Ways of Avoiding High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup is a major buzz word these days, especially for that percentage of the population that is health conscious. Defined simply, high fructose corn syrup (also known as HFCS) is a broad name for any corn syrup that undergoes a chemical process to increase its fructose content and is then mixed with pure corn syrup. The main use of HFCS is as a sugar substitute in processed foods and drinks.
HFCS comes in many varieties, known by their number (HFCS 90, HFCS 55, etc.) and each variety has a different corresponding sweetness level. Generally, the higher the number the sweeter the syrup. All of the high fructose syrups are about as sweet as sugar, some more some less.
Most companies who use HFCS as a sugar substitute seem to do so for two reasons. Most importantly, HFCS is slightly cheaper than refined sugar because the government subsidizes the corn from which HFCS is made – also, it is easier to transport and use HFCS because it is a liquid.
In the 1970s, the government introduced tariffs and quotas which raised the price of imported sugar considerably. The switch to HFCS was an easy one to make, as corn is readily available in America and relatively cheap to produce.
Studies on both sides of the issue are contradictory. The corn growers and manufacturers of HFCS point to studies published in Global Agricultural Trade magazine, among others, that find no link between HFCS consumption and obesity, while most other scientific studies, including one in American Journal of Physiology suggest that such a link exists. Besides obesity, researchers warn that overconsumption of HFCS can lead to early onset diabetes, short term weight gain, and other health issues.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue of corn syrups, it isn’t a bad idea to consume less corn syrup in general – the same way that you don’t have to be anti trans fat to understand that avoiding trans fats is a good health decision. Here are some steps you can take to avoid high fructose corn syrup in your diet.
1. Skip fast food
More often than not, the food and drink you get at your favorite fast food restaurant contains high fructose corn syrup. Almost no menu items are safe from the invasion of HFCS. At Mcdonald’s, for instance, even the croutons in the salad contain HFCS, as does Newman’s Own Cobb Dressing (available with salads) and even the honey wheat roll the restaurant has recently introduced. Rather than attempting to memorize lists of fast food items containing HFCS, or trying to pick and choose menu items that don’t “seem like” they’d contain HFCS, you’d be better off avoiding fast food in favor of meals cooked at home.
2. Read food and drink labels
When you read the ingredients in a food item at the grocery store, it is easy enough to find HFCS – the words will be printed in the ingredient list. Simply not purchasing an item with the words “high fructose corn syrup” in the list will cut back your intake dramatically.
Beware of the word “natural” on food labels – this doesn’t automatically mean you’re not buying a product with high fructose corn syrup. Recently, for instance, 7-Up soda was labeled “Made with all natural ingredients” because its sweetener, a high fructose corn syrup, is after all derived from all natural corn. The company that manufactures 7-Up has decided to stop using this label, after a number of lawsuits were brought against them.
3. Be picky about what you drink
Almost every drink that tastes “sweet” will contain high fructose corn syrup. This includes teas, coffees, soft drinks, and especially energy drinks. The best choice for a beverage, when attempting to avoid HFCS, is unflavored water. There are alternatives, however – some soft drinks made in Mexico are available in ethnic sections of your grocery store, and most if not all of these are made with good old fashioned sugar. Coca-Cola also makes a version of their classic drink containing real sugar specifically for Jews during Passover – a time when they traditionally avoid corn products. You can tell Passover Coca-Cola because it has a yellow cap instead of the traditional red. If you must have soda, look for small bottlers like Jones Soda who do not use HFCS, or seek out these ethnic varieties of your favorites that use traditional sugar.
4. Buy fresh produce
To stay completely on top of what goes into your food, avoid canned or processed food altogether and cook everything yourself. When you cook a food item from scratch, you are in control of every ingredient that goes into it. People are surprised to learn that items like canned green beans and processed instant mashed potatoes can contain HFCS – remember that in America it is far cheaper and easier to use HFCS than to use sugar, and any item that requires a sweetener will most likely lean in the direction of HFCS.
5. Eat less sweeteners altogether
By avoiding candy, cookies, desserts, pastries, chocolates, and other sugary snacks and foods, you will be doing your body a big favor. At the same time, you will go far to eliminated high fructose corn syrup from your diet. When you want to sweeten coffee or tea, use honey – honey is actually sweeter than sugar, and is considered good for you. Maple syrup, molasses, and fruit juice are other alternatives to consider for sweeteners. The average American consumes almost 3 ounces of sugar a day, according to the Sugar Association – this is far too much, especially considering that the FDA recommends you eat “as little sugar as possible” for a healthy diet.
As more and more restaurants and manufacturers turn their backs on HFCS, it will be easier to avoid. Until then, read food labels and practice these common sense steps to remove corn syrup substances from your diet. Your body will thank you for it.