Consider the Source: If It’s Made from Corn, What’s the Big Deal?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Previously Stepfanie blogged about the new corn syrup ads released by the Corn Refiners Association, which we're seeing as the CRA attempts to make over the public image of high fructose corn syrup. So I thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at the main messages in these commercials.

The main messages are:
  • High fructose corn syrup is made from corn
  • Has no artificial ingredients
  • Provides the same calories as sugar
  • Is OK to eat in moderation
  • Has been endorsed by the American Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration.

So are these claims accurate?

You can not find HFCS in nature. It is a product that is created by using two natural and one synthetic enzymes. By changing the chemical structure slightly, the fructose content of corn syrup is altered. Two types of HFCS are typically used in food and beverages. HFCS 55 is 55% fructose and 45% glucose. This formula is mostly used in beverages. HFCS 42 is 42% fructose and 58% glucose. This blend is commonly used in baked goods. HFCS 42 is actually higher in glucose than it is in fructose (and table sugar) but fits in this category because of the change in chemical structure that takes place. Sucrose, or table sugar, is a disaccharide made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. This could actually be considered a HFCS 50 mix. Although table sugar is not naturally occurring, it is not chemically altered--only refined.

Let’s take a closer look at the commercials' claims and accuracy.

Has no artificial ingredients
The FDA recently declared that HFCS is a natural product. The longstanding policy is that “natural” means that “nothing artificial (including flavors) or synthetic (including color additives) has been included or added to a food that would not normally be expected in the food.” While two of the enzymes used in HFCS production are naturally occurring enzymes, glucose-isomerase is synthetic. As the FDA outlines in its letter, because this synthetic enzyme is not added to HFCS but only passes over it and interacts with glucose to produce fructose, HFCS can be considered natural. However, chemical bonds are broken and rearranged in the manufacturing process, so the question lingers: How can this new product be called natural? . None the less, the CRA was successful in its presentation and succeeded in getting the FDA to reconsider its previous decision related to HFCS and its natural status.

Provides the same calories as sugar
This is a true and accurate statement. Both HFCS and sugar contribute 4 calories per gram. Just as sugar should be used in moderation and has negative health consequences when it is not, so does HFCS.

Is OK to eat in moderation
Experts recommend limiting added sugars from all sources to no more than 10%-15% of total calorie intake. This would be about 120 calories (7.5 teaspoons) of sugar in a 1,200-calorie diet. Sugar is sugar, and too much--whether marketed as “natural” or not--can harm your health. Since we can find HFCS in many, many food items, this limiting to this level can be a challenge.

Has been endorsed by the AMA and FDA
As previously discussed, the FDA found that HFCS could be labeled as natural. This is not an endorsement of its safety but simply a statement about its labeling. As this press release clearly states, the "AMA finds high fructose syrup unlikely to be more harmful to health than other caloric sweeteners." The release goes on to state, “high fructose syrup does not appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners” and called for “further independent research to be done on the health effects of high fructose syrup and other sweeteners.” This hardly sounds like an endorsement.

So, why is there a need for the new ads and to improve the image of HFCS? Maybe because after 20 years of HFCS' presence in our food supply, many health professionals and people concerned with what they are eating are asking questions about the long-term effects of HFCS on our health. Perhaps the CRA and the food production industry are concerned about their bottom line. HFCS is cheaper than sugar and lowers production costs. It also acts as a preservative and food stabilizer, so foods made with it can stay on supermarket shelves longer. This reduces the need to mark foods down for quicker sale, thus losing money, or risk suffering a loss if the products spoil. Yes, most likely it is the almighty dollar and not our health or our families' well-being that is at the root of the new ad campaign. Be careful not to be convinced without looking a little deeper.

Do you think profits are at the heart of the campaign and the push for continued HFCS use as a substitute for sugar in so many of our foods and beverages?

