High Fructose Propaganda

Recently MomCentral facilitated a blog tour promoting the Corn Refiners Association’s latest quest to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as ‘corn sugar’.  The CRA claims that consumers are “confused” and the name switch will clear things right up.  Problem is, consumers are not confused, they are becoming more educated and choosing not to consume HFCS.

Fact: The Corn Refiners Association is a lobbying group based in Washington, D.C. It is not a group of farmers trying to sell their crop.  It is not an independent scientific research group or think tank.  The CRA’s purpose is to promote HFCS in order to keep up demand for tax-payer subsidized, artificially price depressed field corn.  Specifically, the CRA wants to:

highlight the important role high fructose corn syrup plays in our nation’s foods and beverages.  (http://www.sweetsurprise.com/about-us/our-mission)

MomCentral falls firmly in the pro-HFCS camp.  Take a look at their article Mislead By False Health Halo of High Fructose Corn Syrup-free,  which is “advertorial’ and links only to the Corn Refiners Association sites, not to any objective or critical sites.  (And while it may be the case that HFCS free does not equal healthy, some objective, unbiased sources should have been added.  Instead it comes off as a marketing piece for the CRA.)

The blogger’s posts have a similar theme.  In exchange for gift certificates, many have apparently decided to check their critical thinking at the door and repeat, almost word for word, the drumbeat of the CRA’s PR department.  Some quotes:

The professional speakers used a lot of technical scientific terms and words that rather confused me,  but ultimately the important message I learned from them is that there is no significant difference between HFCS and table sugar. (A Happy Hippy Mom)

If she is confused, then how can she draw a conclusion, one that is the exact marketing line of the CRA?

What’s interesting, but not surprising, is that the only difference betweenSucrose and HFCS are the names and where they come from. (Blogfully)

Where they come from?  One is  a natural product of photosynthesis, one is a recent invention created in a laboratory.  But the HFCS controversy isn’t about whether table sugar and HFCS have the same amount of calories or sweeten the same amount.  That’s a red herring.

Try using a smaller plate instead of trying to cut out a certain type of sugar from your diet. (Momstart)

Seriously? Dissecting this statement is an entire blog post on its own.

This post isn’t primarily about bloggers who chose to spread the HFCS propaganda, although that is an interesting topic to explore.

First, though, let’s talk about HFCS and the CRA claims, namely that HFCS is metabolized exactly like any other sweetener and that it’s safe.  Is it?  Because when I started snooping around, I found that:

Fructose (a component of HFCS) and glucose are not metabolized in the same way. I remember having to memorize the Krebs cycle and how food becomes energy to power our cells in biology class.  Fructose is processed in the liver by an enzyme, but glucose can be processed anywhere in the body (that liver thing is important).  The manufacturing process for HFCS takes corn starch and transforms it into a glucose/fructose mix.  Sucrose, which is produced by plants when they convert sunlight into food, also contains glucose and fructose but the HFCS is chemically different from the naturally occurring sucrose.  The fructose in HFCS is unbound.  This isn’t a chemistry text (and thank goodness for that – I hated chemistry) so I’ll stop there but please research it further if you are interested.

IMPORTANT UPDATE, 4 pm: A consultant for the Corn Refiners Association has passed along a link to an article on HFCS metabolism that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  I haven’t read through it, and honestly, I probably won’t until late tonight after the kids are in bed.  I am posting the link in the interest of fairness and so you can read it yourself and draw your own conclusion.

HFCS is a highly processed product that may be contaminated with mercury, a potent neurotoxin.

According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a non-profit research group based in Minnesota and Geneva, mercury contamination was found in foods made with HFCS.

We sent several dozen products to a commercial laboratory, using the latest in mercury detection technology. And guess what? We found mercury. In fact, we detected mercury in nearly one in three of the 55 HFCS-containing food products we tested. They include some of the most recognizable brands on supermarket shelves: Quaker, Hunt‘s, Manwich, Hershey‘s, Smucker‘s, Kraft, Nutri-Grain and Yoplait.

HFCS has been associated with liver scarring among adults with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

We have identified an environmental risk factor that may contribute to the metabolic syndrome of insulin resistance and the complications of the metabolic syndrome, including liver injury,” [Manal Abdelmalek, MD, MPH] said.

