Friday, December 25, 2009

Wishing you an HFCS-free Christmas!

It may not be easy, but you can do holiday baking/cooking and avoid HFCS!  Whether it's the graham crackers from Whole Foods (there's also now a variety of graham cracker sticks from Harris Teeter that don't have HFCS) or Vanilla Wafers from Trader Joes, Karo Corn Syrup (now HFCS free!) or bread crumbs from Trader Joes, the basic holiday recipes can be made (with a little extra effort and careful reading of labels) without HFCS!

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Yes, that's right, it's even in dog food....

I can't see that much text is necessary.....

Monday, December 7, 2009

The PR campaign for HFCS drones on...

According to a recent PR Newswire News release ("Analysis of High Fructose Corn Syrup-Free Marketing and New Consumer Research Suggests Some Food Companies Adding to Sweetener Confusion"), consumers are being "led astray" by false claims made by companies promoting products that are HFCS-free.
CRA's analysis showed that while nearly half (44%) made simple statements without health judgments in calling out products as "high fructose corn syrup free," a significant number mischaracterized this caloric sweetener in their materials. For example:
  • 33% used negative language to characterize high fructose corn syrup, including nearly 4% that made extreme and blatantly false misrepresentations about the sweetener;
  • 5% touted sugar as "healthier";
  • 18% claimed high fructose corn syrup is not natural; and,
  • 19.5% used qualifiers to imply that products are more healthful without high fructose corn syrup.

So does that mean these companies are misunderestimating the wonders of HFCS in their shameless campaign to promote products that dare to exclude the most glorious of all sweeteners, the lifeblood of America that is High Fructose Corn Syrup?
(Photo Source: Red, White and Blue Corn, photo by Robb Kiser: Holli Alvarado)

Moreover, this PR Newswire report cites "CRA's research findings," which highlight how misled consumers feel.
Nearly half (46.9%) of consumers surveyed feel misled by food companies making high fructose corn syrup-free claims
Let's just turn this statement around for the fun of it.  So, according to this statistic, over half of consumers surveyed by the CRA do NOT feel misled by food companies making HFCS-free claims. 

Sometimes i wonder if I am misunderestimating just how smart these CRA folks are and how effective their little PR machine is...

Gotta love that headline: "High Fructose Corn Syrup doesn't make exceptional contribution to obesity." So, it definitely contributes to obesity, but not in an exceptional way.   

Weak argument much?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Elated about Elevation Burger

So, that bunless burger i had because I erroneously believed the buns at Elevation Burger contained HFCS just didn't cut it.  I went back on Saturday to try the real thing.  The Elevation Cheeseburger on the Schmidt's potato bread hamburger bun really is worth writing about.  The high quality ingredients make a real difference in the taste.

I'd love to try the "Elevation Sauce," but without knowing the ingredients, i hesitate.  (After the issue with In-N-Out's special sauce, i am pretty cautious.)

The fries at Elevation Burger are also worthy of praise.  They use fresh cut potatoes (so none of that gluten/wheat potato mix that is so common at burger chains), the cook them in olive oil, and use nothing frozen.  I think they even fry them up fresh for each order?

(Photo source)

On a side note, while at the grocery store recently i looked at the package for Schmidt's buns and the ingredient list had indeed been updated and no longer lists HFCS.

Woo hoo!!!!

("About us" source)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Costco and Coca-Cola

"At present we are not carrying Coke products because we cannot provide the value our customers deserve."
That statement is on signs posted in Costco stores in the section where customers normally find Coke products.  Costco is not pulling Coke products from the shelves, but they state that they will not restock until they come to a resolution.  Coca-Cola is being portrayed in a rather unpleasant light as being greedy and profit-driven, while Costco can claim it is looking out for customers in hard economic times by trying to offer products at good prices.

Costco stops carrying Coke products 
Costco nixes Coke products over pricing dispute

Costco stops carrying Coke; Mexican Coca-Cola source, gone!
Costco Won't Restock Coke Due To Pricing Dispute

Photo source: May 28, 2008 file photo (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Since Costco was one of the only sources for most Americans to get Mexican Coke (containing sugar as opposed to HFCS, which is the top ingredient in US Coke), there's some sadness in this story for the HFCS-free community. (Source for below photo)

Karo and HFCS

In November 2008, Karo introduced Lite Light Corn Syrup, a product that differed from the standard Light Corn syrup in that it not only had fewer calories, but also did not contain HFCS.  The decision, according to the few press releases I located, was due to the public's growing concern with high fructose corn syrup.   (source)

This was good news for people who for whatever reason try to avoid HFCS.  I distinctly recall looking sadly at Karo Light Corn Syrup bottles and seeing the HFCS and not knowing if i could use Dark Corn Syrup (which never contained HFCS) and stil get the same result from the recipe.

