High Fructose Corn Syrup: All Natural Really?

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All sugars aren't created equalAre you confused about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)? I’m not, but I’m convinced the manufacturers of HFCS are trying to confuse us, despite what they might say. But confusion is one of the tried and true tools of the processed foods industry. Their tactic: if consumers don’t know what to believe, chances are they won’t take steps towards change–especially if it’s inconvenient. So, let’s try to set the record straight.

First, let’s take a look at what the corn industry is saying about HFCS. In its latest advertising, the Corn Refiners Association’s (CRA) feigns interest in resolving all the confusion offer HFCS.  Set in a bucolic farm setting, the actress says she’s done her research and “corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference.” She goes on to conclude, “sugar is sugar.” Yes, by the end of the ad, the CRA has pulled their sleight of hand and renamed HFCS ‘corn sugar.’  How magically delicious, right?  I don’t think so, but you take a look and see:

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The truth is, if you look at all the research and different studies published, there is a decidedly MIXED opinion on HFCS–hardly the hands-down win the commercial would like you to believe. Furthermore, a large portion of the pro-HFCS has been funded by Big Food Companies.  Yes, that’s another one of the processed food industry’s dirty secrets.  If you’re curious about how it happens, check out the ABC News story entitled “Is ‘Big Food’s’ Big Money Influencing the Science of Nutrition?”

Another claim the Corn Refiners Association has made in their advertising is that HFCS is natural.  Here, check out this birthday party throw-down between two moms:

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The truth is, HFCS is anything but natural. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned time and again in my “All Natural…Really?” series, “natural” has become a meaningless claim that processed food companies use to confuse consumers.  For example, in the case of HFCS, it’s made with genetically-modifed corn. HFCS is also the result of an extraordinarily intensive process involving a series of enzymatic and chemical reactions. In fact, as one pro-HFCS group states, “the corn undergoes so much processing, and the products of the processes are so removed from corn that there is no detectable corn DNA present in HFCS.” Is that supposed to make me feel better? It doesn’t, but it confirms for me that HFCS is no where near what I consider natural.

To top things off, apparently the FDA isn’t too fond of how CRA is renaming HFCS “corn sugar” and their advertising tactics. According to a MSNBC report, the FDA has warned the CRA that ‘Corn sugar’ is false advertising.

So what’s my approach on HFCS and my diet? It’s simple, but it’s not what most people want to hear:

  • Eliminate as much HFCS from your diet as you can.  HFCS is in everything, so it’s going to be hard, but do your best.
  • Don’t replace HFCS with artificial or pretend all-natural zero-calorie sweeteners–keep them to a minimum as well
  • Choose real, natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or coconut palm sugar  (preferably organic) but remember to use them sparingly

If you’re interested in learning more about corn and the secrets Big Food is hiding about corn and HFCS, I highly recommend the movie King Corn.  I’ve included a clip from the movie below, but it’s totally worth watching the whole movie (check it out on Netflix here).

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Finally, if you need a laugh after all this, check out Saturday Night Live’s spoof of the CRA’s “Party” ad.  It would be funny if it weren’t so true. You can see this video by clicking here.

As always, if you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends by pasting a link into your Facebook feed, liking it, or emailing it to a friend. And for more inside scoop on how the food industry’s trying to fool us, subscribe to my blog here.

[NOTE: Updated post in June 2012 to revise natural sweetener recommendations–removing agave and adding some less processed alternatives like maple sugar and coconut palm sugar.]

11 comments… add one

  • Windy Daley September 22, 2011, 7:25 pm

    Great article and ideas! If all Americans gave up high fructose corn syrup, and the highly processed foods that it is in, the health of America would improve immediately.
    Do the corn processors personally drink that artificial red drink (from their commercials) and give it to their children? I’ve asked them on other articles and blogs, but no answer.
    As Americans, we do not have to be addicted slaves to the fast food industry. Fast food is drowning in high fructose corn syrup and other artificial additives and preservatives. The genetically altered corn may not only be dangerous to health, but is destroying the environment.
    We have to love our children enough to feed them real food. Say no to high fructose corn syrup, and yes to health.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley September 22, 2011, 8:08 pm

      I agree. As you know, the processed food industry has been successful in making these nutritionally bankrupt foods seem like reasonable substitutes for REAL food. Hopefully if enough of us speak loud enough, gradually we as a nation and world will wake up to the fact that we can’t keep treating our bodies and this earth as receptacles for crap.

      Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the blog post!

      Reply
  • Kellie November 3, 2011, 3:32 pm

    Those commercials and others like them are what started my quest to educate myself further so I could educate my loved one and anybody else the importance of knowing what you are eating. Please do yourself a huge favor and be a conscience eater!!

    Thank you again for your blog!