I also found this information about HFCS.

HFCS is “techinically” natural, according the FDA definition. However, it is not found in nature, nor can it be made in the kitchen.  Laboratory grade equipment and trained personnel are required to construct it.

HFCS is not corn sugar. The FDA already defines corn sugar.  HFCS is corn starch that has been altered into a glucose/fructose blend.

HFCS is hidden in so many foods, that diabetes educators and publications are warning against it because it can cause weight gain due to the way it is metabolized.  HFCS is in many foods that traditionally have been made without sweeteners – salad dressing, stuffing, yogurt, tomato paste, applesauce…

HFCS has not been conclusively shown to cause obesity, because there haven’t been any human studies that explored HFCS and obesity.  The studies so far have explored sweeteners, not HFCS only.  There also isn’t any study showing that HFCS does not cause obesity.  Simply put, we don’t know one way or the other.

Fructose has been correlated to obesity.   Research done at Princeton has found a correlation, though:

“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

HFCS is made from genetically modified corn, which is sold by Monsanto.  All of the reasons to avoid Monsanto and/or GMO products, if at all possible, would take up an entire post of its own.

And now for the secondary topic of this post.

Why shouldn’t a blogger use their blog to promote corporate marketing messages?

For me, it comes down to blogging with integrity.  Can you trust what someone says if they are getting paid not to criticize?  If they must only say positive things?  I do believe bloggers and writers should be compensated for their work and content.  Our work has value.  What I don’t believe is that mommy bloggers should blindly repeat marketing messages for a few gift cards or a trip.

Mom-101 posted about HFCS and bloggers today, and a paid consultant for the Corn Refiners Association joined the discussion in the comments.

Our Ordinary Life also explores the topic of lobbyists paying mom bloggers to market for them.  It’s an interesting question.  I’ve accepted gift cards in exchange for posts.  On the other hand, I have a written policy that declares I will only post my actual, unbiased opinion.

My pledge to you, my readers: I will always post my own opinion, whether I am compensated or not. (And heaven knows that I don’t lack for an opinion!  Just ask my long-suffering husband.)

Actual text in from my media kit:

Milehimama and Mama Says retain complete editorial control of sponsored posts and will only post true opinions. Milehimama cannot review products she has not personally tried out. Readers trust Mama Says to be honest in all reviews, and that trust will not be broken.

Tell me what you think of this latest HFCS marketing ploy. Do mommy bloggers hurt their credibility when they write for D.C. lobbyists?  Do you avoid HFCS, and why?

I love comments. Tell me what you think!

  • Heather October 7, 2010, 5:37 pm

    Per Therese- “(I) am the Social Media Manager who monitors the conversation”

    There is a difference between monitoring and attempting to control. Monitoring is not good, look at the flack Monsanto is getting for hiring a Blackwater subsidiary to “monitor” anti-GMO blogs and groups. What you are doing is attempting to control the conversation by saying people who disagree with you aren’t informed or smart enough to form opinions of their own. You claim transparency but you will not say in so many words you are paid to comment on blogs and paid bloggers to write favorable posts. You give enough information to imply the same, just as you imply people who disagree with you are stupid, but you won’t admit it outright. That isn’t transparent. No one actually expects you to be truly transparent and admit that although your studies don’t say HFCS will definitely harm you, that medical science is not advanced enough to truly determine how HFCS is metabolized nor if it is truly safe. Once upon a time studies showed cocaine cured all kinds of ailments and was safe enough to be in everything from soda, to health tonics, to food. Sound familiar?

  • Carma October 7, 2010, 6:19 pm

    This is my favorite comment in the whole blog and comment thread:
    >> THERESE SAID: Please know that your opinions and views are very important to us and are taken seriously. And hopefully through our iterative process, we can find common ground. <<

    Did you catch "iterative process?" An iteration is merely a repetition. She's making an outright statement here that this is not a discussion or even a conversation; her strategy is merely to repeat herself. Translated, she said "your views are taken seriously enough for us want to change them, and we hope that by repeating the same thing over and over, you'll come to our side." LOL!

    Keep up the good work Mama!