Well, I have tried to find out when, but all i can say is: Some time since late 2008, Karo has reformulated their standard Light Corn Syrup; it no longer contains HFCS!

Using cached versions of their old site I found the ingredient listing, which I compared with the new listing on their site:



As far as victories go, this may seem like a small one.  But all i can say is: my thanks to Karo for creating HFCS-free options for its customers. 

Baking cookies and baked goods this holiday season will be an experience that for me will be just a little sweeter....

Monday, November 23, 2009

At Elevation Burger, "Ingredients Matter" (revised)

Rather than just edit my previous post and rather than just being satisfied with leaving a comment in reply....

Elevation Burgers, in addition to having high quality beef, top notch quality toppings, terrific fries, etc., also has HFCS-free buns!

Yum....  ok, so now i need to go back and get the bun and have the full experience....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Ingredients Matter"

Elevation Burger is a burger chain (mostly in the North East, but also in Florida and soon Texas, too) that prides itself on quality ingredients, emphasizing the organic beef, free of chemicals and antibiotics.  They even state that their beef is the "cleanest and safest" available to consumers.

Truly, they are good.  Based on our dining experience just now, they would certainly rank among the best on the East Coast.  They have a wide range of toppings, use real cheddar cheese, and offer a number of different ways to put the burger together.  Interestingly, they offer a lettuce wrap for customers who want to avoid bread intake.

Well, i love bread.  I mean, i absolutely adore bread.  So why did i choose the lettuce wrap?  Well, i guess i should congratulate the wait staff for actually knowing the answer to my pesky little question:

Do the buns contain high fructose corn syrup?

The answer is: Yes, Elevation Burger buns do contain HFCS.

They care about the fries are cooked, the specifics about the beef are taken very seriously.  But when it comes to their buns, sadly, Elevation Burgers doesn't rise above the crowd.  (sorry, i couldn't resist.)

If they really took their slogan seriously, they wouldn't have used crap quality buns containing HFCS.  They imply their high quality ingredients rival all others.  But In-N-Out, for example, doesn't use buns with HFCS; there's a fresh baked bun for every burger.  Their shakes and special sauce may have HFCS, but the buns are truly top class.

(Slogan/web capture source)

Elevation burger, why do you house your top rate, organic beef in crap quality buns?

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Premium Quality" High Fructose Corn Syrup???

"Let Progresso inspire your passion for the art of Italian cooking. The rich flavors of our premium quality ingredients add an authentic Italian touch to your favorite recipes."

Um yeah.  Why didn't i think to read the ingredients before purchasing this item?  momentary lapse of reason? jet lag? (wait... there was no time difference in Bogota...) just because i am sometimes ditzy and really stupid? or could it be that i had no reason to think HFCS would be a primary ingredient in this product?
So yeah... HFCS is one of those "premium quality ingredients" in this fine Progresso product.

Free to the first person who posts a comment and sends enough money to cover postage charges...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Movie Review: King Corn

King Corn is a documentary film released in 2007 that looks at the role of corn both as North America's primary food staple, as well as North America's most beloved crop. (photo credit; film website).  The film centers on Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, two friends who move to a small farming community in Iowa, where they plant an acre of corn and experience the joys of being farmers.In the process of becoming farmers, Cheney and Ellis discover the wonders of government assistance to farmers; the severe cold of Iowa winters; the incredible overproduction that is encouraged thanks to Earl Butz; the findings of Michael Pollan; as well as some lovely facts about "corn-fed" cattle; and how human hair can mirror the composition of one's diet.  There are some highly disturbing scenes; some content may seriously make you reconsider the choices you make with respect to your diet. Oh, i almost forgot: Audra Erickson, Patron Saint of HFCS, is also featured prominently in this film. She earnestly and fervently promotes HFCS in interviews conducted with Cheney and Ellis. (sorry, i can't help it.... she seems positively stepford...)
The film is both funny and quirky; it is somewhat languid at times, but that is somehow appropriate.  Unlike some of the other documentaries coming out these days, King Corn is less diatribe and more exploratory. It is a thought-provoking and even disturbing look at the centrality of corn in the U.S.

