Corn Syrup: Good Advice, Despite the Source
The Corn Refiners Association wants us to know that, nutritionally speaking, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) isn't the evil villain it's made out to be.
The CRA, which represents the corn-milling industry that produces, among other things, more than 23.5 billion pounds of high fructose corn syrup a year (that figure's from 2005), has mounted a campaign to spread the word that the potent and omnipresent sweetener is no worse for people than sugar or honey.
The CRA's been running ads (this one's actually pretty clever) to drive its point home; it also has ginned up a survey showing that moms sending kids back to school worry about the wrong things in terms of nutrition, fingering things such as HFCS instead of looking at overall calorie consumption.
I hate to admit it -- and don't get me wrong, I don't think corn syrup is health food or that the CRA's necessarily got anything but its own best interests in mind -- but I think the group's right on this one. The American Medical Association in June issued a report saying that there's not enough good evidence that HFCS contributes to overweight, obesity, or diabetes any more than other caloric sweeteners do to warrant its being blacklisted. (The report does note that more research is needed.) And the Center for Science in the Public Interest lists HFCS as a sweetener to be cut back on -- just like regular sugar. (There may be environmental or political reasons for disdaining HFCS, though, as this article points out.)
So it seems to me that cutting back on high-calorie sweet stuff no matter what makes it sweet is a good idea. (Evidence is also mounting that cutting back on low-calorie artificial sweeteners may be in order, too, but that's a blog for another day.)
Of course, that's easier said than done: corn syrup's everywhere. My family no longer consumes much candy or packaged sweet baked goods, and we've never been a soda-drinking bunch. But a quick pantry check showed we're still getting our share of HFCS -- and the less-processed, less-sweet regular corn syrup from which HFCS is made -- in what I thought was a fairly healthful diet. My Total Raisin Bran lists corn syrup as its fifth ingredient; our 25-percent-less-sugar Quaker Granola Bars list it as the second ingredient (I think; this product's ingredient list is a maddening mix of brackets and parentheses that's very hard to sort out!); Welch's Concord Grape Jelly (which I now serve on sandwiches with NATURAL peanut butter, thanks to readers' comments on my blog about Nutella a few weeks back) lists corn syrup second (after Concord grapes) and HFCS third. Even my dog's Snausages (which, for the record, we're using as part of her obedience training and not as a regular menu item) feature corn syrup as a fourth ingredient.
So, for us, reducing consumption of HFCS may mean cutting back on portion sizes rather than eliminating whole food items altogether.
How about you? How concerned are you about HFCS? Have you tried cutting it out of your diet? What's that been like?
Jennifer LaRue Huget
September 9, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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