  • Milehimama October 7, 2010, 6:30 pm

    Maybe I’m a cynic but when I hear that stock phrase “Please know that your opinions are very important to us” I pretty much figure I’m being blown off. Because if the opinions WERE important, they’d have a personalized response, not a cut and paste stock phrase. It sounds like something you’d get from one of those “international” ESL customer service lines, where the CSR can only repeat what’s on the card.

  • WordVixen October 7, 2010, 6:45 pm

    Therese- You point out that many/most of these studies were done on fructose and so the results do not apply to HFCS. Can you explain to my why you feel (or rather, why the CRA presents) that the studies mean nothing? Technically, fruit sugar is usually levulose, not straight fructose, and it’s usually bonded. The fructose in high fructose corn syrup is unbonded. Which means that it’s the same as if I consumed straight corn syrup and some crystalline fructose. My body would NOT process that in the same way that it would table sugar, honey, maple syrup, and so on. The glucose would be processed one way, and the fructose would go to the liver where it would immediately be turned into fat, mostly triglycerides. This is not generally the case with unrefined fruit sugar or any other sugar that naturally contains fructose. So can you please tell me how the fructose studies do not apply to HFCS?

    While I realize that this has nothing to do with your job, I would also like to point out that the “sweet surprise” campaign is exactly the reason that I started avoiding HFCS. Before the campaign, I knew most of the problems with consuming HFCS but didn’t care. After the commercials? I was so insulted that I immediate delved deeper into the subject and soon decided to completely avoid it entirely wherever possible. While I was certainly not “confused” about the subject, my knowledge of how bad HFCS is for my body was only a small part of my final decision. The much bigger reason was how incredibly arrogant and stupid the CRA and their marketing company/branch had to be to think that someone on screen saying “uuuuhhhhh” was going to make me forget what I knew. Seriously. Those of us who eschew high fructose corn syrup do have better reasons than “uuuuuhhhh”.

    By the way, there really is a taste issue here. My husband was drinking a HFCS sweetened sweet tea that he loved. We switched brands to one that is sweetened with sugar, which he thought was too sweet at first. A few minutes after he finished drinking it he suddenly looked over at me and said “You know, I think I like this better. There’s no gross aftertaste!”

  • joe October 8, 2010, 10:32 am

    Hot dog!, I am here because I am a cheeseslave guy. well written dear.

    And as for you Therese, we know you are just doing your job, but we also believe that your employers are killing people. Plain and simple.

    Nothing you can post here, or any study that is “provided” by your employers will ever change that opinion. That’s because your very livelihoods depend upon it’s continued use.

  • Gini Kirk October 8, 2010, 12:47 pm

    I too became more adamant about avoiding HFCS after the sweet surprise commercials stated. As someone who has had pretty much lifelong blood-sugar issues, I have long noticed a difference in the way it makes me feel. That’s enough for me, even if I were unaware of any of the science behind it (which I am not). I believe that people should be able to make their own informed decision about what to consume. The fact that there is such an effort out there to deliberately misinform is reminiscent of 50 years of “tobacco scientists” saying that smoking was ok.

  • Jane October 9, 2010, 9:14 am

    It’s pretty simple…when in doubt, don’t.

    Wait for independent studies that prove beyond question that HFCS causes no harm, then decide if you want to eat it.

    Why would anyone ingest an unknown, unproven, artificial substance into their one and only body without solid evidence of its harmlessness?

    Artificial food should ALWAYS be guilty until proven innocent.

  • Milehimama October 16, 2010, 6:57 pm

    Ooh, sorry Thesenutts. Try again without the F word if you want your comment approved. And, just a word of advice. If you do indeed work for Walmart, I would suggest toning down the inappropriate references of what I should to one of your bosses. Walmart is reading here, after all.

  • Windy Daley from Texas May 24, 2011, 10:22 pm

    Thank you Milehimama, for this blog and all the comments. It just made my day. I too felt that the CRA commercials were insulting. Hopefully, many more Americans will get high fructose corn syrup out of their diets. I avoid it like the plague.
    Keep up the good work!


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Desperately thrifty mom of 10, sharing my frugal tips, easy shortcuts, recipes, and thoughts on natural living and real food.

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