HFCS: World Domination?

On a recent work trip to Bogota, Colombia, I caught a glimpse of a symbolic representation of corn that would have an eerie significance for my travels.  (please note, the above image was actually taken in Atlanta's airport as i awaited my connecting flight to Bogota.)

In perusing grocery store (or is it super market?) aisles in two Bogota chains, i was surprised to find what appeared to be HFCS in several items.  Ok, so it wasn't so surprising that Smuckers products contained HFCS ("it's got to be good," right? the ingredient listed was Jarabe de maíz alto en fructosa,) but there were other items, not all imported, with Glucosa de Maiz, etc.  Is Glucosa de Maiz HFCS?  Not sure, but it's pretty clear that Jarabe de blah blah is.  Why was i surprised?  With earlier reporting on Mexico and the widespeared rejection of HFCS in Mexican Coca Cola, as well as some comments made by people i met about the fact that Bogota's locals wouldn't abide by unnatural chemical sweetener crap, i just assumed the products would be safe (i.e. not contain HFCS.)  With the exception of Isoglucose in the UK, i typically assume that when i am traveling outside the US items are safe unless imported (from the US, of course).  Now i see that it's not so simple.

When i was on travel in other countries it was always such a wonderful experience of freedom NOT to have to stare at labels before knowing a given item wouldn't make me sick.  Whereas in the US, i have to scrutinize labels and ask at restaurants about ingredients, in other countries, i could eat with abandon!  Sadly, that is no longer the case, apparently.

In closing, the Coca Cola in Bogota was HFCS free and also quite tasty (the first ingredient listed below is carbonated water, followed by Azucar... nice, simple, and straight forward sugar!)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

And now for a little levity: Jason's Deli

This YouTube clip might have escaped my notice if i hadn't seen it on a blog; so my thanks to John Biggs, who not only posted this clip, but also broke the unbelievable news about the astonishing link between HFCS and anal cancer (it's true and he needs no scientific studies to prove it!  but he wrote in all caps so it's gotta be true). 

On a side note, Jason's Deli is such an awesome place.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On the Subject of Subsidies

By the 1990s, King Corn reigned supreme as the most predominant sweetener in U.S. processed foods.  We've already talked about the benefits of HFCS for producers of processed foods.  But why is HFCS cheaper than sugar?

In surveying the on-line literature, i find that many sources ultimately come back to either Michael Pollan's works or the Tufts' study: Alicia Harvie and Timothy A. Wise, "Sweetening the Pot:  Implicit Subsidies to Corn Sweeteners and the U.S. Obesity Epidemic," Global Development and Environment Institute Tufts University, GDAE Policy Brief No. 09 - 01 February 2009

The Tufts' study does a good job demonstrating how HFCS became cheaper as a result of the fact that corn prices are kept low by U.S. farm policies. "We find that U.S. farm policy effectively lowered corn prices and HFCS production costs, offering HFCS producers an implicit subsidy of $243 million a year, a savings of $2.2 billion over the nine-year period, and over $4 billion since 1986. For soda bottlers, the main consumers of HFCS and among those most heavily implicated in public health concerns, the savings amounted to nearly $100 million per year, $873 million over the nine-year period, and nearly $1.7 billion since the wholesale adoption of HFCS by the soda industry in the mid-eighties."  The costs are in part kept low as a result of overproduction; and of course inflated sugar prices (resulting from the efforts of the South Florida Sugar giants--among others?-- ) plays a role.

Yes, that is Nikita Khrushchev, who was apparently most impressed by U.S. corn....
(Photo source)

"About 2.7 million bushels of corn is piled 60 feet high on the ground beside full elevators at an agricultural cooperative in Ralston, Iowa."
Photo Source: Alexai Barrionuevo,  "Mountains of Corn and a Sea of Farm Subsidies" The New York Times, November 9, 2005

Some additional sources of information:

The sordid history of food politics: Meet King Corn

Source: State Fair of Texas 2008, at Fair Park, Dallas, Texas, Exhibition of corn by-products, Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Attribution required (Multi-license with GFDL and Creative Commons CC-BY 3.0)

Corn byproducts...  

