Friday, December 19, 2008
The president of the Corn Refiners Association sent an e-mail to JFP contributing writer Brandi Herrera Phrem about her story "Healthy Holiday Eating," stating that "the suggestion that high fructose corn syrup is an unhealthy ingredient is misleading."
The e-mail goes on to cite numerous studies--from the American Medical Association, the American Dietetic Association and others--saying that high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, does not contribute more toward obesity and diabetes than other sugars, and that the body doesn't metabolize it differently.
Apparently, the e-mail is part of a concerted campaign to make the public believe HFCS is just fine, which CBS News wrote about in October. Here's what they found out about those studies:
Of the six studies CBS News looked at on the association's Web site that "Confirm High Fructose Corn Syrup [is] No Different From Sugar," three were sponsored by groups that stand to profit from research that promotes HFCS. Two were never published so their funding sources are unclear. And one was sponsored by a Dutch foundation that represents the interests of the sugar industry.
Pepsi funded one study, so did a D.C. based lobbying group that gets their money from food, chemical and drug companies. And the American Beverage Association gave a grant for another.
One researcher who was involved in three of the studies, Dr. James M. Rippe, a cardiologist and founder of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute says there is no link between HFCS and obesity and calls contrary evidence "accusations" and "speculation."
Rippe's ties with industry are no secret. Pepsico, Tropicana and Quaker among others are all listed as Rippe Health Partners on his Web site along with this quote: "The RLI research team conducts multiple studies of mutual interest to RLI and PepsiCo North America in topics such as short-term energy regulation response to high fructose corn syrupŔ
Plenty of scientists disagree with the industry claims. Here's more from the story:
"I think the honest tag line should be 'It's just as bad as regular sugar,Ҕ said Margot G. Wootan, director of Nutritional Policy at Center for Science in the Public Interest. Wootan says that people shouldn't be afraid of trace amounts of HFCS in their food but that they should be concerned about limiting huge amounts of sugar in their diet.
The average American consumed 56 pounds of HFCS in 2007. Soda is the single biggest source of HFCS in the American diet - 17 teaspoons for a 20-ounce bottle, according to a four-year study on soft drink consumption by CSPI.
That same study published findings that soft drinks directly contribute to obesity because of its high amount of non-nutritious calories. No other single product has been shown to promote weight gain in the same way, according to its researchers. ...
Similar studies have also found that appetite, which normally decreases after eating, decreased less after drinking fructose-sweetened beverages. And that it caused triglycerides to increase, an indicator of risk for cardiovascular disease. ...
[T]he researchers who CBS News spoke to said studies showing a link between fructose and obesity suggest a "total effect on the body" when too many sweets are consumed regardless of what form of sugar is used. ...
[R]eports estimate that the cost (of the campaign) is between $20 to $30 million.
Folks, HFCS is the No. 1 sweetener used by U.S. refined-food manufacturers. Read just about any refined-food nutritional label and you'll find it listed, usually along with with transfats (as Phrem correctly states in her story) and an indecipherable list of other artificial preservatives and chemicals that your body does not need.
If you read Phrem's statement, she writes that we should "avoid overly processed junk foods that are laden with transfats and high-fructose corn syrup." There's simply nothing to argue with here: Overly processed junk foods are not as healthy as whole foods, and they are laden with transfats and HFCS.
The Corn Refiners argument is marketing spin at best; disingenous and misleading at worst. Is saturated fat from beef "healthy" because it's no less dangerous than saturated fat from lamb? Is rattlesnake venom "healthy" because it's no worse than cottonmouth venom? Remember that "nine out of 10 doctors" once recommended smoking, too.
I defy the corn refiners to give us even one example of a refined food "product" that is healthier than its natural or organic equivalent. Refined foods have ingredients that nature never intended and are loaded with empty calories. There's no question that the American public's appetite for junk food contributes to the country's obesity epidemic and all the fun stuff that comes with it--diabetes, heart disease, stroke, etc.
So, even if it's not any more dangerous than other refined sugars, a statement that remains challenged in the medical community, I'll argue all day long that HFCS is far from healthy.
I also agree with Brandi H-P's statement. Her article was about the benefits of eating whole foods. If you want an marker for highly processed foods, there may be no better indicator than having HCFS and/or partially hydrogenated oil as ingredients. That said, partially hydrogenated oils are clearly bad for your health (no amount is the best amount), while HFCS is simply empty calories and a cheap substitute for sugar (albeit, made with subsidized corn grown with heavy applications of fertilizers and pesticides, and terrible for people with diabetes).