Please tell me I’m not the only one who has been in this position.
A friend mentions in casual conversation that she’s cut back her daily intake of soda to only one per day. Your eyes light up at the soda reference, thinking she’s finally opened the door for you to caution her on the dangers of this dreaded beverage. She mistakes your concern for excitement – thinking she’s done something right in your eyes regarding nutrition – and with utmost pride adds that she’s even switched to diet soda instead of regular! To cut back on the calories, of course.
YIKES! Where do we begin? Is there a polite way to tell her that she’s been drinking junk that goes right to her hips and could dissolve a whole tooth in a week? Or do we jump right in and explain how her soda could be slowly eating away her brain?
Hmmm… decisions, decisions.
I think that somehow bypassing the state of shock our ears and brains would be in, and saying anything other than “ARE YOU CRAZY?!”, would be a tremendous feat in itself. I certainly can’t promise my retort would be full of grace and tact, but I do know that it would be out of love.
With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching and the big candy corporations making bukoo bucks off their chemically-laden heart shaped chocolates, it’s only fitting that love is in the air…
… love to warn you about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, that is.
Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to stop consuming high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Particularly if you’re a soda drinker, we gently extend this invitation to cut the habit, for so many reasons…
And switching to diet soda? (Katie jumps in) Oy! I’ve heard of people doing that, too, and I have to refrain from shaking them. Truly. If you’re unsure about the dangers of artificial sweeteners, please read this post. Even when I was still eating Hamburger Helper regularly, I knew that artificial sweeteners weren’t food. I didn’t know all the names they hide under – guess what’s in both name brand fruit punch and Children’s Tylenol, for example, along WITH high fructose corn syrup! I really don’t understand why they need to be laced with artificial sweeteners and HFCS in the same bottle…
Is HFCS Really That Bad?
The short answer: yes.
The long answer: absolutely, without a question or inkling of a doubt, YES!
Still need more? Here are eight, incredibly legit and scary reasons why we should all stop consuming high fructose corn syrup.
1. HFCS is not a food – it’s a chemical created in a lab. It doesn’t grow in the ground, it is not created naturally by an animal, nor is it simply extracted from corn.
2. It requires at least seven steps and 40 hours to make high fructose corn syrup. Creating HFCS is not the equivalent as keeping a sourdough starter in your fridge for a few days. These are complicated steps! Components are broken down, ground up, washed and dried and broken down again. If that weren’t enough, the molecules at this point are separated apart and a portion of them are mixed with fermented bacteria to create an increased concentration of itself. (The full write-up is here, if you need more details.)
3. One of the ingredients to make HFCS is sulfuric acid. You know the dangers of car battery acid, right? That it causes SEVERE burns and must be disposed of properly in order to not contaminate the air, water and soil in our environment? Want to take a guess which acid makes car batteries so dangerous? Sulfuric acid. As if this weren’t enough…
4. The chemicals used to create HFCS can leave behind mercury. This evil toxin is found in some of the products used to create HFCS, and when it’s all said and done, some of the original toxin still remains. (source) For those who justify HFCS because of its original source…
5. HFCS is a derivative of corn, and nearly 88% of corn in the U.S. is genetically modified. (source) Corn has been successfully modified with human genes, jellyfish genes and the hepatitis virus. (source) They claim the modifications are to benefit nutrition and production, but I firmly believe that the corn God created – as-is – is more than good enough. If that weren’t enough on its own, some of the mutations shown to be beneficial to corn (or whatever they’re modifying) appear to be harmless in their original state, yet create toxins and lower immunity against disease and viruses when ingested by humans.
6. HFCS is processed through the liver. The liver is one of the last stops of the digestion system, producing bile and converting various sugars into usable energy. The two most common variations of HFCS are comprised of 40% and 55% fructose, which can ONLY be processed in the liver. Several studies have shown that excess consumption of fructose (and thus excess processing by the liver) causes serious injury to the organ. This injury makes our bodies at risk for liver failure, liver cancer and even a liver transplant. (source) You know how excess alcohol consumption can lead to liver damage? Think of HFCS as the food equivalent of alcohol. Not a good thing.
7. Cancer cells feed and thrive on fructose, and as mentioned above, HFCS is 55% fructose. Researchers at UCLA conducted an experiment on glucose and fructose, testing the previously held theory that our bodies process both sugars equally. Their findings show pancreatic cancer cells (one of the most deadly cancers with a survival rate ranging from 6-25%) can easily metabolize fructose to increase self production. (source) We don’t know if other types of cancer cells are as adept as these, but it certainly isn’t out of the question.
8. HFCS consumption is possibly linked to diseases and ailments in ways we don’t even understand yet. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease in children, obesity, acne, cellulite, gout, cancer and over-eating have all been linked to consuming HFCS through reputable studies. Although it’s hard to completely trust a random list without sources, this article makes some pretty scary points, too.
Katie jumps in: Readers may be surprised to note that I have never officially posted anything on high fructose corn syrup in four long years of blogging. Really! That doggone Sweet, Sweet Summer series just never finished up, or I would have gotten to it, but there are two reasons I’ve been hesitant to jump at it:
- It’s pretty well demonized in the media at large, so I almost didn’t have to jump on the bandwagon.
