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Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, and Trying to Eat Healthy Foods

Posted Jul 23 2009 10:23pm

Alarmed by his reading about the relationship between high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and insulin resistance, Mr. F has embarked on a quest to eliminate HFCS from his life. We’re finding that this is way easier said than done. When Wikipedia describes HFCS as “ubiquitous,” they aren’t kidding. The stuff is everywhere.

Our first project was to find a replacement for what we fondly refer to as “tensies.” (You can tell we’re Lord of the Rings fans). A “tensie” chez Freberg is a mid-morning snack, and usually takes the form of a Fiber One bar, Nutrigrain bar, or Quaker oat bar.  All run between 90 and 150 calories, and all, of course, list HFCS as a main ingredient.

A search among Internet recipes turned up a reasonable substitute. Our first efforts were tasty and satisfying. We ran the recipe through NutritionData.com, and it came out to be 127 calories per bar, well within our tensie range. Mr. F thought it was just a tad boring, so he plans to make smaller bars and add mini chocolate chips and nuts.

Unfortunately, we found that some of our ingredients were still problematic. Rice Krispies contain, you guessed it, HFCS, and so do the marshmallows. FiberOne cereal contains aspartame. I quit using aspartame years ago after a chemistry colleague told me that it was the likely cause of my dry, painful, and red eyes (I thought I was just reading too much). She was right. After I quit the aspartame, my eyes went back to normal. So we continue to hunt for alternatives to the Rice Krispies and FiberOne. I’m hoping the local New Frontiers has some HFCS/aspartame free choices. I’m not sure what to do with the marshmallows, although I think there are ways of making your own. We really wouldn’t need marshmallows in little squares, just the goo to hold the bars together.

Our First Effort at a Healthier Bar

Our First Effort at a Healthier Bar

For additional inspiration, we read the labels of some of our Jenny Craig products, and were surprised to find “corn syrup.” I’m a psychologist, not a food scientist, so we decided to do some snooping around regarding the similarites and differences between corn syrup and HFCS.  It turns out that while both standard corn syrup and HFCS are made from corn, the former is mostly glucose while the latter is mostly fructose.

American Like Their Sweets

American Like Their Sweets

In 2005, the average American consumed nearly 30 kg (66 pounds) of HFCS, as corn is heavily subsidized by the federal government, making corn products unusually cheap. In addition to being suspected of contributing to America’s obesity epidemicproducts containing HFCS also have high levels of reactive carbonyls not found in table sugar. Carbonyls have been implicated in tissue damage, such as nerve damage and foot ulcers, in diabetes. 

Some food manufacturers are responding to concerns about HFCS, and are actually going back to good old sugar. I hope more do. I would definitely be willing to pay more. If I’m going to have something sweet, I’d rather have the real thing, and something that is unlikely to cause health problems. We’ll continue our quest for an HFCS-free bar, so stay tuned.

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