The blogosphere is on fire of late about a new ad campaign designed to devilify High Fructose Corn Syrup. (See Kelly Kunik's F-ing Kidding Me post, and Scott Strumello's excellent overview of this "Sweet Surprise" travesty).
The ad campaign, created by an agency owned by Omnicom Group (which I'm embarrassed to say also acquired the San Francisco agency I once worked for) is in part targeting "influential mommy bloggers." Have a look for yourself:
All that comes to mind is: How dumb do they actually think we are?
I keep flashing back to my recent reading of Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. He chronicles the transformation of America's diet to a corn-fest, and provides some pretty convincing evidence that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is "the prime culprit in the nation's obesity epidemic."
Makes a helluva lot of sense, considering HFCS didn't reach the American market until 1980, about the time that our obesity problem started getting really big. It's about more than people just eating too much; they are eating the wrong things!
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The ads try to convince us that HFCS is "natural" and just as "harmless" as sugar when eaten in moderation.
Allow me to deconstruct that argument:
1) There is no such thing as moderation, when HFCS has become so ubiquitous. HFCS now sweetens everything from juice to spaghetti sauce to toothpaste. As Pollan notes, it's lurking not only in syrups and shakes and sodas, but also makes up 13 of the 38 ingredients (yikes!) in Chicken McNuggets, for example. And remind me, will you? Why does a piece of chicken need to be packed with corn sweetener?!
As a person with diabetes, I try to stay away from foods that are obvious HFCS bombs. But when you look into it, you discover that HFCS is hiding everywhere: in jars of pickles, Stove Top stuffing, baked beans and tomato paste. What is it doing there, other than ruining our collective health?
2) HFCS is quite clearly UNNATURAL. Making it entails a convoluted chemical process that begins with genetically modified corn. HFCS wouldn't exist today if the big food conglomerates didn't have the sophisticated science to break down commodities into their basic components and then put them back together again as processed food.
3) There is plenty of scientific evidence that HFCS is worse for your health than sugar:
"In soda, it has been found that by using HFCS instead of pure sugar it can make the soda 10 times richer in harmful carbonyl compounds. According to one study, carbonyl compounds are elevated in people with diabetes and are blamed for causing diabetic complications such as foot ulcers and eye and nerve damage. Another study concluded that foods with increased quantities of fructose stimulate the liver to produce triglycerides, promotes glycation of proteins and induces insulin resistance."
Naturally, too much sugar can also be very damaging to our bodies, causing obesity, liver damage, heart disease, etc. But scientific evidence also tells us that "the body processes the fructose in high fructose corn syrup differently than it does old-fashioned cane or beet sugar, which in turn alters the way metabolic-regulating hormones function. It also forces the liver to kick more fat out into the bloodstream."
This is why so many nutritionists will agree that a bit of old-fashioned sugar in your diet is preferable to HFCS, if you have a choice.
In any case, it just pisses me off to think that our kids might grow up believing that it's normal and "natural" for their foods to be packed with HFCS.
Luckily, there's quite an outcry across the blogosphere and smart media over these ridiculous ads. You want to speak up? I would suggest contacting the Corn Refiner's Association directly, to tell them where they can stick their misinformation.
Meanwhile, you can visit some good blogs on living HFCS-free: