beth Krysztof says
Where are you lucky enough to shop and not have HFCS in the products? I would love to feed myself and my kids better and believe it makes a health difference. If you have any suggestions or more ideas I would love to hear them and I’m going to send this on to my sister, you have a lot in common.
I’m another parent who goes to all lengths to avoid HFCS and CS, as well as all the other chemicals that are now passed off as being “food”. The Corn Refiners Assoc. disgusts me in their efforts to make people think they are safe. They are like dogs sniffing out anything that is being said about their product and going on the attack. My daughter wrote an article for her University paper that just barely mentioned HFCS and they came after her! They hunted down her mailbox with the school and sent her a package of information on why their product was healthy! They found her email and emailed her trying to convince her they were good and even made a response to her article online. It was hilarious and just convinced us even more that their product is poison. Now this new “campaign” they have to change the name to corn sugar! They are desperate as more and more people are learning how bad their product is. Their first mistake is the greed they have and their second mistake is assuming all consumers are stupid. Thanks for your article!
I think I replied to someone above, but I shop mostly at My Organic Market (MOMs) and Whole Foods with some Harris Teeter b/c it’s close by and has some org produce and some org & GF products, and some Trader Joe’s. When I’m in Falls Church, I’ll go to Kennedy’s Natural Foods/Nourish Market. I haven’t yet made it to Roots up in MD. Occasionally I’ll go to Healthway if I’m in the Buy Buy Baby strip in Springfield. I haven’t tried the new Bloom but they might have more options — not sure. You can find some decent stuff in the “natural” sections of Giant & Safeway, but it’s nice not to have to look and to support a local chain (MOMs) that buys its energy in wind power. I’ll send you an email, Beth; please feel free to put your sister in touch with me.
artis moon amarche says
great article! one point i would add that is also paramount for me with HFCS and non-organic corn products in general is that besides the corn being genetically modified, the pesticides that are used on the corn contain some of the most noxious neurotoxins around….