I spent a few hours watching TV this weekend and during that time I saw several dangerously misleading commercials about the wonders of High Fructose Corn Syrup (aka, “HFCS”).
You may have seen them: in one commercial a woman is pouring some kind of red juice for a bunch of kids, and in another commercial a guy (or girl … I can’t remember which) is munching on a juice or ice-pop. The second person in each commercial says something like – “I can’t believe that you are serving/eating HFCS, you know what they say about it.” The first person responds “no, what do they say? … that it’s made from corn …. that it’s fine in moderation just likesugar?”
It’s at that point when I calmly yelled at the television – “But it’s not just like sugar!”
Sugar is bad enough (as discussed in a prior post, “Is Sugar Our Enemy”), but this stuff is actually worse. Wanna know why?
1) The process for making HFCS is … well, kinda gross. The “syrup” from genetically modified corn is dried and ground into a fine powder, and then it is broken down further with a fungus and a bacterium. The process changes the sugar (glucose) in corn to fructose – another form of sugar. The end product is a combination of fructose and glucose. It is super cheap to manufacture and it dramatically extends the shelf life of processed goods (think 3-year old ketchup), which is why it’s so popular.
2) The chemically altered fructose in HFCS is not the same a naturally occurring fructose. Our bodies cannot break it down the same way as naturally occurring sugars. It must be broken down by our liver. This can cause problems like a “non-alcoholic fatty liver” in people who should otherwise be healthy. So, in some ways, a diet high in HFCS may be worse for your liver than being an alcoholic!
3) The old “It’s Fine in Moderation” Argument: This would actually be a good argument, except for one problem – HFCS is in roughly 40% of our processed, supermarket foods. The biggest danger from HFCS is that most of us are unaware of just how much we are consuming. It’s a big ingredient in sweetened soft drinks (roughly 10-13 teaspoons per serving), ice-cream, candy, popsicles, pancake syrup, fruit-flavored yogurt, sweetened cereals, some pasta sauces, apple juice, etc.
On your next trip to the supermarket, take a closer look at the labels on some of your favorite convenience foods. If HFCS is listed as one of the first 4 or 5 ingredients, then you should definitely switch to a brand without it. Better yet, ditch the processed food all together, and try your hand at creating a home made version. That way, you’ll have full control over the amount and type of sweetener that goes into your food.