Tuesday, August 10, 2010

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Note: I am not a nutritionist. I have absolutely no authority whatsoever. I read, I research and I make decisions based on the information I find. This blog is full of my opinions, nothing more. You are welcome to agree or disagree, but please don't make any life changing nutritional decisions based on me. I got my Bachelor's Degree in English Lit.

Another Angie (popular name...) asked this question: "What is your opinion about High Fructose Corn Syrup? It is a struggle for me to find foods without it. Most whole wheat breads and even low fat yogurts contain it. I have found brands of both that are HFCS free, but it is not always easy and they are typically more expensive. I have strong opinions about HFCS, but was wondering what your thoughts were."

I know that there has been a lot in the media lately about HFCS. My sister-in-law also tries to avoid it. For those of you who don't know HFCS is basically a sweetener that has been modified from corn. It is cheaper than sugar and used in lots of processed foods and sodas and, from what I understand, only used in the US. I have found that this health issue, just like most issues, has different sides. Some swear that HFCS causes cancer and promotes obesity. Others claim that it is no more harmful a sweetener than cane sugar. Here are just a few of the things I found in my google search:

Critics of the extensive use of HFCS in food sweetening argue that the highly processed substance is more harmful to humans than regular sugar, contributing to weight gain by affecting normal appetite functions, and that in some foods HFCS may be a source of mercury, a known neurotoxin. The Corn Refiners Association disputes these claims and maintain that HFCS is comparable to table sugar. Studies by The American Medical Association suggest "it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose" but calls for further independent research on the subject. So far, research has yielded conflicting results about the effects of high-fructose corn syrup. For example, various early studies showed an association between increased consumption of sweetened beverages (many of which contained high-fructose corn syrup) and obesity. But recent research — some of which is supported by the beverage industry — suggests that high-fructose corn syrup isn't intrinsically less healthy than other sweeteners, nor is it the root cause of obesity.

So what do I think? I try to avoid it, but I don't freak out about it. Yes, the Sara Lee Whole Wheat Bread I use has it, but it is listed as the fourth ingredient (out of six), so not too much. I do think that when possible, something natural would be preferable to something genetically altered in a lab. But we don't buy a lot of soda or processed foods for other reasons as well, so I think if we do get cancer, I'm not going to be suing the corn growers of America. I always check my labels, and if something had HFCS listed as the first or second ingredient, I wouldn't buy it. But if it had sugar listed up there I wouldn't buy it either.

And Angie, healthy options are always more expensive and harder to find. That is just a sad fact.

And I'll come back to your second question--it's another good one!


Heidi said...

The more I read, the more I learn, the more I watch--I think HCFS is EVIL STUFF. Really, really bad for our bodies and I think we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as the negative effects it has on us. Not to mention the whole government-subsidized corn industry thing, which I think is a problem as well.

I'm doing my best to keep it out of our diet, but it is frustrating to try to find HCFS-free things without shopping at Sprouts or Whole Foods. Graham crackers, for example--they don't seem like junk food but they contain HCFS. I know there are lists online you can find that tell you HCFS-free brands so you don't have to read every single label in the grocery store--I need to find one of those.

I just finished watching Food, Inc. yesterday and it only strengthened my resolve to stay far, far away from HCFS.

Stohl Family said...

Thanks for your post Lindsay! And Heidi, I totally agree with you. I have also read a lot about how HFCS can cause kids to be even more hyperactive and we definitely don't need any more energy at my house! I have found that the Keebler brand of Graham Crackers doesn't have HFCS, but only one type (I can't remember if it is the Honey or the Regular). Just one more thing to have to look for on food labels.