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The commercials and controversy about high-fructose corn syrup: Dr. Elizabeth Pavka helps us all determine whether TV is telling it right.

Q: "I've seen those TV commercials about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Why the commercials? Who is paying for them? Are there really health problems related to consuming foods that contain HFCS? Should I be reading labels? Should I be eating less of it?"

--Joady P., Hendersonville, NC

A: Thanks for your questions, Joady. Quite a few clients and friends have asked me about those commercials. If you haven't seen them, you can find them on YouTube (see source one at the end of the article for a full Web address). You may know that fruits are the primary, nature-made source of fructose. HFCS, though, is definitely not a "naturally occurring substance." Instead, it's a highly refined blend of sugars (typically 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose) made in the laboratory from corn, which is often genetically modified. The process consists of three steps using enzymes, at least one of which comes from genetically modified organisms. For more information on how HFCS is manufactured, check out source two at the end of this article.

The beverage industry alone uses nearly 60 percent of the HFCS produced. The vast majority of non-diet sodas are sweetened with HFCS. The other 40 percent is used by commercial bakeries, fruit and vegetable canners and candy makers; in ice cream, yogurt and other dairy products; and by fast food companies in salad dressings, sauces, buns, shakes, pies, rolls, breads, desserts, muffins and cookies (3).


First manufactured in 1966, HFCS consumption jumped from 2o pounds per capita per year in 1978 to more than 60 pounds in 1998. Why? Because HFCS is cheaper to use than sugar and easier to transport. From 1966-2004, refined sugar, i.e. sucrose or table sugar, declined from 70 pounds per person to 40 pounds. However, overall sweetener use rose steadily over the period (4).

A steadily rising consumption of these "cheap sweets" correlates closely with a rise in obesity and diabetes. At the ScienceDaily website, you'll find four relatively recent articles about research studies exploring potential health issues related to consumption of HFCS (5). The headlines in chronological order are:

* July 28, 2008: Limiting fructose may Boost weight loss

* October 19, 2008: Fructose sets table for weight gain without warning

* December 11, 2008: Fructose metabolism more complicated than thought

* February 9, 2009: Women who drink lots of soda [two or more cans daily] at higher risk for kidney disease

Who paid for the ads that don't mention these health concerns or the very recent study that found mercury in 3o percent of HFCS-containing foods that were tested? (3) According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on June 23, 2008, the Corn Refiners Association (who else?) launched an 18-month, $20-$30 million dollar advertising campaign "to convince consumers that HFCS isn't the evil it has been made out to be" (6).

As the old saying goes: Where there's smoke, there's fire. In other words, the growing body of research indicates that the body handles fructose differently, with higher levels of obesity, diabetes and other health issues the result.

So, what should you do? Be proactive about your health. The healthiest route is to satisfy your sweet tooth with whole fruit. HFCS is essentially devoid of nutrients, while fruit provides a wealth of nutrients--especially high-fiber, non-starchy fruits such as berries, nectarines, apples and pears.

Should you be reading labels? Yes! Read the ingredient lists on bottles, cans, boxes and packages. Pay attention to added syrups, juices and concentrates used to sweeten the flavor of the product. FYI: If the label says a serving contains 32 grams of sugar, multiply 32 by four calories per gram to get 128 calories in one serving. Then check to see how big a serving is. Those are calories you probably don't need or that could be spent on something more nutritious.

Should you be consuming less HFCS? Yes! Limit your intake of all added sweeteners, including HFCS, fructose, sucrose (table sugar), glucose and corn syrup. In fact, as a nutritionist, I'd suggest you skip soft drinks and fruit juices altogether. Specifically, don't give foods or beverages containing HFCS to your children or grandchildren.

Sources: (1) (2) http:// corn syrup (3) "Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup" by David Wallinga, MD, for the Institute [or Agriculture and Trade Policy, (4) "The Bitter With the Sweet" by Tom Philpott; table of "Estimated per capita sweetener consumption, total and by type sweetener 1966-2004: (5) www.sciencedaily .com/search/?keyword=high+fructose+corn+syrup (6) review of whole topic including article in Wall Street Journal: www

Columnist Elizabeth Pavka, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, a wholistic nutritionist with more than 27 years' experience, provides nutritional counseling for a wide variety of health issues. Dr. Parka helps her client prepare an individualized eating plan and often recommends vitamins and mineral supplements, digestive enzymes, probiotics, etc. that support health. She teaches classes, writes articles for local and national publications, consults with organizations about nutrition and wellness, and speaks before professional and lay audiences; she can be reached at 828-252-1406 or epavka@main.ncus.

Have a nutrition question?

E-mail your question(s) to Put "Nutrition Question" in the subject line and include your name (first name and last initial will do) and city of residence.

HFCS Challenge

I'm issuing a challenge to all NU readers: Eliminate sodas that contain HFCS from your diet for 14 days. (Also consider eliminating "designer drinks," candy, baked goods and processed foods with HFCS, but don't feel you have to omit them all at once). Observe what happens to your energy, concentration, sleep and weight. Then, let me know what your experience is like...

Note: You may feel worse during the process, but don't let it keep you from continuing to eliminate HFCS. That's your bodies way of telling you it's something you need to be doing.
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Author:Pavka, Elizabeth
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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