Beware the High Fructose Corn Syrup

In a reviewing science writer Michael Pollan's new book in The New York Times, David Kamp discusses the politics of corn, and how it affects obesity:

...he lays out the many ways in which government policy since the Nixon era to grow as much corn as possible, subsidized with federal money is totally out of whack with the needs of nature and the American public.


Big agribusiness has Washington in its pocket. The reason its titans want to keep corn cheap and plentiful, Pollan explains, is that they value it, above all, as a remarkably inexpensive industrial raw material. Not only does it fatten up a beef steer more quickly than pasture does (though at a cost to ourselves and cattle, which haven't evolved to digest corn, and are therefore pre-emptively fed antibiotics to offset the stresses caused by their unnatural diet); once milled, refined and recompounded, corn can become any number of things, from ethanol for the gas tank to dozens of edible, if not nutritious, products, like the thickener in a milkshake, the hydrogenated oil in margarine, the modified cornstarch that binds the pulverized meat in a McNugget and, most disastrously, the ubiquitous sweetener known as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Though it didn't reach the American market until 1980, HFCS has insinuated itself into every nook and cranny of the larder in Pollan's McDonald's meal, there's HFCS not only in his 32-ounce soda, but in the ketchup and the bun of his cheeseburger and Pollan fingers it as the prime culprit in the nation's obesity epidemic.

As we have blogged about in more detail before, in Disease Proof Your Child Dr. Fuhrman shows no love for high fructose corn syrup:

Soft drinks and processed foods are full of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is not only fattening, but this inexpensive and ultra-concentrated sugar has no resemblance to real food made by nature. It is another experiment thrust upon our unsuspecting children with unknown dangerous consequences. Besides sugar, corn syrup, and chemicals, these drinks often contain caffeine, an addictive stimulant. Children crave more and more as they get older. By adolescence most children have become soft-drink addicts. It is no surprise that six out of the seven most popular soft drinks contain caffeine. Contrast this high level of sugary "liquid candy" with the meager intake of fresh produce by children and teenagers, and it is no surprise that we have an obesity epidemic beyond all expectations.

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Comments (9) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Helena - April 24, 2006 4:51 PM

In The Netherlands, almost nothing is sweetened with HFCS, yet we also face an obesity epidemic. I do not trust any author who singles out one specific ingredient as "the" cause for obesity. I never ate products with HFCS, but at one point I weighed 240 pounds (at 5'7")

I think the danger with labeling HFCS as very bad, is that people start to see ordinary sugar as "good". The real problem, as I am sure Dr Fuhrman would agree, is that people do not eat enough natural foods and too much processed foods, no matter what those foods are sweetened with.

anet - April 25, 2006 2:44 AM

I think HFCS can be used as a "marker" when reading labels-- e.g. when you see it listed as an ingredient of a food item, you can bet that that particular "food" is overly processed and of poor nutritional value. So while it may not be the actual culprit in the nutritional ills, it would be wise to avoid the stuff.

NewSisyphus - May 4, 2006 4:24 PM

Well, the only possible answer to to ban it and restrict the activities of big agri-business.

We are powerless before the combined might of government and agri-business.

In fact, this morning, I was just innocently walking by a McDonald's when these two guys with Archer-Daniels-Midlands shirts wrestled me to the ground and forced two (two!) McGriddle Sandwiches down my throat, washed down with a HFCS-laden Death-Coke.

I've been Super-Sized!! I live in a Fast-Food Nation!! I have no autonomy or control over my eating habits or those of my children!

Help! Help! Oh, why, oh why doesn't the government DO SOMETHING?

Bowcatz - June 12, 2006 11:37 AM

Sometimes there are additives in processed foods that are not listed on the label. Wouldn't surprise me if HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) was one of them and in the European diet. Europeans seem to be pickier eaters than Americans (French won't eat genetically modified food), so if I (as an evil worldwide conglomerate food processor and distributor) wanted to put something in their processed food, I would conveniently leave the name of it off the label or disguise the name.

John Podolak - April 26, 2007 12:22 PM

When will the US wake up to the poisoning/fattening affect of HFCS???

Robert Octo - August 21, 2007 4:49 PM

Something else that should be considered.