    Reply
  • Andrew November 4, 2011, 4:36 pm

    Bruce:

    This web site and your research is what everyone needs to know about the tricks the food companies are playing on us to make huge profits at the expense of our health.

    Now in this article you state: “Choose real, natural sweeteners like sugar, honey, or agave (preferably organic) but remember to use them sparingly”. Since you are looking at the truth about HFCS and other ingredients, I would like to invite you to learn the truth about agave (organic or not). There is a great article inside you about this ingredient that I hope you do your research on.

    Keep up the great work.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley November 4, 2011, 9:31 pm

      Thanks for your comment Andrew. Another reader mentioned a similar concern over Agave, and I’ve read several articles about it. An organic nutrition advisor reco’d agave to me a year or so to me. I appreciate your heads up, and I’m hoping to do some more digging into the issue.

      Reply
  • tim November 9, 2011, 6:40 pm

    The process to make “agave nectar” is the same process that is used to make HFCS, So it is safe to call it “High fructose agave syrup”, and when the process is done the agave syrup has more fructose then the corn syrup so HFAS is worse then HFCS…

    Reply
    • Therese May 31, 2012, 12:39 am

      I was going to say something like this… agave nectar is pure fructose, wouldn’t touch it if I had a choice. I stick to stevia and raw honey for sweetners.

      Reply
  • Dina November 13, 2011, 11:55 pm

    New to your blog, and glad you are doing this! We follow an all natural, preservative free diet because it completely alters our son’s personality. His behavioral and ADHD issues decrease significantly. About a year into our all natural diet we realized (through keeping diet diaries) that any type of corn sweeteners caused serious behavioral issues for him. We eliminated not only HFCS, but ANY corn syrup, maltodextrin, fructose, etc. His behavior at school and at home changed dramatically. Now if some accidentally sneaks in his diet he gets angry, easily frustrated, and at times can’t even keep his eyes still to read! It’s absolutely crazy the effect this stuff has. Please keep up your blog to help other people realize that this garbage in our food (artificial colors & flavors which are just various forms of petroleum, and preservatives, corn syrup) is causing not only obesity, but the rise of ADHD and other behavioral issues in our children. (We follow the Feingold Program – http://www.feingold.org)

    Reply
  • WordVixen November 14, 2011, 7:07 pm

    I completely love these commercials. You know why? Because they’re the reason that I cut HFCS out of my diet. I already knew the less obscure reasons why HFCS is worse than sugar (I didn’t understand about how unbonded fructose is metabolized at that point), so when those smarmy “You know what they say…” commercials came on, they struck me as so condescending that I was finally angered enough to actually bother making changes to my diet. Those commercials and searching for a safe fat to cook with (after hearing that you shouldn’t heat olive oil) are what lead me to the real food movement. I’ve met several other people who’ve said the same thing. Honestly, I wish they’d keep making bad commercials- it just increases the ranks of those willing to support real food!

    Reply
  • matt March 19, 2012, 9:53 pm

    Thank you so much Bruce. I just recently watched Food Inc. It has opened opened my eyes to the corruption of the food industry. The documentary and your blog have persuaded me to write a paper for my english class. Im writing it on the corruption of big business in the food industry.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley March 19, 2012, 9:57 pm

      Matt:

      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m so glad you’re enjoying my blog. Fantastic to hear you are going to write a paper for your English class about the corruption of big business in the food industry. Not only is that a great topic, but you can also help spread the word about the problems in the industrialized world of food.

      Good Luck! I know you’ll do a super job!

      Bruce

      Reply

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Commenting Policy: Following the advice of a popular blogger, I’m running my blog conversation like it’s my living room. Just so you know, I won’t tolerate bad behavior in my living room, and I won’t tolerate it on here. Critical is fine and differing opinions are encouraged. But if you’re rude … bye bye. And when commenting, please use your PERSONAL name or initials and NOT your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. The bottom line is, be cool, keep it clean, and have fun! Thanks in advance for adding to the conversation!

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About Me:

Bruce Bradley

Bruce Bradley

I'm a father, food advocate, consultant, and author.

Bruce is a former processed food exec turned food advocate, blogger, and author.

Before his food advocacy work, Bruce worked for over fifteen years as a marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. As one of the only former processed food marketers actively speaking out about concerns over the food we eat, the media often seeks Bruce out for his honest perspective. His 2011 interview, Confessions of a former Big Food Executive, was one of Grist online's Top 10 clicked stories for 2011.

Bruce now writes, performs speaking engagements, and provides business strategy and marketing consultant services to help ethical, sustainable businesses reach their potential.

Bruce graduated with an MBA from Duke University and a B.A. from Davidson College. Born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, he now lives in Minneapolis, MN with his son and their dog, Katie.

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