Jun 2, 2010

Turning the Tide: Use of HFCS is Down

I've been trying for years to push the education of how high fructose corn syrup is in almost every single bite off of the American plate and beverage. I have been trying to find the evidence that over use of this sweetener, and the blind use of it, may have helped to contribute to the growing gross obesity and childhood diabetes crisis in the USA.

It seems to be working!

A report shows that in the U.S. use of the sweetener found in most soft drinks, cereals and a range of other products dropped 11 percent between 2003 and 2008, the most recent year figures were available. A number of companies also have stopped using corn syrup in some or all products, including Hunt's ketchup, Snapple, Gatorade and Starbucks' baked goods.

Producers blame the decline on my campaign, even though most nutritionists find little difference between the two. (Note, they didn't say physicians?) They also accuse the sugar industry of pushing a campaign that has helped sugar refining increase about 7 percent from 2003 to 2008. I can say unequivocaly that I have never seen one red cent from the sugar producers. I can say that I enjoy a Coke made with sugar over HFCS. I can taste an amazing difference, and the HFCS has had an aftertaste in my mouth since 1985.

As of 2008, high fructose corn syrup makers produced an average of 53.1 pounds a year for every American, compared with 65.7 pounds of sugar produced for use in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency doesn't track consumption. But the grocery store does... and I'm sure I could look that up, if I could lift my fat flabby arms off the keyboard.

"I think what we're seeing is a real awakening of public interest and public consciousness of the food we eat," said activist Curt Ellis, a producer of the 2004 movie "King Corn" about subsidies that helped corn become a dominant U.S. crop.

Ellis added, though, that he wished Americans would stop eating so many sweeteners, whether refined from corn or sugar. Which, I'd like to highlight and also repeat - and I have in this ongoing campaign of mine to get better Coke.

A quick review for those of you new to my campaign. High fructose corn syrup was first developed in the 1950s but didn't come into widespread use until the 1970s and 1980s. It's made from corn starch, which is processed into corn syrup that is high in glucose. Added enzymes turn the glucose into fructose, a sugar found in some sweet fruits and honey. But it's also created in a centrifuge, and trace amounts of mercury are used in the process. Real natural, don't you think?

Quotas and tariffs imposed on imported sugar in the late 1970s prompted food manufacturers to begin relying more on corn syrup. Coca Cola and Pepsi both switched from sugar to high fructose corn syrup in the 1980s. And with tariffs on one commodity, and Congressional subsidies in corn manufacturing - let's see, wanna guess why it's in everything? So if Coke and Pepsi save a cent per can... since the 80's, that's about how many Trillion Dollars? HFCS acts as a food stabilizer that allows bread to sit on the shelves three weeks longer than anything home baked. So there are many positive uses for it, and it makes sense why food producers would want to use it.

Producers don't welcome the trend away from corn syrup, but seem positioned to handle it. Companies such as Archer Daniels Midland Co., Cargill Inc. and Corn Products International sell dozens of corn- and grain-derived products, and although U.S. sales are dropping, they're selling more in some other countries, especially Mexico.

Oh oh.

Food industry observers also note the sweetener's biggest buyers – like Coke and Pepsi – remain huge customers. That's not likely to change unless sugar prices drop so low they can't resist.

"As long as they don't switch, there'll be a huge market for it," said Ron Sterk, associate editor of the trade publications Milling & Baking News and Food Business News.

Wall Street analysts who follow the companies have noted increased shipments to Mexico, where there appears to be little concern among consumers.

"We don't see the pushback in the other areas at the moment," Corn Products CEO Ilene Gordon said during an April conference call with analysts.

The U.S. campaign against high fructose corn syrup seemed to begin with a 2004 study by a pair of researchers, one at Louisiana State University and one at the University of North Carolina, that suggested a link between the substance and obesity.And there was an even BETTER one from Princeton: (source)

A Princeton University research team demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

"Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests," said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. "When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight."

Sterk said the previous study, not the Princeton one, came just as more people were feeling uncomfortable with processed foods.

"The timing was just right because there was a whole – and there still is – a whole move toward natural things, and it was able to piggyback on that," he said.

High fructose corn syrup producers have made clear they think the sugar industry has played a role, too.

"Who benefits from the disparagement of high fructose corn syrup?" asked Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association. (Maybe also the nation's children? My liver?)

Nutritionally, there's very little difference between the substances, and people digest them in the same way, said Bruce Chasy, a professor of food safety and nutrition at the University of Illinois.

High fructose corn syrup, he said, is slightly sweeter than sugar.

"Other than that, there's no real difference," he said. "Your body's going to metabolize it the same way."

I disagree. I'm not a scientist. I'm more interested in the taste. Saving people from diabetes is a side project. Apparently, I'm not the only one who agrees.

"We heard loud and clear from our customers that they want food, when they purchase food at Starbucks, to be made of high quality ingredients and from simple recipes," said Starbucks spokeswoman Sanja Gould.

In June 2009, the company stopped using high fructose corn syrup in baked products. Gould wouldn't discuss how the move affected sales, but she said feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

You'll remember that the Corn Refiners Association launched its own hilarious national advertising blitz in 2008 aimed at rehabilitating high fructose corn syrup's image. A mother was pouring a child a flavored drink and a younger woman offering her boyfriend a Popsicle, then talking about how the sweetener is made from corn, has no artificial ingredients and is fine in moderation.

"There was no balanced dialogue," Erickson said of the reasoning for the campaign. "It was all erroneous." And funny, because they had no argument.

Good work everyone!

Thanks to HuffPro for the bulk of the text for me to re-write and cut'n'paste.

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