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Corn Sugar

A Midnight Train to Obesity

Dear Mark,

I’m interested in a list of all the manufactured foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Also, is HFCS also used in wine making?

Thanks to reader Cheryl for this question. First off, let’s talk a bit about high fructose corn syrup. HFCS, as it’s known, is an omnipresent sweetener and preservative found in many/most processed foods. After corn is soaked and separated, sugar present in the cornstarch is processed (with the use of enzymes) to increase fructose content. Corn syrup is then added. The resulting HFCS contains some proportion of fructose to glucose depending on its intended use (typically 55:45 for soft drinks, 42:58 for many baked goods).

And why should we avoid HFCS (all versions, but do I really have to say that)? Becausethe intake of HCFS has helped unleash a plague of obesity, insulin resistance and even heart disease. I’mno fan of sugar in general, but HFCS has an especially menacing profile. Fructose isn’t processed by the body in the same way as sucrose. Instead of setting off a hormonal chain of events and responses involving insulin and leptin, which helps us regulate food intake, HFCS skips over this process. Thebody doesn’t recognizeit in the same capacity. Hence, HFCS doesn’t “trip” the same switch to tell us we’ve had enough. (Another slurpee? Hit me.) Its processing in the liver results in an insidious elevation of blood triglycerides, and it’s more readily turned into fat storage. Finally, it’s been shown toimpair the balance of mineralsin the body.

And for anyone who argues that HFCS has just offered a cheaper, domestic-based sweetener alternative to regular sugar, the answer is that HFCS hasn’t really been an alternative. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, says thatHFCS has generally added to Americans’ intake of sugars rather than replaced them. In other words, we now eat almost as much regular sugar as we used to, but now we inhale a whole other stream of sweetener in our daily diet, most of which is “hidden” in common processed foods. Talk aboutsugar shock.

This ubiquitous, heinous lurker of an ingredient is found in foods you’d never suspect were even sweetened, like bread, tomato paste, and pickles. Check out ourprevious post on the sneaky syrup. Also, check out the two sites below. They were the most comprehensive I could find. If anyone has a better list hit us up with a comment. The trouble with a list of this nature is that a) the list would go on ad infinitum and b) would have to be updated in real time to stay current with all the new food products being pumped out each day that use HFCS. Your best bet is to just check the ingredients before purchasing anything packaged, bottled, wrapped or otherwise processed.

Fast Food Facts - HFCS

Accidental Hedonist List of HFCS grocery store foods

Finally, the kicker?“USDA Organic” foods can contain them as well.HCFS made from organic corn is, well, organic! It’s considered a natural ingredient. Never mind that it’s one of the least healthy things you can put in your body. This is why I always say choose “whole” foods first and then organic versions of them if you can. There’s a lot of “organic” processed crap out there, and people pay a premium for it.

The bottom line:
the pervasiveness of HCFS is yet another reason to avoid processed foods entirely.

Thanks as always for your questions!

Comments? Suggestions for future Dear Mark posts? Send ‘em on!

boekeFlickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

8 ‘Health Foods’ that Contain HFCS

On the Question of Sweeteners

What Happens to Your Body When… You CARB BINGE?

Mold: Why it Tastes Like Chicken! (and other mystery ingredients)

Livin’ La Vida Low Carb: HFCS not ‘Mischaracterized,’ but Nailed

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