On High Fructose Corn Syrup and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Welcome to Almost Fit. This is part one in a series on my opinion on High Fructose Corn Syrup. I’ve broken it into three parts, with the next two focusing on the specifics. If you enjoy this article, please consider subscribing to Almost Fit. It is free, as always. Thanks.

photo of corn

There are very few things that I avoid more consciously these days than High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). And despite what you may have been led to believe recently by a gigantic ad campaign, people like me do not make this choice out of ignorance as a consumer.

As you have likely seen, the Corn Refiners Association is in full swing on a huge ad campaign to restore the broken faith of the American public in the benefits of using HFCS in our collective diet. In one ad, the CRA suggests that there are not solid reasons for avoiding it – in fact, it is kind of, well, what all the healthy, cool kids drink. The Mother who avoids HFCS is portrayed as far less informed (she is made to look like the fool, actually) than the Mother who happily feeds her children HFCS-laced products. In fact, the Mother who avoids HFCS for her kids has nothing better to say then, “….um….nice shirt?”

What are not mentioned in the ads are, well any real facts at all. Things like the minor detail that HFCS is not considered safe, even by the food producers themselves, for infants. Though from anything I’ve been able to find, they won’t say exactly why. Or that HFCS, not just fructose, has recently been linked to increased rates of obesity and diabetes, yet again.

Is it any surprise that the Corn Refiners Association and Big Tobacco are related through their PR companies and strategists?

So what is the truth about HFCS? And what are the solid answers surrounding why I think it should be listed next to industrially produced trans fats as something we should avoid?

High Fructose Corn Syrup. It Does a Corporate Body Good.

Like most people my age, I grew up with HFCS as a staple food ingredient in most of the things I ate. By the time I was about 10, the HFCS revolution was in full swing, finding its way into everything from industrial lowfat milk to toothpaste. Being cheaper than traditional refined sugar, (about 20% cheaper, on average, which is a substantial savings when you’re talking millions of units), and a friendlier sounding (and again, cheaper) preservative than other chemicals, HFCS gave the food industry a welcome economic boost. In fact, when Coca Cola switched to HFCS, it was estimated that it gave Coke a $70 million dollar advantage over Pepsi, which was a lot of advertising dollars 30 years ago.

HFCS was that benign new substance that was integrated into as much of 80% of the foods we eat, by some estimates. And we loved the sweetness. We also loved the perceived added value, as food prices were artificially low, and foods with it typically lasted longer because it is such a good preservative. Somehow, the campaign against preservatives (remember the ads with the phrase, “No additives – and No Preservatives”) missed HFCS. I doubt this was a coincidence.

For me, I would be really interested to know how much soda I actually consumed before I gave it up. I no longer drink soda at all – not diet or otherwise, except on the rare occasion when I have to choose between drinking ocean water and a vodka tonic because I’ve been set hopelessly adrift in the Aegean Sea. In that case, the HFCS tonic wins – and I’m good with that. Truth be told, I may, on occasion, pretend to be a castaway and force myself to drink one on the rare night out. Maybe. But only for medical reasons.

(So See? That Proves it! HFCS can INDEED Save Your Life! I may have a future in the PR industry if this whole blogging for dollars thing doesn’t work out…)

Back to uh, reality… When I was in my teens, I easily consumed 2-4 cans of HFCS-fortified soda a day (it was in the days when soda vending machines were still common in schools). By my mid-twenties, working in the boom of the software industry when free drinks were a favorite caffeinated perk, I consumed probably 3-4 cans on an average workday. However, in my time in the gaming industry that consumption rose dramatically. I consumed on some days 8 or more cans of soda looking for energy to keep me awake during the all-too-common back-to-back 20-hour workdays. In those days, my longest workday was 46 hours, all powered by free food and soda.

On that particular workday, I stopped counting Mountain Dews when I hit a dozen.

(Is it any wonder that I’m now overweight?)

The best part of that little story? Shortly after I did that, I realized I was drinking way too much soda, so I gave it up, mostly. And what did I replace it with?

Why, free juice of course! Which..also…contained….HFCS….

As you might imagine, my weight did not improve with that adjustment.

At any rate, I think I’ve drank my fair share of the stuff. And although I no longer partake of soda, I must say that when I see that new Coke ad, it makes me look twice.

The Proverbial Bottom Line, or, “G’head – Eat Dessert First”

Before I give you the reasons why I distrust anything that comes out of the sugary sweet mouth of the CRA (soft-pedal it why don’t ya), I want to be clear: my opinion about what is occurring in their ad campaign is simple. One of the best tactics that a dishonest, for-profit organization or group can use in politics is to encourage the dilution of the truth through rhetorical, meaningless dialog. It’s a war of attrition. The goal is that people will get tired of hearing about it, get confused by conflicting messages, and just want a simple yes or no answer, when often there is none. The result? The awareness of what is wrong eventually just goes away, and people just take the path of least resistance. And when HFCS is everywhere, you can imagine what that path is.

This tactic very clearly works. Whether it is an indictment on the phony reasons for destroying another country (oh not THAT again), or washing over immoral activities while in office, we are more often than not bamboozled by the powers that be into just letting things go based on the ridiculous argument of, “I’m tired of hearing about it – can’t we just talk about something else?” In other words, the dodging of the truth gets dragged out for so long that eventually we as a group simply become bored with the subject and want to think about something else. As in, “War? Do we still have to talk about that? blah blah blah…What’s really important is “oh no he did NOT just say that to the judges” – – on American Idol.”

And this coming from a household that *may* have voted for Mr. Cook. Just sayin’.

I think this is why it’s important that we keep the discussion about HFCS alive – but with a focus on common sense. The food industry wants us to believe that food science is the privilege of the educated few, and that we mere mortal consumers are not capable of understanding the complexities of how to eat without an awful lot of handholding. In my estimation, this is simply corporate spin to keep us buying whatever they say we should buy. But if you step outside of the consumerist whirlwind for a second, the truth is not so hard to determine.

The dangers and negatives of genetically modified, industrially produced, NON-natural foods (despite what the multimillion-dollar CRA ads say) are not going away despite the idea that we’ve already been talking about it for a while now. Of course, the CRA hopes that in the case of High Fructose Corn Syrup that attrition will set in, as it usually does. If we keep the pedantic side of “discussion” confusing for long enough, maybe the truth will be obscured by sheer volume of opinion, and eventually, when we’re all looking at something else, their subsidized profits will return to the glory days. Either that, or the bait-and-switch will be dragged out long enough until they can find another goldmine to replace it.

Sorry CRA. I’m not giving up just yet.

My Full Meal Deal, or, “Would you like to Upsize that?”

Thanks for reading part 1 in this series on High Fructose Corn Syrup. Part two gets into the good stuff – the first half of 10 Reasons why I Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup at pretty much all cost, being a castaway with a vodka tonic notwithstanding. I’ve broken it into three parts because in case you haven’t noticed, I tend to get a little passionate about the subject. And as my Wife can attest, when I get worked up, I can get a little bit long winded.

And I never even took typing class. Stay tuned.