High Fructose Corn Syrup (or BIG GULP)

We're sure that lurking somewhere in your home, or at your kid's school, or on your street - and definitely in most supermarkets in the USA - is a product containing that pesky little sweetener called High Fructose Corn Sweetener. These days, given the amount of product either sweetened with it or preserved by it, it is hard to escape it. And, with the trick or treating just passed now, and with the kids little candies spread out on the kitchen table, it reminds us here at Nonchalant Mom that we wanted to address this issue.

The American Medical Association concluded recently that HFCS does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners. And the US Food and Drug Administration deemed HFCS as 'generally recognized as safe' for use in food, reaffirming its opinion from 1996. And, no doubt, if you were watching television in the past few months you saw one of two ads produced by the Corn Refiners Association in which they suggest that HFCS is generally safe in moderation and that it is derived from corn.

What the heck does all this mean for us, the consumer? Well, it is a murky tale of word usage and misleading comments. Sure, HFCS is derived from corn. Sure, HFCS is not any worse for you than your average highly processed table sugar. Sure, HFCS can not alone be linked to the rise in number of cases of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. And, sure, HFCS is not comparable to drug usage - nor is it necessarily an evil. But, isn't that what they said once upon a time about alcohol and smoking? HFCS is in everything, everywhere, all the time now. And, is it good for you. Well, in our opinion here at Nonchalant Mom: NO, it is not good for you.

Basically, it works like this: Somewhere around the beginning of the 70's junk food, processed foods, and fast food starting expanding in popularity by leaps and bounds. You only have to look at the evolution of the simple soda pop container, starting with the 6oz size bottle in the 40's and 50's right up through the 8oz, 120z, and now massive Big Gulp sizes to see clearly that we are taking in more and more of this stuff every day. Unless you are religious about studying your ingredient labels on many products you consume, you will be surprised to find that it is included in many many ways, in many many products now!

HFCS is not to be taken lightly. How did HFCS generally begin replacing Sugar in the average American diet? Well, it was cheaper to produce for one thing. And, it could help in the preservation of food much more than mere sugar can. According to the same people that produce the stuff one of its benefits is that it 'keeps food fresh, enhances fruit and spice flavors, retains moisture in bran cereals, helps keep breakfast and energy bars moist, maintains consistent flavors in beverages and keeps ingredients evenly dispersed in condiments'... ooohh how YUMMY! In June of 2002 the present Administration (this will come as no surprise to many of you!) signed a $190 Billion farm subsidy program to span 10 years. This program would be used to encourage US farmers to grow more corn. But, producing corn can be expensive for the farmer, so with the subsidy the US tax payer would help foot part of the cost of producing corn. This encouraged more corn growing, including more genetically modified corn growing (that's another story), and thus produced a larger supply of corn, and the corn product like HFCS, to the manufacturers of all things made with it. Your Tax Dollars at work!

However, though HFCS is made from corn, it does not make it a natural substance. HFCS, in order for it to be referred to as a natural substance, like the basic sugars inherent in fruits and vegetables directly at the source, it would have to be naturally occurring in nature. But, HFCS is not naturally occurring - and this is the misleading part. HFCS is a refined product - a highly refined product... and we don't mean a naturally occurring refinement like what bees do with honey. HFCS is chemically refined! Yes, on the good side, it is less refined than pure chemical additives (yet another story!) but it is still refined - and this makes it technically an artificial substance. So, when you see the one person stuttering and unable to answer why HFCS is bad for you in the commercials and the other person proudly and confidently answering for them that the product is made from corn - this is NOT really true. It is a refined product produced from corn. HFCS is different than Fructose Corn Syrup. The process extracts the natural occurring glucose from the corn and adds a chemical in refinement to bring it back to an even higher state of sweetness. HFCS is composed of either 42% or 55% glucose ( I think there is an even higher percentage version), with the remaining parts being made up of glucose and higher sugars. In terms of composition, HFCS is nearly identical to table sugar (sucrose), which is composed of 50% fructose and 50% glucose - glucose being one of the simplest forms of sugar that serves as a building block for most carbohydrates. Fructose is the naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, some veggies, and honey. In this case HFCS and processed table sugar are pretty much the same apparently in the fructose/glucose ratio. But, does that make them essentially good for you and your body. We say NO. Are they a poison, we say no again.... but if you can, you should try and stay away from the stuff. But, how do you do that when it is seemingly everywhere now, and in just about everything?

Well, this is not true. With some research, and with a basic return to food close to it's origin - or real food - you can eradicate much, if not all, of this refined stuff from your diet. In other words, you have to change your lifestyle a bit. Our convenient culture makes this hard we know - but when you think of your own child's future surrounded by the stuff, you might think differently. We here at Nonchalant Mom believe that one day - these refined and chemically based additives will be considered in much the same way as cigarette smoking is considered today in much of the world. Little benefit, and BAD for you!

If you are concerned, then here is where you can start:
1. Limit processed foods - or study what is used to process and preserve them.
2. Avoid foods that contain added sugars.
3. Avoid fast food and artificially sweetened soft drinks and juices (look at those labels closely). Even 100% fruit juices can contain high concentrations of sugar.
4. Choose fruit from the source, organically grown if possible.
5. If you choose canned fruit, choose fruit canned in its own natural juices instead of heavy syrups.

This is just a start. Really, you should be studying your labels and shopping where you know you can find foods and drink that are now supplied with additives. Many citizens are talking about CHANGE now - it is our want and need as Americans. But, as Obama himself has said, we must all act for change, one step at a time. Thinking about the food and drink your children consume is very important - and more important for the gradual change it can bring to our overall society. How about that idea for SWEET!

If you want to find much more information, and in much more detail than here, you can simply start by searching the words High Fructose Corn Syrup. In the coming weeks we will not just bring you this information - we here at Nonchalant Mom will start to introduce to you some of the other products out there that are an alternative to artificial sweeteners. Some you will be familiar with like natural Honey, Maple Syrup, and Organic Sugar. And, others might be new to you, like Barley Syrup, Rice Syrup, Agar, and Amasake.

As always, we would like to hear what you think - let us know... And, a big Thank You to our new Nonchalant Mom researcher, Sara D, for helping us compile info for this story!