High Fructose Corn Syrup: The Cure for Common Sense?

Welcome to Almost Fit. This is part 3 of a series on High Fructose Corn Syrup, and includes the second set of ten reasons why I avoid it. Part 1 was On High Fructose Corn Syrup and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Part 2 was 5 Reasons Why I Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup. If you enjoy this article, please consider sharing it with a vote on Digg or StumbleUpon. Thanks.


In the previous article, “5 Reasons Why I Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup“, I described at length the first five out of ten reasons why I don’t believe a word from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), much less their expensive ad campaign to try to convince consumers that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is actually good for you. Although they may succeed in that attempt, in my opinion, the campaign is really designed to accomplish something bigger: confuse the public into a state of inaction. And unfortunately, it’s working. I have read more comments across the Web and heard, even from my own family members, more expressions of confusion over the subject than I possibly ever have.

I guess that’s what you get when you spend $30 Million dollars on an ad campaign.

Although my budget is eh, slightly less, my hope is that this series, alongside the many others on the Web (many of which are much more concise, for what it’s worth), will help folks to see through the thin veil that the CRA has dropped over common sense.

Here’s a quick summary of the first five of my reasons:

1. Fructose and HFCS are not the same. This we know. And, it’s important.
2. HFCS is used in foods that would not normally contain sugar – as an unnecessary sweetener and chemical preservative
3. HFCS in its most common form is no sweeter than sugar. This is true – and a great distraction
4. HFCS is manufactured using Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). It is not “Natural”. CRA, get your facts straight.
5. The environmental damage from subsidized corn overproduction far outweighs its value

For more details on 1-5, see the previous article – which incidentally, set the record for the most visits for a single article on Almost Fit. Thanks for reading – I really do appreciate it.

Common Sense: It’s What’s for Dinner

For this final installment, my focus is on something my 7th grade shop teacher was big on reminding us to do, particularly in those awkward moments at the band saw. Here’s a clip from 7th grade that I replay often in my mind, particularly around power tools:

Mr Lewis, shop teacher extraordinaire: “Son, what the heck are you doin’?”
Me: “Um…not sure..Mr. Lewis?”
Mr. Lewis: “Boy – All you gotta do is use your basic common sense. Use some common sense, son!”
Me: “OK. Should I turn the saw on then, sir?”
Mr. Lewis: “Boy? Sit down before I have to make Willin over here clean up the fingers you’z about to cut off.”
Me. “Thank you Mr. Lewis Sir.”

One thing to note: as I mentioned in the first articles, I am not a physician or nutritionist. But it is my belief that you don’t need to be to understand the issues. You just need a desire to learn about it and an ounce of common sense to make your own decision. It’s not as complicated as it’s been made out to be.

Here’s the conclusion to the list. Thanks for reading.

6. Diabetes and HFCS have a strong relationship – and an unexpected connection to another deadly substance

Fall Clearance - Save up to 90%As readers of Almost Fit are aware, one of my chief motivations for changing my dietary and physical habits is to stave off what I feel is likely the inevitable for me: diabetes. I have a long family history of diabetes on both sides of my family, including parents, grandparents (my grandmother died from it), aunts, and uncles. Add in my own lifelong struggle with obesity, and I feel that it is in all likelihood only a matter of time before I’m next on the insulin train.

The good news is, I believe I have the power to alter the course in my favor by making changes now.

Sugars in general are usually the target of discussions on diabetes; things like simple carbohydrates are often cited as a common culprit. But there is also scientific evidence that shows a link between HFCS and diabetes that is not present in table sugar.

Science primer part 2: Reactive carbonyls and HFCS


“HFCS, a liquid sweetener commonly used in soft drinks that contains both fructose and glucose, has been accused of causing diabetes, particularly in children, and a recent study further supported this theory.

The study investigated 11 different soft drinks and found “astonishingly high” levels of reactive carbonyls, which are thought to cause cell and tissue damage.

