Have you seen these ads? There are two moms at a picnic or outdoor play date. One goes to pour some nutrition-free kids’ beverage out of a big ol’ plastic jug and the other says something to the effect of, “I see you don’t care what your kids drink.” When the first mom acts all puzzled, the second mom points out the beverage contains High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), and “you know what they say” about that stuff.
(Never mind what any nutrition-aware person would say about handing your kids a glassful of what is essentially sweetened water — nevermind whether it’s full of HFCS or just plain ol’ sugar water, we aren’t exactly talkin’ high nutritive value here, folks — “enhanced” with a cocktail of artificial colors and artificial flavors… I mean, that choice of beverages was so wrong on so many levels. But I digress.)
So the first mom feigns ignorance and says, “No, what do they say?” (all wide-eyed innocent-like) and the second mom stammers a bit (to demonstrate how she’s just relying on rumor and heresay and doesn’t really know anything bad about it herself)… so the first mom jumps in and smilingly informs us HFCS is a “natural” product just like sugar, and that — like many other things — it’s perfectly safe when consumed in moderation. Next scene: the two moms guzzling down glasses of sweetened artificial color and flavor for themselves and apparently preparing to serve the same to their kids.
Well, kudos to the Corn Refiners Association that produced the ads for giving it the old college try, but I’m still not convinced. Here’s why.
First off, in my opinion HFCS isn’t really “natural.” At least, not in the sense that sugar is natural. See, if you wanted to, you could make your own sugar right there at home. Granted, it would be a pain in the wazzoo, it would take awhile and it would make a huge mess, but you could do it.
But just try making your own HFCS. Yes, it starts out as corn, which is a natural product, but when you have to process the corn through several steps of enzyme conversion, liquid chromatography, carbon absorption, ion-exchange, etc… well, what you wind up with is nothing that would — or could — ever be produced by nature. In my book, that’s not a “natural” product. The FDA, FTC and Corn Refiners Association are free to disagree, of course. :)
But the part that really gets to me in the commercial is the bit about how HFCS is fine “when consumed in moderation.” This is incredibly disingenuous, given how difficult it is to consume HFCS “in moderation” these days. I mean, have you read the ingredient lists of the stuff you buy at the grocery store lately?
Those artificially-colored, artificially-flavored kids’ drinks such as the one the mom was serving in the commercial? Loaded with HFCS. They use it for sweetening because sugar in the USA costs about twice as much as it does in the rest of the world. Why? Because huge farming conglomerates have used their deep pockets to successfully lobby for decades to maintain subsidies for the corn industry and trade restrictions on sugar, keeping the price of sugar artificially high in the USA and Canada.
But it’s not just in those nasty, artificial-fakeness kids’ drinks. Pretty much any full-calorie soft drink in the USA — including bottled lemonade, iced tea, sodas, “fruit beverages,” etc. — will be sweetened with HFCS. There are a few that use sugar (and their devotees swear they taste better for it) but you have to look hard to find them.
Think you’re okay if you serve real juice, homemade lemonade or chilled water with your kids’ peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Well, you are good on the beverage front, but you’d better check the ingredients on the jelly, because I bet you’ll find HFCS there. And you should check the bread, too. Not all bread has it, but some does. In fact, there are tons of baked goods that contain HFCS.
Which means the snack cakes you were going to serve for afternoon snack are probably out, because chances are they’re also loaded with HFCS. How about some cheese and crackers? The crackers have whole grain, so they’re healthy, right? Maybe… check your ingredient list. I noticed last night the Wheat Thins I’d been noshing on also contain HFCS. It’s also in Ritz Crackers (yep, even the whole wheat variety) and others. Triscuits look like they may be OK, though.
How about pasta? Well, those Spaghetti-O’s that have been heavily advertising themselves lately on kids’ TV channels as a “hunger-satisfying afternoon snack”… you guessed it. HFCS. Or maybe one of those convenient little “Lunchables” from Oscar Mayer? Nope, HFCS is probably lurking in there, too — and depending on the variety, potentially in the crackers and the dessert item.
Sitting down to breakfast? Check your cereal box. HFCS lurks in some places you might not think: Rice Krispies, Kellogg’s All Bran and Corn Flakes, Special K, and Smart Start “Healthy Heart,” to name a few. Interestingly, it’s not in some of the sweet varieties where you might expect to find HFCS, like Lucky Charms, Reese’s Puffs and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. All of these are HFCS free. You really have to read each label to see which ones have it and which ones don’t.
Going out for burgers for supper? Want some ketchup on your fries? Check the ingredients on that ketchup. I noticed HFCS was on the list for the brand we had been using. Decided to stay home and grill your own? Better check the barbecue sauce before you go slathering it on. HFCS was the second-highest ingredient listed on the bottle of barbecue sauce I found in our fridge.
And it goes on and on. The thing is, it’s misleading to say something’s OK “in moderation” when nobody in the audience knows what “moderation” is… and when it’s so darned tough to avoid the ingredient in the first place.
Is there a way to avoid it? Sure — prepare everything you eat from scratch. (It is possible to make your own ketchup and barbecue sauce, and to bake your own crackers and snack cakes, and to make your own jelly, you know.) But let’s get real here. That’s just not practical for most of us. I work; my husband runs a company. We’re both busy people, and honestly some days if it weren’t for convenience foods we’d starve. I’m betting at least some of y’all are in a similar situation. So we’re pretty much stuck in a lot of cases with reading the ingredient lists and just doing the best we can.
Now, maybe HFCS is as benign as the Corn Refiners Association wants us to believe. On the other hand, maybe there is some relationship between consuming too much HFCS and getting fat or developing diabetes, as some other folks claim. All I know is, I’m going to start reading food labels a lot more closely from now on so I can get a better idea of just how much of this stuff we’re actually taking in. I’m just saying.