One of the latest health crazes is the anti-high fructose corn syrup movement. The greatest fears are obesity, hyperactivity, and the general anti-heavily-manufactured-food idea. The greatest fault, however, is the ignorance of why it may be unhealthy. While high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is definitely heavily manufactured, it is not a direct cause of obesity and hyperactivity.
HFCS is as much a cause of obesity as air is to an asthmatic. Giving a kid some ketchup (yes, it’s in that too) will not cause him to get fat or cause a hyperactivity disorder like ADHD. Focusing on a single food product like HFCS (in this case, essentially the same as regular table sugar and as sweet as natural honey) is a poor choice according to Dr. James M. Rippe, cardiologist and biomedical sciences professor at the University of Central Florida, saying, “Americans are eating more of everything. It’s the excess calories and sedentary lifestyle that are having the greatest impact.” The American Medical Association agrees that HFCS does not contribute to obesity more than any other sugary product. Essentially, use of HFCS follows one of the top rules of industry: produce as cheaply as possible. Working around natural cane sugar by producing a cheaper synthetic alternative accomplishes that.
The U.S. government places tariffs on imported cane sugar and subsidizes the corn industry, making HFCS cheaper to manufacture than natural sugar. HFCS is manufactured from cornstarch, broken down and reformed by two enzymes, to yield almost-pure glucose (the most common form of sugar). A final enzyme converts some of the glucose into fructose, which is then distilled into a 90% fructose mixture. This mixture is then combined with the original glucose to yield the final product, high fructose corn syrup – about 55% fructose and 45% glucose
Some studies have shown a measurable level of mercury in some HFCS products; however, it was an almost negligible amount compared to the EPA’s limit. The corn industry has refuted that claim for the report’s use of outdated data, and it affirms that no mercury-based products are used in the corn refinery. The industry also has the Corn Refiners Association, which initiated the “Sweet Surprise” campaign to combat the anti-HFCS sentiment with an informational website and commercials.
HFCS is fine in moderation, just like any other sugary junk food. Even everyday items like ketchup, cereal, salad dressing, syrup, and salsa all contain some corn syrup as a main ingredient. One way to work around products containing syrup: buy foreign. Many foreign manufacturers, like Mexico, largely use natural cane sugar to sweeten their products instead of syrups – in fact, the Mexican Coca Cola is the real classic, since the formula change in 1985 from cane sugar to corn syrup. Some soda brands plan to release a limited run of non-HFCS products, like the “Pepsi Throwback” and Snapple, to test the waters.
Perhaps this corn syrup switch is just like New Coke. Once the public is outraged at this syrup substitute, the soda industry will shout “just kidding,” reintroduce natural cane sugar to their products, and make millions off our ignorance.