Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Battle is Enjoined!

The Corn Refiner's Association has struck back against those fighting the forces of over-sweetening and accidental obesity. They have commissioned at least one commercial and an informational website. According to the commercials, high fructose corn syrup comes from corn, is all natural, and is just as bad/good as sugar and honey. Let's break these claims down individually.

"High Fructose Corn Syrup Comes From Corn"

Yes, indeed corn syrup does come from corn. However, this is almost like saying that meth is clean because it is made with bleach. While I don't put either meth or high fructose corn syrup in my body, if I had to choose I would choose the corn syrup over meth any day. Parents of small children may disagree with any distinction between the two.

"All Natural"

According to the website, HFCS is...
considered a natural food ingredient under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's definition of the term “natural.” Under FDA rules, “natural” means that “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”

By this definition, gasoline is natural, too. That must be why we don't need factories to make the stuff, or to make HFCS. I wonder if you can get organic HFCS.

"Nutritionally the Same as Sugar or Honey"

The chart on each page reinforces this claim. The ads claim that as long as HFCS is used "in moderation" HFCS is just as healthy as any other sugar. This may actually be true, I am willing to concede this point. Let me be clear: I admit that HFCS is just as good or bad for you as any other refined sugar and honey. Except for the teeny, tiny problem of actually trying to use this stuff in moderation. HFCS is in freaking everything: like apple sauces, almost all non-diet soda and fruit drinks, coffee flavor syrups, beef, yo momma, etc.
According to the USDA, high fructose corn syrup accounts for roughly 41% of all caloric (nutritive) sweeteners consumed in the U.S.
True, but corn sweeteners--including HFCS, glucose, and dextrose--account for over 50% of all sweeteners shipped in the US, according to that table the website mentioned. (You have to open a spreadsheet from the USDA to find Table 49.) The funny thing about the honey claim is that we aren't consuming nearly as much honey as we do HFCS. Only 148,000 tons of honey was shipped in 2007. Almost 11,000,000 tons of corn syrup was shipped in 2007. I guess this must be what the Corn Refiner's Association calls moderation.

I was suspicious of the claim that only 40.1 pounds of HFCS were consumed per year, per capita. The chart is clear about this, despite my completely anecdotal suspicion. We purchase about 50 pounds of the stuff per year per capita, but let an estimated 20% go to waste (uneaten or spoiled or etc), according to Table 52. This means that we are wasting 20% of our soda purchases every year. I have a friend whose mother will open a soda and drink a few swallows and then put it back in the fridge and twenty minutes later, she will open a new one and repeat the process because "she just wants a little drink, not a whole one." This boggles my mind and fills her fridge with 30 or 40 half empty sodas a week, which all go stale before anyone else gets thirsty. These are also diet so they don't count, therefore everyone everywhere drinks every drop of soda and eats every pound of HFCS they purchase. 20% seems kinda high to me, but I am not an expert working for the USDA. I have wasted corn starch plenty of times making some non-Newtonian fluids and those are always cool, so maybe 20% isn't so high...except corn starch isn't corn syrup.

One regular soda a day is horrifically bad for you. Diet sodas aren't so great, either, with all that salt.

Despite all this blathering on about HFCS, I have only one reason for disliking HFCS beyond the health reason: it tastes terrible. Sodas and fruit drinks with made with cane sugar taste more refreshing to me. Cane sugar straight off the cane is soooo much better than corn syrup straight from the jar, especially when you go to the Latino grocery store and buy it in a bunch and then chew it like tabacco and sit around the pool. If you can get past the woody texture to the sheer buzz and flavor of the sap, cane sugar is brilliant.

Next week in wild, quasi-scientific rambling: if men are often red/green colorblind, are rare women blue/yellow colorblind? I once convinced an ex-girlfriend's father that this was the case, despite having never heard of it and having done no research whatsoever. I just wanted to convince a well-respected lawyer that a total fabrication was the truth.

14 comments:

dontEATnachos said...

Ask them to explain why Mexican Coke tastes better than American Coke. Hint, it doesn't use that crappy high fructose corn syrup and is made by happy-go-lucky Mexicans.

Kathleen said...

I heard from reputable sources that our metabolizing of the sucrose from corn syrup is slightly different from that of sugar or honey and we skip a step with the former. So there are some theories that maybe that contributes to the apparent higher weight gain/fat storage from corn syrup.

I will now return to enjoying this All Natural piece of candy corn.

rotten mcdonald said...

Plus, dEn, they still use real Coke....

NĂ¡mo Mandos said...

So the battle is obligatory upon you? By an injunction?

Or did you mean that the battle is joined?

Chuckles said...

Mandos, I am not at all sure what I meant by that title. It's not like the Corn Refiner's Association put out these ads to combat my crusade against HFCS. Imagine if they had, though...

David said...

Aren't we supposed to eat local? There's corn everywhere but sugar cane doesn't grow anywhere within 1000 miles. Imagine all of the gasoline and energy that would be consumed if Coca-Cola decided to switch its US plants by trucking in the sweeter and more teeth-rotting cane sugar.

Honey is better tasting but also more sugary than corn syrup and more expensive.

mdh said...

I just wanted to convince a well-respected lawyer that a total fabrication was the truth.

What, have you been stalking me or something? This describes exactly (except for the lawyer part) what I am trying not to suspect about the backstory of my week to date.

I'll take it as a sign, why not? I know plenty of people already.

Brando said...

This is why I use pork fat as a sweetener.

Chuckles said...

David, honey is just as sweet as HFCS according to that website.

Dandrobium said...

There are cane sugar sodas in the grocery store here. We've bought them and they taste like diet soda. With a funky aftertaste. Guess I'm addicted to that corn.

That or the soda simply sucks.

Chuckles said...

Coke that was bottled in Africa tasted different, somehow better. I guess it was made with cane sugar, or really old and rusty machinery.

Also, David, the carbon footprint of cane sugar grown in Florida or Louisiana (if they still grow any there) might be lower than the carbon footprint of HFCS. The government heavily subsidizes the corn industry with a heavily subsidized nitrogen fertilizer industry. I have absolutely no data on the gasoline/diesel consumption of either cane or corn industry, but make a wild guess that any domestic cane sugar in my grocery stores is unlikely to have a larger footprint, unless there are a lot of unknown aspects of the cane industry. Of course, imported sugar cane is a different story and I would guess that it's footprint is larger.

Kathleen said...

cane sugar industry in Florida is mostly pretty bad though. see ex. Everglades.

Chuckles said...

So yeah, everything is bad with sweeteners. Fuck.

Ian Dobreva said...

For freelance work check animation crowdsourcing online platform