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Okay so I'm like the last person to comment on this article since it came out 2 years + ago, so I can't really add anything new. I already have some diatribes against HFCS on my sparkpage, such as it is. I noticed one person quoted from Seattle Times or some such newspaper and that quote looks strangely familiar like the one that I've read before on Dr. Mercola's website (and if you want diatribes, rants, and accurate information about HFCS, you should see his website!! ).

The person who lost weight on Capt'n Crunch (didn't have HFCS) and regained weight on the so-called "healthy" cereal that DID have HFCS, I had to laugh - I've had that happen with "multigrain high fiber bread" only to find they had HFCS and I'd be just stuffing my face silly with the bread, wondering when my sense of sugar satisfaction would be achieved, and all I was doing was getting more and more full of bread - ALL the calories for Each Piece of Bread!!

So I know HFCS has a definite effect on my body and it's gotten to where I can just notice how I feel and how food doesn't satisfy me when I try out something for the first time (you know how they hand out food samples at the grocery store or the bulk warehouse clubs like Sam's/Costco etc? I can try a new food, taste it, and immediately say yes or no, it has HFCS probably 95% of the time - eat first, make my opinion, check their product labels, and yep, they are so busted, and I will not buy the product!

Furthermore, some of my favorite bread companies were using it, and I sent some majorly strongly worded emails etc. to them complaining about HFCS, and Glory Be! they're not using HFCS any more, at least not in my part of Kansas!! (of course, I hate it that I can't buy Arnold's/Orowheat in my area any more, so it's my healthy treat when I go out of state like most anywhere east of Kansas!!). Report
They are contradicting themselves. First they say it's chemically altered and then call it natural? Excuse me, but I'm not that stupid or gullible to believe that deceit. They act as though the public must believe them as though they had the final say. Well, I read labels and when I stopped buying labels that said HFCS or anykind of sucrose, sugar, etc. I figured I'm better off without it. Sometimes you just can't avoid it, but most of the time you can if you read the labels. Even some of the flavored water has this stuff in it! Something meant to be good for you is sweetened with a lie. Report
I do believe that the company/ies producing HFCS want to change the publics perception of the product. Report
When I decided to start to lose weight, I ate a lot of cereal and oatmeal. I started off eating Cap'N Crunch (I know, not a healthy cereal, but stay with me.. ;) ). While eating Cap'N Crunch, I lost around 4-5 pounds in a month. I decided I had a craving for Mini Wheats (supposedly healthy, good for you, etc.) and actually gained back 2 pounds. Now, I don't specifically remember my eating habits for the two separate months, however when I switched back to the "unhealthy" cereal, I continued losing weight. My belief? Because Mini Wheats has HFCS, I think it slowed down my metabolism. Before I paid attention to labels, I was a very active teenager, so I should've been "blessed" with a teenage metabolism. I've never had that luxury. I do believe that HFCS slowed down my metabolism.

Do I think everyone is affected this way? Nope. My sister eats tons of things with HFCS in it, and she is 110 pounds at 21. However, I think it's sick that products that don't use HFCS and have to use more normal sugar to sweeten their product (because it doesn't take as much HFCS to sweeten products) are toted as being unhealthy. I'd rather burn off the extra sugar calories than cripple my metabolism with an ultra-refined version of corn syrup. Report
This author fails to point out the biggest threat to our health from HFCS: the Mercury content !!!

(See SparkPeople HEALTH NEWS article = Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury

Strange that this author would completely miss the most glaring RISK of consuming HFCS!!!!!

The user that wrote that we have too much corn is just plain wrong. Corn prices have skyrocketed and farmers can't keep up because of the push for corn based ethanol. That's why your food prices have climbed lately! If there was too much corn they would have stayed the same or declined.
Of course all advertising is about money, it's ridiculous to think otherwise. Milk commercials are about money too! Buy more milk! But the point they make is that HFCS isn't evil, as many a health article would have you believe. Sugar in excess, in any form, is a bad thing. Just because the sugar is hidden instead of obvious doesn't make it any worse for your health. Report
HFCS is possibly the most empty calorie source of all. Quoting from an online article in the _Seattle Times_: "Fructose adds to overeating because it does not trigger chemical messengers that tell the brain the stomach is full and no longer hungry, like food and drinks that contain regular refined sugar do."

