Tag Archives: high fructose corn syrup

The Cheap Food Policy: “King Corn”

I’ve been wanting to see the movie “King Corn” for awhile and finally got around to renting it. If you’re into eating happy food, this is a must-see documentary about “the stuff we’re really made from.”

It’s about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In the film, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college, move from the East Coast to the Midwest to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat—and how we farm.

How High Fructose Corn Syrup Messes with Our Bodies and the Earth

Are you still eating processed food with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in it? If so, here are four reasons why you might want to reconsider, according to this article from Yahoo! News:

  1. It’s weird stuff. While the process may start with corn, there’s nothing natural about high fructose corn syrup, and it most certainly does not exist in nature. Corn kernels are simply spun at a high velocity and combined with three other enzymes: alpha-amylase, glucoamylase, and xylose isomerase, so that it forms a thick syrup that’s way sweeter than sugar and super cheap to produce.
  2. It has weird effects on your body. High fructose corn syrup interferes with your metabolism so that you can’t stop eating. That’s right, it causes addiction by slowing down the secretion of leptin in the body. Leptin is a crucial hormone in the body that tells you that you’re full and to stop eating. That’s one reason HFCS leads to obesity.
  3. You might be ingesting more than the RDA for mercury. Mercury?! Yes, according to Federal Drug Administration (FDA) scientist Renee Dufault and colleagues, who tested supermarket samples where high fructose corn syrup was the first or second ingredient on the label, such as barbecue sauce, jam, yogurt, and chocolate syrup. Findings revealed about one out of three had mercury above the detection limit.
  4. You’re not helping the environment. Most corn is grown as a monoculture, meaning that the land is used solely for corn, not rotated among crops. The crops are usually genetically modified as well. And, a monoculture approach to agriculture can result in numerous pests, which, in turn, means the crops are treated with pesticides that pollute the soil and ground water. A monoculture also contributes to erosion.


Taking the Fright Out of Halloween Candy

When I was growing up in the suburbs of Northern New Jersey, I envied my older brother’s long stride and teenage independence as he combed the neighborhood far and wide on Halloween, coming back with a pillowcase loaded full of treats.

The next day, after each of us five kids took an inventory of our loot, we would barter for our favorites. With his athletic ability and position at the top of the sibling ranks, Steve always hit the mother lode–from Reese’s peanut butter cups to full-sized Hershey bars, Snickers bars, Three Musketeers, and Milky Ways: “The Good Stuff.”

Where I live now, in West Michigan, we don’t get many trick-or-treaters, but the last several years I always focused on being known as one of the houses that passed out The Good Stuff. You had to have chocolate, and Reese’s were on the top of the list, likely because I lamented not getting enough of them when I was a kid.

Since I’ve been blogging, though, I started thinking about what I was handing out to these trick-or-treaters–young children for the most part–who would be bringing home their own loot. I know about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and the limitations for people with food allergies. How could I allow myself to buy that crap in the grocery store? And with so many people allergic to tree nuts and dairy products, many products often considered The Good Stuff are not even options for some trick-or-treaters.

So this year I searched the internet for Halloween candy that I thought would support the messages I’m trying to relay on this blog:

1. Avoid the crap (i.e., chemicals, preservatives, and HFCS) that’s in processed food.

2. Consider the needs of people with allergies.

3. Promote good, wholesome food, such as organic and Fair Trade treats.

Of course, I didn’t start looking seriously until the day before Halloween and by then it was too late to order what I wanted online. (The Daily Green listed lots of ideas for vegan, organic, and Fair Trade treats, but I’ll have to remember that site for next year instead.)

What I did find locally were Endangered Species Fair Trade dark chocolate and Yummy Earth organic lollipops at Harvest Health Foods, a nearby health food store.

If you buy Endangered Species chocolate, 10% of the profits get donated to help support species, habitat and humanity. And it’s 100% ethically traded, which means Endangered  Species buys their cocoa from small family-owned properties, helping sustain the habitats and communities in which they exist.

Check out the ingredients to see how allergy-friendly these chocolates are:

For the lollipops, Yummy Earth promotes organic foods that are “free of yucky chemicals, pesticides and dyes.”

They use real fruit extracts–such as mango, pomegranate, blueberry, and watermelon–as well as organic sweeteners. These satisfying treats are friendly to just about everyone, whether you have a gluten, dairy, or corn allergy. Here’s the list of their ingredients:

As one little trick-or-treater said when he came to the door, “I’ve never seen a sucker [lollipop] like that before!” I wasn’t surprised at his reaction. It’s likely he’s been raised–like the rest of us–on candy full of corn syrup and only recognizes the standard red cherry, green lime and yellow lemon colors and flavors of mainstream candy.