The Public Health Significance of Dietary Fructose


The following are excerpts from research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1993:58 (suppl) 820S-823S. The sections selected suggest the potential for intestinal irritation which might occur from excessive long term exposure in susceptible individuals who's cells produce little or none of the enzyme required to break down fructose for digestion:


In terms of its potentially adverse health effects, fructose is a cariogenic sugar with the potential for malabsorption, particularly when it is consumed without glucose. There is a subset of the population that needs to avoid or limit fructose consumption because of intolerance or abnormal lipogenic responses.
More specific concerns related to individuals or sub-populations also exist. For fructose, some of these concerns include the potential for malabsorption, intolerance, increased lipogenesis by carbohydrate-sensitive hyperinsulinemic subgroups, cariogenicity and changes in behavior.
- - - -total fructose availability has remained relatively constant during the past 20 years as has the glucose-to-fructose ratio in the food supply, although free fructose exposure has increased with the shift from sucrose to High Fructose Syrup and with the increased use of crystalline fructose.
Malabsorption of fructose occurs in patients with hereditary fructose intolerance and other inherited disorders of fructose metabolism, as reviewed by Hommes.
Malabsorption also may occur in normal children and adults, particularly when high doses of fructose are administered, because the intestinal absorptive capacity for fructose appears to be limited, as reviewed by Riby, et al.
This effect appears to be dose-related and is usually self-limiting. Some fruit juices, such as apple and pear juice contain higher concentrations of fructose than glucose and also contain sorbitol; when excessive amounts of these juices are consumed, the risk of carbohydrate malabsorption is increased and typical symptoms of diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal distention and abdominal pain may be experienced.

Note: The preceding data was published in 1993 and would need updating. This information was available then and should have been widely known and the catalyst for enactment of regulations with warnings and limitations on the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup in food products to protect the unsuspecting fructose intolerant IBS portion of the American population.

Amy - June 18, 2008 1:45 PM

You want to know what's KILLING US??It's the HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. A CHEMICAL that is labeled FALSELY as a sugar!! It is a sugar like rubbing alcohol is a vodka!! HFCS is a poison that has been used as a cheaper sugar substitute. The FDA NEVER TESTED IT!! Watch King Corn DVD. The cornsyrup industries would NOT let anyone in the manufacturers! WHY?? Becuase they do not want the public to see that it's a CHEMICAL!! Do not eat foods with HFCS!! Google it and READ the information! This is why MY MOM died of Pancreatic Cancer at age 36 and she was normal weight, active and lived a CLEAN life, no booze or ever any cigs, or drugs (a suzy homemaker). The corn industry does NOT want you to know the truth and the FDA does not give a crap. The FDA is PAID by the corn industry!!!

Dave - June 13, 2010 11:09 AM

HFCS AND Partiallly Hydrogenated Vegetable oil

John Doyle - June 10, 2012 1:39 AM

I only discovered this site today, via Gerry Pugliese's polemical defence of Dr Fuhrman's recommendations.
My opinion is that this site is a valuable one and so are sites like Barry Groves'.
Basically you both are aiming in the same direction, away from processed foods and supporting fresh foods, a balanced diet.
However the science is in now regarding HFCS and polyunsaturated oils. Avoid both.
Polyunsaturated fats are unstable at room [body] temperatures and strain the body's antioxidant capacities, amongst other things such as imbalances in omega3,omega 6 ratios. Saturated fats are stable at body temperatures [and liquid], and do not affect the antioxidant capacity of the body. Our bodies know how to handle them.
We evolved to digest meat and starch as we have the requisite enzymes. So red meat is not unhealthy [this may not be true in the USA as most meats are contaminated now by additives and improper diets such as grain fed beef] Fat is the most valuable food to humans, but you cut the fat off.
All in moderation is the key. We can't all switch to an all meat diet. Only the wealthy few would survive the famine for everyone else. There aren't enough fish in the sea either.
Fresh vegetables are a great source of nutrition, but industry has tampered with them too.
The nutrition in broccoli is now around 40% of that a generation ago.
We are heading towards a soil degradation tipping point due to superphosphate use stripping soils of their nutritional value. Farmers markets are a way around the current problem, but they are not a solution when we are heading towards 9 billion.
Fun times, don't you agree!!??

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