- It’s kind of easy to swing facts both ways. For example, one can look at a 40-hour process to make something and twist it into an “artisanal process,” or consider fermentation with bacteria a great thing, because hey – fermenting is traditional and makes food healthier, right? Something tells me this has to go beyond buzz words.
One could say that cheesemaking is kind of a gross process, too – extract something from a calf’s stomach and add it to milk, along with citric acid, which is an ingredient in dishwasher soap, for goodness sakes, and then allow it sit for months before you eat it, purposely harnessing fungi! It’s possible to make anything sound over-processed and horrid, and I’m sure some people do demonize cheese in just that way.
The bottom line on high fructose corn syrup, in my mind, relies on three truths:
- It’s just too new. As Tiffany pointed out, HFCS is made in a lab and hasn’t even been around 100 years. So we don’t really know what the long-term effects are, and it definitely doesn’t qualify as a food.
- GMOs. They make me wary at best, scared out of my wits at worst.
- No matter how you describe high fructose corn syrup, it’s still sugar. Corn sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar – they’re all sweeteners, they’re all devoid of nutrients when refined and only have a few redeeming values when unrefined. They are non-essential to health and generally harmful to one’s overall nourishment and wellness.
Studies have shown that when people cut HFCS, they become healthier. Whether that’s because HFCS is evil in and of itself or because it’s simply a darn good marker for processed (junk) food, it seems prudent to avoid it whenever possible.
In our own home, you won’t find it on any ingredients labels (maybe a few?) other than the candy stash from parades, holidays, etc. When we eat outside the home, that’s another story – one that I haven’t “cleaned up” as much as I wish, but sometimes we just need to hang loose and not worry about every morsel that touches our lips – stress’ll kill ya, too, if you get too overbearing about food when a true allergy or sensitivity isn’t present (my opinion).
Where is HFCS typically found?
This author believes that high fructose corn syrup could be found in 52,000 foods, or 2/3 of the average grocery store – and this was back in 2008. There’s really no telling how many foods are laced with this awful chemical today, but it’s nearly a sure fire bet you’ll find it in soft drinks and fruit drinks. (source).
Shortly after raiding my own pantry of trans fats back in December, I searched for HFCS as well. Want to see what I found?
Does anyone else see the irony in HFCS – directly linked to fat deposits and obesity – being found in cereal that promotes weight loss?
I’m not surprised that it was in the caramel flavoring, but the steak sauces (BOTH bold & spicy AND thick & hearty varieties) and canned tomato soup certainly caught me off guard.
Obviously HFCS is listed in all three jars of preserves, otherwise I wouldn’t have pulled them from my shelves, took a picture of them and happily thrown away the sealed jars. Pop quiz: Which of the three jars has high fructose corn syrup second in the list of ingredients?
Hint: It’s the one that doesn’t have it listed first.
Scary, right? As a mother, it makes me completely rethink peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They’re a childhood staple, yet it could be the very cause of heart disease in my kids?! Katie jumps in again: before we more or less cut bread because of gluten, we often made our real food version of ‘cream cheese and jelly sandwiches’ with yogurt cheese, real fruit (usually frozen) and a small drizzle of honey. Now we do PB and honey on GF pancakes for sandwiches or occasionally splurge on these fruit spreads with zero sweetener – those are tiny jars, so I do mean splurge.
Here’s another snap shot that may surprise you:
No, I’m not talking about the Splenda (which we’ll address later this week) and the tortillas (which were a carryover from the trans fat clean out). I’m talking about that upside down bottle of red goodness hiding in the back row that is also a childhood staple – ketchup! So beloved that my daughter distinctly mentions this anytime she’s treated at a restaurant, as if it’s a side dish and not a condiment. It’s in the raspberry walnut vinaigrette and Worcestershire sauce too, in case you were wondering.
Katie adds: It’s possible to find ketchup without high fructose corn syrup, more and more now, but that’s one condiment I always encourage less of. Bring on the mustard!
One additional word of caution – it’s very possible to find it hidden in real-washed” food, some whole-wheat items and even children’s medicine. That’s one of the many reasons I (Katie) love working with TriLight Health, where they don’t use sweetener of ANY kind in their herbal supplements and formulas, so they’re safe for people on any kind of diet (candida, GAPS, gluten-free, etc.).
There are no laws stipulating requirements for foods to be labeled “natural” or “all natural.” Of course companies consider HFCS to be natural because it’s derived (in a very long and drawn out process) from corn, but let’s be real – there’s nothing natural about it!
The single ray of sunshine in this ordeal is that there is no organic high fructose corn syrup. Organic standards prohibit genetically-modified organisms. (source) With the vast majority of corn being GMO, it causes manufacturers of organic foods to choose a different, hopefully less toxic and dangerous, sweetener.
It’s all the more reason to eat whole, pure foods in their original state as often as possible. We can make our own fruit butters and choose healthy grains instead of wanna-be “healthy” cereal. Homemade soup tastes exponentially better than canned anyway, and we can make our own salad dressings too! Who needs that bottled stuff?
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