Reactive carbonyls are associated with diabetes, as they’re found in higher levels in the bloodstreams of people with the disease. Reactive carbonyls are linked with the unbound structure of fructose and glucose molecules in HFCS, and are not found in table sugar.”

There is a lot of information on the Web on reactive carbonyls, but this piece I find supremely disturbing:

According to a study done in 2002 (here), reactive carbonyls may also cause significant artery damage, but from a different source: SMOKING CIGARETTES. That’s right: The study showed a direct link between reactive carbonyls that were a result of cigarette smoke exposure and arterial damage. Exposure over time leads to atheroma – which is one of the chief causes of heart attacks – and heart disease.

So the question is, is there a link between reactive carbonyls in HFCS and those in cigarettes? The study doesn’t specifically address it. But folks, this is all the information I need to make a decision against adding unecessary sweeteners like HFCS to my diet. Unless I’m looking for an excuse to keep consuming HFCS, there is simply no good reason to keep taking it in. If I’m looking for ways to stay away from diabetes and heart disease for as long as possible, there is no arguing the fact that consumption of HFCS does not help me on that journey.

For the record, I’m not a big fan of the reactive carbonyls argument for one reason: the CRA will undoubtedly dispute any negative health findings by funding counter studies that tilt the evidence in their favor (which is easy to do, as you’ll see).

However, I’ll say it again: Unless I’m looking for an excuse to keep consuming HFCS, eliminating it from my diet will only improve my health.

It’s pretty simple. In my opinion, it sounds a lot like common sense.

7. Just because something is proven “not unsafe” doesn’t make it safe, much less beneficial

There is a lot of misinformation on this subject too – but this time it comes from the corporations who fund studies to try to prove that their product is essentially what I call, “not unsafe” – which is vastly different from proving that a product is good for you. This is a key distinction, because its relatively easy to prove something is not unsafe. It’s much more difficult to prove that something is not only safe, but beneficial – particularly with manufactured food.

In cases like these, the most important rule? Consider the source. It is becoming increasingly difficult to figure out who, exactly, is funding the studies these days when the politics of food are involved. But more often than not, I’ve found that the slant of an HFCS-favorable result comes from studies sponsored by interested parties.

And sometimes, its all in how you ask the question.

I’ll give you a good example of why this is important:

If I were to conduct a survey by asking people on the street, “Are you opposed to murder?” I would likely get an overwhelming response that says, “Yes, absolutely. Opposed to it. For sure.” Let’s say I get 96%, with 4% who are undecided (scary, I know).

But what if I rephrased the question and said, “Are you opposed to a life lost, if it means a life saved?” The results would be quite different, and probably much less clear cut. Then, using the second poll’s results, I could likely make the case that my study concluded that the country is divided on the issue of untimely death in any form, from abortion to the right to die.

In other words, when you have an agenda, it’s pretty easy to twist statistical and scientific data. In fact, lobbyists have made a science of it.

For an interesting read on the subject of statistics (yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron), read The Honest Truth about Lying with Statistics, by Cooper B. Holmes. Another good read is How to Lie with Statistics, a classic written by Darrell Huff and Irving Geis. Both books are excellent eye-openers on how you can prove just about anything with a handful of scary numbers and an opinion.

Bottom Line: Don’t forget that you can use your own common sense on these ideas. You don’t have to be a chemical engineer to understand the results of unbiased studies, or what the difference is between “not unsafe” and “safe and beneficial“. You also don’t have to buy the results of a study when their is clearly an agenda behind the questions. Don’t accept the idea that it’s too complicated for our fragile consumer minds to grasp. It’s pretty easy to see through it, if you keep your eyes open, and you’re not distracted by Big Corn’s $30 million dollar shiny objects.

The old axiom, “Numbers don’t lie” is true; but it’s lesser known corollary, “Numbers don’t lie…But Salesmen Do” is probably more accurate in this case.

