Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What exactly is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

I was watching tv awhile ago when I saw this commercial with two mildly attractive (if you're into the "mom with the tucked in pants"-type) women talking about high fructose corn syrup. The ad looked to be a well-financed commercial endeavor unlike most political ads, but the bitch factor was high. One mom accused the other of not caring about her kids by letting them drink colored juice-like product that had high fructose corn syrup which was met by a retort of "do you know what high fructose corn syrup even is?"

Oh, snap!

But the sassy momma's comeback stung. In truth, I didn't know what high fructose corn syrup was and had just assumed like anti-matter or New Coke, I didn't to really understand it to know that it wasn't good. And I also wanted to know why the Corn Refiners Association was spending nearly $30 million to convince me that I shouldn't abandon their product  Unfortunately the ad didn't reach an important demographic - executives of huge corporations - as companies like Pepsi and Snapple in the past  year have moved to distance their product from HFCS.

Here's that industry-paid-for commercial on You Tube

What the heck exactly is HFCS?
My journey began on the internet. And it turns out that tons of smart people - some with "doctor" in front of their names! - had already researched and written on HFCS! Specifically one Dr. Will, whose delicious bars I have sampled at many cyclocross events, had a good article breaking down the difference between corn syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup. High fructose corn sweeter is both a sweetener and a preservative for foods making them cheaper to produce and easier to transport. The process of creating HFCS sounds as simple as creating cold fusion in your bathtub, a complex chemical breakdown that starts with basic corn syrup and ends with product about as "corn" as Heidi Montag's new plastic body. Quoting from a 2006 article in the New York Times, Michael F. Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest,"says that unlike sugar molecules, which reside in the stalks of sugar cane or the beets that are used to make sugar, high-fructose corn syrup is artificial because it is not found anywhere in corn." Dr. Will's blog noted that they use corn syrup in their product as opposed to high fructose corn syrup to provide a "health risk free sweetener."

What the heck does HFCS do?
More specifically, what does HFCS do to me? Michael Pollan called out sweeteners like HFCS back in 2002 for links to diabetes and obesity among other health issues. Since then, research has proven some of Pollan's claims to be true, like this 2008 study linking a diet high in HFCS to obesity in rats. While the Corn Refiners Association has toted the  "all things in moderation" tagline for HFCS, a $30 million ad campaign coupled with somewhere between $40 to $200 billion in government subsidies over the past twenty years seems to suggest otherwise.

After all I've read, HFCS sounds about as appealing as a Heidi Montag album. While it might be good for some huge food corporations, I'd think I'll go through my refrigerator and make some edits.

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