So you do get four calories per gram, just like with any sugar, but your brain doesn't know that. Read the full article here:
Thanks for the information, I felt these commercials where a little confusing. Report
How interesting! I've never really been one to scour ingredient lists, but I feel inspired to now. It's in my yogurt, my spaghetti sauce, AND in my bread?! More than ever, the benefits of cooking at home and from scratch are glaringly apparent. Thanks for the info! Report
These commercials drive me absolutely nuts. The whole tone is so condescending and snooty ! It's like they're trying to "guilt" us into consuming their product. Ick! Report
I find it interesting to note the with "diet" foods, if they take out the sugar, they put in more fat. If they take out the fat, they put in sugar. Don't forget all the salt. If they really need to put salt and sugar in food to "preserve" it so it has a longer shelf life, then with reading labels, I can find products that are salt free and HFCS free sitting right next to the products with all the extra additives? Grocery shopping may take me twice as long because I read the labels, but I feel better about my choices. Does canned tuna really need vegetable broth added or is it to take up space so less of the "real" food is in the product? Does baby formula need any traces of melamine? Do the folks who work for the FDA use the products they are coerced into endorsing because of high power lobbying? Report
I love this article! Thank you for posting! The FDA is a joke, and they'd have us gulping down aspartame, HFCS etc. by the handful if they could. Ever wonder what "artifical flavoring" or "natural flavors" in an ingredients list really means? According to the FDA, these terms are acceptable even though they actually stand for a whole list of chemicals that are added to a food to make it taste better. Yeah, the FDA cares about health and nutrition - and I'm the Queen of Sheba! Report
I've read enough in various books and articles to believe that HFCS isn't just another sweetner; I avoid it at all costs.

Of course it's the bottom line that rules. The only hope is that with bio-fuels made from corn increasing, the price of corn will no longer make HFCS attractive. That's not to say a lot of sugar, honey or maple syrup is to be encouraged, but for the occasional treat, I'll take these time-tested products based in nature. Report
This article made the HFCS stuff clearer to me - so thanks! Being a diabetic, watching sugar intake is vital! The more we know, the more we can make better decisions! And I believe it's about the money, too. Report
Of course! The food industry exists to make a profit -- especially the prepared food and soft drink industries!
What about the effect of HFCS on the hunger center of the human brain? Isn't there any research on that yet? Report
Of course the ad campaign is out there because it's all about money. The moderation argument is a bad one; because it is in so many prepared foods. That's why I shop my farmer's market and read labels on everything from peanut butter (I only buy natural oil on top) to the turkey breast I get at the deli counter for my lunches. Report
Thanks Tanya for this great article. I first learned about HFCS in a weight loss class I was taking at my gym. The RD that led the class said two ingredients we should be weary of are HFCS and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats). I avoid them as much as I can...I guess this is where going back to simple, whole foods helps take the guesswork out. Report
I'm hoping more people will keep reading labels and realize they don't need the majority of foods containing HFCS to be healthy and satisfied. Staying healthy and eating healthy pays for itself in the long run, less medical expenses for most. Using farm fresh corn on the cob with fresh butter in a meal is MUCH more enjoyable then any processed food I can think of, mmmm. I live in Texas and would much rather see more of the small farmers in my state and smaller farms in throughout the United states doing better and getter more help than the larger corporations producing to many things for snacks instead of meals. We can't live on snack food and more and more children and people are doing just that. It needs to stop and I am glad it is effecting the peoples pockets, they will have to start finding healthier options. Report
Profits? Or Costs? Why don't we do a price analysis of what certain popular foods containing HFCS would cost the consumer if it were replaced with something currently considered 'healthy'? How much will the cost be driven up if the shelf life is shortened? Because if they did have to rotate the shelves more often it would drive up their costs and that would drive up the prices, too. They would need more delivery drivers, more trucks, more gas.

