Ingredient Profile #1: High Fructose Corn Syrup

The ingredient labels on the food that we purchase and then eat are so confusing.  You almost need a magnifying glass to read every single word on the label, and half of the ingredients are impossible to pronounce, super complicated and misleading.  I mean, who REALLY knows what xanthan gum is, what really makes an acid “citric” and I’m just throwing this out there…how can an ingredient be a color (RED 40!)?  Therefore, one of the goals of my blog is to shed some light on some of the most cunning and controversial ingredients out there.  Although I certainly don’t have all of the answers, I hope that you’ll find my research and knowledge helpful.  I love questions too, and I’m always willing to find an answer, so feel free to post comments about ingredients you’d like to know more about!

I thought that I’d start my Ingredient Profiles with the one and only, High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It constantly has its name in lights, whether it’s being showcased and debated in the newspaper, the radio, or the TV.  HFCS is genetically modified sugar and it’s almost unnerving as to how many foods it can be found in at the grocery store.  Literally, from hamburger buns to salad dressings to breakfast cereals to soda, HFCS is lurking.  In addition, it’s found in some candy, which is another reason that I thought writing about it would be fitting, because it’s almost Halloween.

HFCS is not a “whole” food and it cannot be found anywhere in nature.  At its core, HFCS is a sweetener that food manufacturers rely heavily on because it is cheap and makes their products more attractive.  Furthermore, on average, Americans consumed 58 pounds of it in 2006.  Due to the fact that it’s sugar, it does lead to obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, but what I find most interesting about it is how it is absorbed into the body.  Unlike regular sugar, which consists of 50% fructose and 50% glucose, HFCS is made of up of 55% fructose and 45% glucose.  Unlike regular cane sugar, the fructose and glucose in HFCS is not chemically bonded together.  Consequently, the body doesn’t have to digest HFCS, which almost instantaneously finds its way into our bloodstream.  HFCS then slowly but surely deteriorates the liver, not to mention the enormous low blood sugar that can come quickly after consuming it in large amounts.  Lastly, HFCS is not purely HFCS, instead traces of contaminants have been found in it, the first and most important contaminant being mercury.  However, it is impossible to know the exact traces and amounts of contaminants, because, as a general rule, food companies don’t like this kind of information to be released.

I love love love (did I mention that I LOVE) Sir Francis Bacon’s quote, “Knowledge is power” and I think that it applies a great deal to making healthy food choices and being a proactive and empowered consumer.  While we can’t live in fear about what we’re eating and become paranoid about the ingredients that make up our food, it is beneficial to have a general understanding of some of the most common chemicals found in our food.  It’s unfair that food labels are so unclear, and I hope that in reading this blog, you feel compelled to find some answers to a daunting question, “What’s REALLY inside the food that we eat?”

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

🙂 Katie

References:

Bruso, Jessica. “Cane Sugar Vs. High Fructose Corn Syrup.” Livestrong. Demand Media Inc. 2011. Web. 27 Oct. 2012.

Hyman, Mark. “The Not-So-Sweet Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup.” HuffingtonPost. The Huffington Post. 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2012.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. 375 Hudson St. New York, NY: The Penguin Group, 2009. Print.

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7 thoughts on “Ingredient Profile #1: High Fructose Corn Syrup

  1. Jen

    Very well researched and written, I am hearing they are now genetically modifying wheat which is why there are so many folks allergic to gluten now, any thoughts? Thanks for the read
    Jen

  2. Sam L.

    Really well written! Have you noticed that a lot of times a chemical name is used even if the substance is naturally occurring? To use an example (albeit one that doesn’t usually apply to food), common table salt is sometimes listed as “sodium chloride,” especially on cosmetics such as shampoo. Also, citric acid is a naturally occurring substance– it’s what makes lemons taste sour, and is also a source of vitamin C. I don’t think any humans would ever eat Xanthan gum in large quantities if it weren’t for biochemists…That said, you’re doing great work here and I get you’re point. Like the food manufacturers, I might be leaving out some key points– like where citric acid CAN come from (and it’s not just fruit…)

    1. Thank you for your comment Sam. You are right, chemical names are sometimes used for naturally occurring substances. It’s interesting that you reference citric acid. As you mentioned, it is found naturally in some vegetables and fruits, especially citrus fruits. Unfortunately, it is also manufactured in laboratories, as the process of extracting citric acid from fruits naturally is very expensive. In addition, the demand for citric acid is monumental compared to the available citrus fruits, thus causing it to be mass produced.

      I really appreciate your input and interest in my blog. I hope you’ll keep reading and keep commenting! Happy New Year!

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