Don’t you think it’s time we should get the crap off the streets and give kids something healthy and tasteful? It’s time to redefine The Good Stuff.

Have You Heard the One About the New Name for Corn Syrup?

I’m a bit behind on the news, being a blogger on hiatus, but I wanted to share this news from The Hufffington Post from about 10 days ago: “The makers of high fructose corn syrup [HFCS] want to sweeten its image with a new name: corn sugar.”

Hoping to clear up confusion, the Corn Refiners Association has asked the federal government for permission to use “corn sugar” in place of HFCS  ever since Americans’ consumption of corn syrup has fallen to a 20-year low. Why the drop in sales? Because everyone knows that HFCS is a factor in obesity.

While it may take the Food and Drug Administration two years to decide on the name,  the Corn Refiners Association is already using it in advertising, including an online marketing campaign (Cornsugar.com) and two new commercials that try to alleviate shopper confusion, showing people who say they now understand that “whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar.”

The problem isn’t what kind of sweetener high fructose corn syrup is; the issue is that the corn industry has been adding it insidiously to all kinds of foods that don’t need it, causing Americans to become addicted to it, and therefore driving them to buy more processed foods.

Read more about why HFCS is not a good substitute for cane sugar.

What’s in Your Ketchup?

I don’t even eat ketchup but I was intrigued by Jane Black’s recent article in The Washington Post about store-bought versus homemade ketchup. Of all the things people could make from scratch, it seems most people would rather eat ketchup made by Heinz, which owns 59% of the market, than consider making it themselves. Consumer tests identify four key characteristics that contribute to Heinz’s ketchup rank: tang, sweetness, a concentrated tomato flavor, and a thick, pourable consistency.

While Heinz has apparently set the bar for what ketchup should taste like, many people don’t appreciate some of its ingredients, namely, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and prefer to make a more wholesome product on their own. Others simply have lots of tomatoes and make their own ketchup as a way to preserve them. The rest of the ketchup eaters buy it at the grocery store.

I have Heinz ketchup in my fridge because Bill likes ketchup, but since he’s allergic to corn, he had to wait for Heinz to create their organic recipe, which has no corn syrup. He says it’s “more tomato-y” and it tastes better because there’s no corn syrup in it. I’m glad he’s happy with it because–like jam–it’s one of those foods I’d rather not fuss with, especially after reading Jane Black’s experience in her Post article.

For more reading about the history of the ketchup phenomenon, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s 2004 article in The New Yorker.

Study Links HFCS to Obesity

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, if not via Life Is Fare, most certainly in the news: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) leads to obesity.

In this study highlighted in The Science Daily, researchers found that “when fructose is present as children’s fat cells mature, it makes more of these cells mature into fat cells in belly fat and less able to respond to insulin in both belly fat and fat located below the skin.” Obesity, especially in the abdominal region, raises the risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than its parents. 

If you’re interested in these timely updates, check out Ivan Royster’s Facebook group, “The Ban of High Fructose Corn Syrup in the U.S.

The Four Worst Ingredients in Processed Food

While searching the web today, I came across this article from Reader’s Digest called “Recipe for Disaster,” which cites the four most harmful ingredients in packaged foods. Not a surprise:

  1. Trans Fats
  2. Refined Grains
  3. Salt
  4. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

According to the article, “ninety percent of Americans’ household food budget is spent on processed foods, the majority of which are filled with additives and stripped of nutrients.”

It’s time to get back into the kitchen and start cooking again!

Why I Hate Shopping at the Grocery Store

I avoid the mainstream grocery store as much as possible. Call me a snob, but I really have a hard time noticing much real food in the aisles. Luckily, I can find the real stuff–such as local produce–at the Holland Farmers’ Market or through my CSA, and happy, local, grassfed meat through the West Michigan Co-op (until our order is ready at Lubbers Farm).

Sometimes, however, there are things I just can’t get anywhere else, or–I give in–the price is better. Or, it’s just a one-stop shop for a few essentials. So I head out to the Family Fare Supermarket in Holland, Michigan.

For example, I can pick up my favorite brand of orange juice, some wine, Stonyfield yogurt (until I start making my own yogurt like my friends Lois and Julie do), and citrus fruit. I can’t make a mojito without limes, right? But I avoid going until I just can’t wait any longer for that mojito.

