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You Ask, I Answer/In The News: The Highly Controversial High Fructose Corn Syrup

Posted May 03 2010 5:19pm

syrup2190I was wondering if you saw this weekend’s New York Times article about high fructose corn syrup .

The author seems to minimize the scientific concern surrounding it.

In your opinion, is the anti-HFCS movement just a bunch of hype or rightfully concerned?

Thank you.

– Edrie Moore
Orlando, FL

At the risk of sounding cliche, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

New York University professor Dr. Marion Nestle who I greatly admire and respect is absolutely correct when she states in the article that, despite being no fan (and that’s an euphemism, if I ever heard one!) of the Corn Refiners Association, “they have biochemistry on their side”, since high fructose corn syrup and sugar are, from a chemical make-up standpoint, practically identical.

FYI: Dr. Nestle has a PhD in molecular biology (her knowledge of nutrition science is top-notch) AND is highly critical of the food industry; she is the farthest thing from an airhead industry shill.

My (and other nutrition experts’) concern with high fructose corn syrup goes well beyond chemical composition.

For starters, high-fructose corn syrup is a genetically modified food, and one that is consumed in large amounts (the national average is 15 teaspoons per capita, per day) by millions of people.

Here is what frightens me: there isn’t an iota of data on possible health effects from long-term consumption of high fructose corn syrup or genetically modified foods in general.  I prefer to err on the side of caution.

Another good reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup?  It’s usually found in highly processed foods which also offer high amounts of sodium and unhealthy fats, and very little nutrition.

It’s important to point out, though, that nutrition is only one part of the high-fructose corn syrup puzzle.

Many people myself included equate the purchasing of products that contain high-fructose corn syrup with financially supporting agribusiness monoliths like Monsanto (I recommend reading this eye-opening, and infuriating, Vanity Fair article on Monsanto ).

It worries me that some people think that substituting high-fructose corn syrup with sucrose (table sugar) is the answer.  It isn’t.  The real answer is to significantly reduce consumption of added sugars (honey, maple syrup. agave, brown sugar, etc.)

Added sugars are problematic because they add calories but do absolutely nothing towards satiety (AKA: helping us feel full).  It is entirely possible to down 500 calories of soda (which gets all its calories from added sugars) in a matter of minutes… and still feel hungry half an hour later!

On the flip side, try eating 500 calories’ worth of oatmeal which offers fiber and protein in one sitting.  I have a feeling you would have a very hard time. Even if you managed to achieve that “goal”, you would not be hungry for several hours.

I choose to avoid foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, for the multitude of reasons listed above.  That said, I am not convinced that high fructose corn syrup intrinsically “causes” obesity, nor do I think that consuming 15 teaspoons of cane sugar a day is any healthier than that same amount of high fructose corn syrup.

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