And I have to wonder, with today's suburban lifestyle, just how many people have actually met a farmer, they seem to be so hated, like they're the landed gentry or something ....... Report
In light of the lies that are coming to light in the banking fiasco we are in I wonder how much money the AMA and FDA officials are getting from the HFC industry to perpetuate these LIES! I find it hard to listen to anything the government says these days! Father, God in heaven, please protect us from ourselves!
Vicky Report
What else would the motivation be if not money? We live in a capitalist society and the bottom line is profit at any cost. Report
Of course it's about money! Report
Yes,it is most certainly profit that is prompting these advertisements,which seems slightly shady to me! Report
We are dealing with feeding 6 and 1/2 BILLION people in the world, so not all food can be fresh and organic. Report
I agree we must read the label and pay attention to the amount of sugar that we intake. Report
Yup! That's the money talking all right. Report
I absolutely believe that the allmighty dollar is behind the use of HFCS. Profit margin is what this country seems to be all about. Report
I wish they'd bring back the older commercial with the little children, dressed for a school play in costumes of fruit & banana & apple & then the yuwiey, gooey, grodey drippy blob that said " IM HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, IM CHEMICALLY ALTERED" and every one said, "ewh, yuck" LOVED THAT!!

Ps. Your body is a high powered finely tuned machine, if it's not high quality fuel, don't put it in the tank. There is ZERO nutrition in sugar, so skip it. If you need sweet, get it from REAL FRUIT.

(steer clear of baged, boxed, canned or frozen) STICK WITH FRESH!!!! Report
Thanks for a great article. The FDA is a joke. I would bet money that the people who declared HFCS "natural" do not let their children eat it! Report
Of course profits are at the heart of this HFCS campaign, that's what ad campaigns are all about.

The thing is, the ads are horribly misleading. I'm not necessarily opposed to the replacing of sugar with HFCS in my popsicles or fruit punch (both of which I consume only on rare occasion and realize are not the most nutritionally sound choices), the two foods the ad campaign uses. I'm opposed to the fact that there is HFCS in, oh, say, peanut butter. If HFCS was only ever used as a replacement for sugar, I doubt there would be this big of an opposition to it. The opposition is because it's used in EVERYTHING. And that's not moderation.

Can you imagine if these ads were done using products like bread and peanut butter instead of popsicles and fruit punch? How ridiculous would the ads be? Report
Well said, Antigen. Arsenic is natural too...

Nothing new to add to this, really. It's crazy that HFCS is in so many things, spaghetti sauce, bread, etc. I look for brands that don't use it and buy them consistently. Nature's Own (available at Walmart) has HFCS free wheat bread that's pretty awesome, and Light Ragu-Tomato and Basil is "tomato puree (water, tomato paste), diced tomatoes in puree, onions, salt, olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, spices, basil", that's it! No sugar, no hydrogenated oils, etc. It tastes amazing, just like my homemade when I'm crunched for time.

Keep looking for HFCS free stuff and keep SPARKING! Maybe someday things'll change. Drive thru fruit bowls! Hmm... Report
I hate HFCS and wish it was never created. It is so hard to get yourself off of it because it is literally in everything. I am trying really hard to avoid products that have it, however that is way harder said than done and you need to count on spending more money than you would buying processed junk that contains HFCS. Being healthier can have a price....but it has great results!!! Report
I was happy to see this article because, like many of you, I was appalled to see these adds boosting HFCS as ok and natural. I was telling my hubby, yes in moderation certain items may be alright, but when HFCS is in EVERYTHING, how do you go about that? I agree with you all in what you are saying about learn to read those labels and continue to do so. Report
"Although table sugar is not naturally occurring, it is not chemically altered--only refined."
Can you find table sugar in nature? Report
I just dont believe that the corn refiners associaation cares about anything but the green in my pocket, that they are interested in getting to theirs.
I know that someone in an office didnt say - you know RW might be concerned that HCFS is not good for her. Let's put it in almost every thing and then assure her that in moderation it is fine.
Oh please!! Report
It's ALWAYS about profits, people. That' what makes the world go round. But, in order to live a healthy life, I buy foods just the way they grew, raw and beautiful and cook it myself. If it has more than one ingredient, I'm not interested. Report
I think at the end of the day that we are each responsible for making the right choices and doing the research. The information is out there, but HFCS is not the only thing that is wrongly promoted out there. Also based on the FDAs track record, these days if they recommend something I take a much closer look before I buy what they say. Report
Of course it's about profits. I look at labels and if it's one of the ingredients I try to find a new substitute so I can limit the amount of HFCS my family is eating. I want to control sugar intake and reading the labels is the only way to insure you're not getting too much of this "good" thing,. Report
Anything for a buck--the American Way? I think moderation is fine, but when these things are "hidden" in our foods, even things that aren't supposed to be sweet, we don't even know we are getting this, natural or not! My answer is still stay away from processed foods! You know what is in a food if you make it yourself! Report
While I agree with most of this article, I have to make a scientific nitpick. With regards to this statement:

"However, chemical bonds are broken and rearranged in the manufacturing process, so the question lingers: How can this new product be called natural?"

Chemical bonds are rearranged when you fry an egg! All cooking is chemistry. Water is a chemical. Chemistry is your friend, so give it some respect! Yes, HFCS has been altered by artificial means, but that in itself does not make it "bad". What is bad about it is how it's hidden in almost every food we eat, and how it adds empty calories to everything.

Please, by all means, continue to learn about HFCS and to look for it on labels. But when you're trying to tell someone why it's no good, don't use the "it's not natural, so it must be bad" argument. Lead is natural. But you wouldn't want it in your food. Report
Of course, it is all about money!
It is very difficult to avoid too much of it -- especially when you are handicapped and have limited energy for cooking. (Just like it is hard to avoid soy protein when it causes indigestion in some people!) Report
Heck yeah, it is all about profits. Corn farmers, HFCS producers and producers of all products containing HFCS are losing money because people are actually making a real effort to avoid it. So... they are losing money and they need to find a way to make it up. Hence the ads. It is junk junk junk! The ads make me sick! Report
ABSOLUTELY, food companies are using HFCS because of money. It's in luncheon meats, bread, pizza, sauces - things you'd never think would contain any sweetener. It's used as an emulsifier, texturizer, thickener - you name it, corn syrup has done it. Maybe these ads are a good thing for US. Maybe it means the food companies are switching away from corn syrup! One can hope......

I am lucky that I have the time to make our meals from scratch and have been making our breads for well over a year now so that my children do not have to be exposed to HFCS at all. Report
I've cut the HFCS out of my diet and I believe that's been a HUGE factor in my success thus far. I couldn't believe it when I saw the first HRA ad this summer...but given what happened to the tobacco industry (did anyone see "Thank You for Smoking?") - I get it.

Excellent post, good research - thanks!

When I opted to start eating clean and removed the HCFS (not to mention trans fat and 98% of the totally processed foods) from my diet, my weight loss increased, and my body composition changed radically almost overnight. With the HCFS, I don't have the same levels of cravings or overindulgence issues. They can put a thousand commercials on tv explaining how there is nothing wrong with eating it, but in my case, I know there is. I may not be able to control it when I'm eating out or at someone else's house, but it isn't allowed in my grocery cart or in my home. Report
Our government subsidizes the growing of corn. But we don't actually EAT this corn, so something has to be done with it -- ethanol, HFCS, something. The fact that the FDA caved to pressure from the corn industry just shows how much (or how little) labels like "organic" and "natural" actually mean. It's sad. Report
Well MODERATION or not I try to stay away from HFCS, I read my lables!!! Report
I agree that it's pretty hard to consume it in "moderation" when it's used so liberally in everyday products. I bet not a lot of people know that it's used regularly in BREAD. You don't think of HFCS when you're making a turkey sandwich. ;) Reading labels is VITAL. Report
it's capitalism, so everything is about money for the most part. i think that we need to be aware of what we're eating and if possible, eat more foods in their natural state. Report
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