When I get there I realize one of the most absurd things about our culture, or perhaps the Family Fare Supermarket in particular: What’s wrong with this picture?

See the last line item on the Aisle 4 sign? “Nutritional Foods.” For one thing, this implies that Aisle 4 is the only one that has foods that are nutritious. For another, you should see the products considered “nutritional foods” in Aisle 4, such as Slim-Fast.

It’s pretty gross, Slim-Fast. Have you ever looked at the ingredients in it?

Never mind that one of them is my favorite fiend, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Check out all the other ingredients on the list. Why is this stuff considered a “nutritional food?”

And, the “nutritional foods” only take up about an eighth of the whole aisle. The rest is dedicated to cookies,  crackers (hence the Kraft Easy Cheese shown above), “lunch packs,” and “juice.”

I say “juice” because of the minimal amount of juice in products such as HiC and Hawaiian Punch. And, again, HFCS.

After a morning enjoying the Chef Series at the Holland Farmers’ Market, it was really a downer to go to the grocery store. I have some good advice if you ever shop at the Family Fare Supermarket: Avoid Aisle 4!

Dr. Oz Condones Ban on HFCS

From ABC News comes the article: “Dr. Oz: Five Foods to Keep Off Your Grocery List.”

What’s number one? “Of the five foods I never want you to put in your food cart, the one I worry about the most is high fructose corn syrup,” said Dr. Oz.

I don’t need to go on a rant today. (To see where I stand on the issue, check out my post from last fall.) I just think it’s cool that one of the prominent voices from the medical community who is respected in mainstream media is on the same page as Michael Pollan–and anyone else who understands the problems with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

The other four foods Dr. Oz says we should avoid are:

  1. White foods containing simple carbohydrates, such as white rice, white pasta, and white bread 
  2. Foods with artificial sweeteners
  3. High sodium foods (which are usually processed foods)
  4. Foods with ingredients on the label you don’t understand

For more suggestions on what to eat or avoid eating, check out Michael Pollan’s Food Rules.

A Small Battle Won in the HFCS Fight

If you ask Michael Pollan why high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is in so many of the foods people eat today, he’d say it all began with a surplus of corn in the 1970s. Since then, the government has been trying to find myriad uses for it in our food system. Ultimately, the result has been infiltration of the addicting substance into many forms of processed food, which many people think is a primary cause of obesity in this country.

The food industry is starting to get the message. The New York Times reports that ConAgra, a food company that produces many leading brands such as Healthy Choice, Chef Boyardee, Egg Beaters, Hebrew National, Hunt’s, Orville Redenbacher’s, PAM, and Banquet, has “decided to reformulate one of its biggest brands, replacing the high-fructose corn syrup in Hunt’s ketchup with old-fashioned sugar. This month, new bottles featuring a banner proclaiming ‘No high fructose corn syrup’ arrive in stores. And Conagra isn’t the only company to replace HFCS as a sweetener. Gatorade, several Kraft salad dressings, Wheat Thins, Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Pepsi Throwback, Mountain Dew Throwback and the baked goods at Starbucks are all now made with regular sugar.

HFCS sales have fallen in the U.S., largely due to mainstream opposition through social media and because of movies like “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn.

The Corn Refiners Association (CRA), which represents the corn refining industry of the United States, has put more than $30 million into an ad campaign called “Sweet Surprise” since researchers suggested a link between America’s obesity problem and high-fructose corn syrup. Audrae Erickson, president of the CRA, was quoted by The Times as saying, “We’re really focused on trying to correct the record since a lot of the information consumers have is incorrect. High-fructose corn syrup is a case of mistaken identity.”

Although the CRA and many scientists claim that HFCS is no worse for people than sugar, Ivan Royster, who manages the Ban of HFCS Facebook page notes that it’s a highly processed ingredient invented in the late 1960s and introduced into the food supply in the ’80s. According to The New York Times, Royster says, “Our bodies have been adapted over the years to metabolize sugar, which is natural. But the body doesn’t know what to do with high-fructose corn syrup.”

And for many people who don’t pay attention to the ingredients in their processed food, they can easily become addicted. Even though sugar has an addicting effect, you gotta ask: Why is HFCS in so many foods? It gets back to politics and marketing: a surplus of corn dumped on the food industry that makes processed food for consumers who become addicted to repeat the cycle. We’re forever at the mercy of the food industry.

It’s time to stop buying processed food to send a message to the suppliers of it. It sounds like they’re starting to listen to us. Let’s keep the message going, loud and clear.