8. Foods with HFCS are often cheap, and of poor nutritional quality

There are all kinds of exceptions to this rule – for example, I was shocked to see that Ghirardelli Chocolates have HFCS – but common sense will tell you that better quality, more nutritious food, does not generally contain HFCS. Cheap, industrially produced and nutritionally deficient foods on the other hand, often do.

Lack of nutrition, and the over-availability of fructose in a diet is a truly deadly combination. Because fructose inhibits satiation, we tend to eat more. This effect is increased greatly when the diet lacks nutrients. Your body craves energy, but it also signals cravings when there are nutritional lacks that needs to be rectified. Pregnant women are a very visible demonstration of this effect, who often have hard-to-explain cravings. One school of thought is that the body is seeking the nutrients that it needs by craving foods that it recognizes as having those nutrients. (Anecdotal example: Pregnant women who are deficient in iron have been known to have a craving for dirt – a common source of iron).

Thus, if you eat foods that lack the nutrients you need, your body will send signals that encourage you to keep eating until the nutrients are acquired. Well, again, common sense here: If you are eating foods that don’t have those nutrients, your body will continue on it’s quest to find them, telling you to keep eating.

Granted, this is an oversimplification; But it makes sense.

Along the lines of common sense, I really enjoyed this quote from an article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer. The article focused on the fact that several local market chains are banning HFCS from their stores altogether. When asked, a Mother who avoids HFCS said:

“”I try hard not to add that to my family’s diet,” said Hunt. “I just don’t think we need to do that. I’m sure there’s a lot of arguments on both sides, but I just sort of feel intuitively that it’s better not to.””

Well said. That Mother’s intuition is important, and shouldn’t be discounted by someone selling a product.

9. To support Corn farmers (a good thing) and reduce taxes (a great thing), you should buy less corn – and HFCS in particular

This reason has nothing to do with personal health, and everything to do with saving the country $4 billion dollars in taxes for which each and every one of us taxpayers chip in. From

“[…] President Bush signed a bill requiring taxpayers to pay farmers $4 billion a year, over a ten-year period, to grow more corn. More corn when the U.S. is desperately trying to find ways to get rid of the current surplus corn produced here. More corn when farmers are currently selling it for over a dollar less per bushel than it cost them to produce it. A $190 billion bill to grow more corn when planting less corn would increase the price farmers receive for it, and eliminate the extreme surplus. If farmers don’t benefit from this bill, then who does? The Archer Daniels Midlands, Tysons and Coca-Colas of the world. “ – (“Why Corn Is Not Your Best Food Choice“)

In Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan doesn’t explain how buying less corn benefits corn farmers - he has a corn farmer himself explain it. Here’s Pollan’s summary of the information:

“A farm family needs a certain amount of cash flow every year to support itself, and if the price of corn falls, the only way to stay even is to sell more corn. Naylor says that farmers desperate to boost yield end up degrading their land, plowing and planting marginal land, applying more nitrogen – anything to squeeze a few more bushels from the soil. Yet the more bushels each farmer produces, the lower prices go, giving another turn to the perverse spiral of overproduction.”

I highly recommend this book if you want to get a better understanding of why corn overproduction is undermining much of the Midwest and costing us, by some estimates, $5 billion dollars a year in government subsidies.

So how does reducing consumption of products with HFCS affect our taxes? The truth is, very little that we do has an instant impact on this problem. But in 3 years, the decision on whether to continue to run small farmers out of business to make way for government-subsidized Big Corn interests comes up for consideration again. Making small changes in our purchases may not seem like much, but collectively reducing our corn consumption makes economic sense, and may help to keep vital small family farms in business.

I believe in this kind of change; creating change through personal choices – as in where you put your money – really works.

