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Friday, February 1, 2013

48: Sweet but Dangerous

A few weeks ago I wrote to challenge my readers to “Stop the Pop.” I said then that I would write another article to explain more about the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup (labelled “glucose/fructose” in Canada). Soda pop is the most prevalent source of HFCS in the North American diet, but be warned that other commercial products are full of it: baked goods, sweet snack foods, ketchup and barbecue sauces, fruit-flavoured yogurts, sports drinks, breakfast cereals, candy, fruit drinks that are not “100% juice,” ad infinitum. Especially foods that are aimed at children and teens are loaded with this questionable alternative to sugar. Please take note, before we go any further, that about 85% of the corn grown in the US today is genetically modified, so there should be concerns about any corn product from the get-go.

From comes this list of five ways in which HFCS can negatively impact our health.

1) A Princeton University study found that when HFCS was fed to rats, they gained weight three times as fast as those fed equal or larger amounts of sugar derived directly from fruit. In particular these rodents gained abdominal fat, a hallmark of obesity.

2) Consumption of HFCS increases the chances of developing diabetes.

3) “There is a strong link between the irresponsible consumption of high fructose corn syrup and elevated triglyceride and HDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Together, these can cause arterial plaque build-up and lead to heart problems including hypertension, heart disease, and even stroke.”

4) HFCS is “especially destructive to your liver. When combined with a sedentary lifestyle, permanent liver scarring can occur. This greatly diminishes the organ’s ability to process out toxins and, over time, can lead to an expansive range of other negative health concerns.” Studies link HFCS with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.

5) High fructose corn syrup can contain mercury: In various studies, between 30 and 50% of samples of HFCS contained this toxic metal. (The mercury comes from a compound, caustic soda, used in separating the cornstarch from the kernel. Some caustic soda is made using mercury-free technology; other is not.)

The producers of HFCS originally promoted it as a “natural” sugar; however this claim had to be dropped when there was a tremendous hue and cry from the sugar lobby, including lawsuits charging false advertising and demanding financial compensation. Far from being natural, the corn-based sweetener is highly processed, made by chemically altering the starch molecules that occur naturally in corn. Fructose is then added, in varying percentages. Says “As a result of the manufacturing process for high-fructose corn syrup, the fructose molecules in the sweetener are free and unbound, ready for absorption and utilization. In contrast, every fructose molecule in sucrose that comes from cane sugar or beet sugar is bound to a corresponding glucose molecule and must go through an extra metabolic step before it can be utilized.”

In this way, fructose behaves differently in the body from sucrose (white sugar). It uses a different metabolic pathway, in that it skips glycolysis (normally the first step in breaking down sugars). The Princeton University research team concluded that this omission of glycolysis is why excess fructose in HFCS is being metabolized to produce fat. Glucose, on the other hand, is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.

Another characteristic of fructose is that it does not stimulate insulin secretion or require insulin to be transported into cells, as do other carbohydrates. Also, fructose ingestion is linked to insulin resistance in rodents, suggesting that human physiology may respond the same way.

One of the truly alarming things about HFCS, especially as it relates to obesity, is its effect on the hormone leptin. According to, “Leptin tells your body to stop eating when it’s full by signaling the brain to stop sending hunger signals. Since fructose doesn’t stimulate glucose levels and insulin release, there’s no increase in leptin levels or feeling of satiety. This can leave you ripe for unhealthy weight gain.” Also, fructose does not suppress ghrelin, a hormone that works to increase hunger.

The Corn Refiners Association continues to make the (false) claim that our bodies can’t tell the difference between sugar cane and their own product. The cat is apparently out of the bag, though, regarding health concerns of HFCS, as reflected by a serious drop in demand in the past couple of years. The Association has been doing PR damage control, seeking permission from the FDA to change the name of their sweet gold mine to “corn sugar.” And although the ruling is still pending, they are freely using this misleading moniker in their advertising.

* * * *

This was the end of the article as I submitted it to the Pipestone Flyer. Then coincidentally, very early the next morning, there was a new post from Health Sciences Institute in my inbox that caught my eye. I've copied it here verbatim.

Last year, the FDA told the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) that food packaging could not list high fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar."

No way around that, right? CRA's long-standing request hit the FDA brick wall. End of story.

Well... No. Hardly.

Turns out, it's the FDA with hands tied. Not CRA.

You might have noticed that CRA is still running TV commercials that call HFCS "corn sugar."

How do they get away with it? Easy. The FDA doesn't regulate commercials. That's the FTC's job. And so far, the FTC hasn't called out CRA on their easy use of the phrase "corn sugar."

According to The Consumerist, the agency isn't likely to rule on this issue anytime soon. Two reasons...

1) The ads use "corn sugar" almost as if it's a slang term. Nobody is saying it's the "official" designation for HFCS.

2) HFCS isn't a product. You can't go to the store and buy a jar of HFCS. So the ads aren't trying to sell you "corn sugar."

But something is for sale. The ads are trying to sell all of us on the IDEA of corn sugar.

So when they show a handsome farmer dad and his adorable little girl out walking in a cornfield, stay strong! Resist the rise of warm-n-fuzzy emotions!

All they want to do is get inside your mind and plant the simple deception that "corn sugar" is the same thing as cane sugar.

It's not. Don't buy it.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson

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