High Fructose Corn Syrup: Who Do You Believe?

Dear Brand Doctor,

It seems that every few months or so something new – both good and bad – comes out about high fructose corn syrup. I recently saw a TV ad created by a group called Sweet Surprise. The ad suggests that high fructose corn syrup is fine in moderation, nutritionally the same as sugar, and is natural since it’s made from corn. What gives?

Signed,
Please Stop The Madness!


Dear Madness,

Yes, this whole high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) controversy has taken on a life of its own. We agree with you – it’s quite maddening!

This important issue has turned into a “He Said/She Said/They Said” whirlwind of information that’s not only confusing, but frankly, it’s hard to know what to believe anymore!

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What is clear is that the Brand Doctors are far from sweet on this stuff. Check out what we wrote about HFCS last April.

As your trusty food sleuths, it’s our job to sort through all the conflicting information – and to provide an opinion based on our findings. Once we pass the information along, it’s up to YOU to decide what’s best for you and your family.

So, here’s our take on the “Sweet Surprise” HFCS campaign…and we’re sticking to it!

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For years now, food experts have been warning consumers about the dangers of HFCS. Many feel it plays a major role in the obesity epidemics plaguing America and its youth.

We’re hoping consumers have been listening and opting for the brands that don’t contain this sweetener. In our opinion, consuming less HFCS would be good for the nation’s health… but not so good for the Corn Refiners Association’s (CRA) bottom line. That explains the recent launch of their $20 million (yes, $20,000,000) ad campaign aimed at making over the not-so-sweet image of HFCS.

CRA Core Messaging: High fructose corn syrup is natural since it’s made from corn and has no artificial ingredients. It has the same calories as sugar, so it’s okay to eat in moderation.

This approach is simple and to the point. But is it true?


Decoding the Fine Print

For starters, we agree that all sugary foods should be consumed in moderation. Bravo CRA!

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Unfortunately, HFCS has crept into just about EVERYTHING we eat or drink – from salad dressings, to yogurts, to breads and cookies, jams, barbecue sauce, and soft drinks.

If you’re not carefully reading food labels, odds are you’re being stalked by HFCS and consuming it all day long without knowing it. So much for moderate consumption!

Now onto the issue of HFCS being natural. Sorry, but no amount of advertising can convince our food sleuths that this stuff is Mother Nature-approved natural. Here’s why:

HFCS doesn’t actually exist anywhere in nature. It’s a manufactured product created by using enzymes to increase the fructose content of corn syrup to about 90%. Two of the three enzymes used in HFCS production are naturally occurring but the third is synthetic – and it’s this glucose-isomerase that causes concern.

The CRA claims that the synthetic enzyme is never actually added to the HFCS. Instead, the sugar mixture is simply passed over it and it interacts with glucose to produce fructose. Hmmm.

Okay, then what about this fun fact: During the production process chemical bonds are broken and rearranged, making it… well, not natural, right?

This “Sweet Surprise” campaign is turning sour fast. But, if you’re still on the fence, read on, because like syrup the plot has thickened recently for our friends at CRA!

News Flash: According to a recent Reuter’s UK news article, a study published in the current issue of Environmental Health revealed that researchers found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS. Gulp! But, you guessed it, an organization representing the refiners is disputing these published results.

Looks like this “mercury” issue is stirring up another “He said/She said” scenario for this controversial sweetener! Our heads are spinning…how about yours?


Reality Check

It looks like we’re back to square one, so now what? Well, here’s what we know for sure:

High fructose corn syrup May or May Not:

  • Cause obesity
  • Be natural
  • Contain mercury

Here’s what we say: When in doubt, opt for brands that DO NOT contain this suspect sweetener. There are so many other brands that don’t contain HFCS, so why risk it?

Not sure where to turn? We can help.

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You won’t find any sweet surprises on our latest and greatest list of BestBrands.

Remember, when you’re armed with a little eBrandAid know-how, you’re in control at the grocery store.

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In Our Opinion: The information contained in the eBrandAid e-newsletters is strictly based on the opinions of the eBrand Doctors. We have created a set of guidelines that we believe will help shoppers to better understand and decode food labels on products found in most grocery stores. Our mission is to help shoppers find the healthier brands that have the least amount of chemicals and other junk ingredients.

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