A good, simple example? Years ago we decided to only buy Fair Trade certified coffee beans. That meant that at the time, we couldn’t buy coffee at Trader Joe’s, since they didn’t have anything that was Fair Trade certified. While we shopped elsewhere, my wife and I sent numerous notes to Trader Joe’s on our purchasing choice, and our desire to buy coffee that is ethically produced. Lo’ and behold: Trader Joe’s now offers at least 4 versions of coffee beans that are Fair Trade certified. I can’t say for sure that we were the tipping point, but we do drink a lot of coffee – and now, we can buy it ethically at a reasonable price at Trader Joe’s.

10. Common Sense, For The Win: The real issue is overconsumption of calories, and the availability of HFCS makes that excessively easy

For me, this is the most compelling reason, above all else. I am not a nutritionist or a chemical engineer, so I know that it’s possible that the things I accept as truth on those fronts could change. But for me, a reasonable person with an ounce of common sense, it is pretty clear that at the end of the day, we’re suffering from obesity, heart disease, and a whole slew of health problems because we simply consume too much – and we’re consuming the wrong things. Too many calories, and too many calories from non-natural sources. HFCS does not help in any way, shape or form to solve this problem – in fact, it is one of the leading causes of over-consumption because it is in 80% of the industrial food supply.

From an article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“A single 12-ounce can of soda has as much as 13 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. And because the amount of soda we drink has more than doubled since 1970 to about 56 gallons per person a year, so has the amount of high fructose corn syrup we take in. In 2001, we consumed almost 63 pounds of it, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA suggests most of us limit our intake of added sugar — that’s everything from the high fructose corn syrup hidden in your breakfast cereal to the sugar cube you drop into your after-dinner espresso — to about 10 to 12 teaspoons a day. But we’re not doing so well. In 2000, we ate an average of 31 teaspoons a day, which was more than 15 percent of our caloric intake. And much of that was in sweetened drinks.” (

HFCS makes cheap food cheaper and makes you hungry for more (the 6th grade science that adding simple sugars to satisfy the body’s craving for energy makes you want more). The lack of nutritional value in those cheap foods also makes you eat more, since you are not giving the body the nutrients it needs. The preservative quality of HFCS makes foods have a greater perceived value because they last longer (and you eat more), and ultimately we’re again consuming more fructose, in it’s worst, unbound form, than we would by eating real food.

In other words, we are reinforcing the quantity equals value philosophy, which is in my opinion one of the reasons that we’re in this health crisis in the first place. If you pay a reasonable price for better quality food, the simple fact is you eat less. It’s better for your health, better for the seller of the food, and better for the planet.

Years ago consumers objected to the idea that starting kids on the path of cigarette smoking was in our collective best interest. Yet overconsumption is far more dangerous in the long run in my opinion than even smoking (although I am certainly not suggesting that smoking is a good idea either ;) ). If you start early on a path of taking in too much fructose in any form – sugar, HFCS, or otherwise – you are guaranteed to have significant health problems later. Guaranteed. With smoking, you are much more likely to have significant health problems later, but you might get lucky and the cancer bus might pass you by. Not so with attacking the liver and pancreas for a lifetime. In my view, it is guaranteed to be a losing proposition.

In the end, it’s pretty simple

For me, I think the solution to our health crisis is right in front of us. It’s not finding new drugs to allow us to continue down the path of over-consuming garbage food that we are sold; It’s not finding excuses to keep infusing more artificial substances into our food to make us crave more of it. It’s something our great-grandparents knew a thing or two about: If you eat moderate amounts of real, whole foods, of which HFCS is certainly not, you will see positive, lifelong results on both a personal and (hopefully) global level.

In other words, it comes down to a simple phrase: Eat Real Food in Moderation.

Thanks for reading Almost Fit.

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Sources and resources

I’m reprinting this list from the previous article, with a few additions. Please do check these concepts for yourself and make your own decisions. I know I have.

Foods and products containing HFCS:

Focus on fast food that contains HFCS:

Dangers of excessive fructose consumption via HFCS and sugar:

A link to the Bray Study, 2004 (full text):

A great summary of the importance of insulin and it’s relationship to fructose