Synthetically produced (i.e. in a lab) ethanol was first produced in the early 1800s.  In the 1840s, an ethanol fuel was used as a source of energy for lamps.  In the mid-19th century corn starch came onto the scene.  Model T Fords could be fueled by ethanol as early as 1908.  Throughout prohibition, moonshiners made the most of corn-derived alcohol.  By 1921, we had corn syrup. Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, the process for Glucose Isomerization was developed, which enabled the creation of High Fructose Corn Syrup (see the post on Glucose Isomerase.)

By the mid-1980s, HFCS was in a large number of products widely available in the U.S.  By the mid-1990s, HFCS had almost completely displaced sugar as the sweetener used in processed foods. (Source)  Are we now seeing the slow reversal? First came Jason's Deli (the first chain to remove HFCS from its menu completely.)  Now Star Bucks' food offerings are HFCS free.  We also have Pepsi Throwback, Jones Soda, etc etc.  And there's some evidence that consumers find this move to cane sugar appealing

Well, that shift away from HFCS won't happen if the Corn Refiners Association has a say!  According to the website, CRA and its predecessors have been representing the U.S. corn refining industry since 1913 (this is the year listed on their website). Predecessors?

Well one group that has a long history and works side by side with CRA is the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), which was formed in 1919. In the decades following its creation, AFBF worked tirelessly for good loans, irrigation projects, and benefits for those citizens it represented.  The AFBF supported the creation of U.S. Grain Growers, a group that lasted only two years. Interestingly, the AFBF website relates the frustration farm leaders felt by the inability of the grain farmers to organize. Via the Farm Bureau, AFBF and other linked groups, became a powerful force that would affect American politics indelibly. AFBF, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, has unceasingly worked to influence American agricultural policies across presidencies and throughout the decades.

Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz is a key figure in the emergence of corn as King.  This blog cannot exhaust the long and windy history of American agripolitics, but the bottom line is that Mr. Butz apparently didn't see a problem with over-production.  One of the best sources for a concise overview is permalinked here: "Is corn making us fat? Michael Pollan argues that U.S. farm policy promoting overproduction of corn has made America overweight—and made big food companies very happy," New York Times Ufront, Dec 8 2003

During his presidency, Clinton had some highly publicized struggles with the argri-lobbies. The Corn (Ethanol) Lobby's emphasis on biofuels has resulted in ethanol somewhat politically overshadowing other corn byproducts at times.  Obama, too, seems to be "bent over a corn cob" when it comes to ethanol.

Ethanol and biofuels of course have a sticky sort of residue they leave behind in any debate:  is Ethanol environmentally viable?  Is Ethanol really a worthwhile alternative fuel? Well, many political leaders have found it difficult to come out against Ethanol as a result, at least in part, of groups like AFGF.

I don't pretend to know the answer to the ethanol debate, so in the interest of objectivity, i will cite from a source very upfront about its politics: Mother Jones, Betting the Farm (Nov/Dec 2009 issue): "Don't ever, ever get crosswise with the ag lobby. They will sink you."  This article also put the "Farm Bureau" in a slightly dfferent context than what i found on the AFBF site. "'Farm Bureau' may sound rural and heartlandish, but in reality it's a multibillion-dollar trade association cum insurance company with branches in all 50 states and close ties to agribusiness giants like Archer Daniels Midland and Novartis, not to mention a few dozen farm-state senators."

Again we come back to the Corn Refiners Association, a group whose techniques and mission are discussed in some detail in earlier blogs on this site.  CRA represents corn refiners' interests writ large, including both HFCS and ethanol.

Some of the big conglomerates, prominently featured on CRA's site as member organizations,  responsible for widespread dissemination of corn-derived products include:
  • Cargill, Incorporated: grain/agricultural commodities; producing livestock feed, pharmaceuticals, and processed foods.
  • Archer Daniels Midland Company: grain-derived processed products, especially beverages, processed foods, livestock feed, cooking oils, and industrial products
Both ADM and Cargill have gained quite a reputation both for their profit margins, as well as their business practices.

We come now full circle to the Corn Refiners Association campaign to promote HFCS:

Is it just me or are processed foods pretty much across the board, by their very composition, not nutritious?  Maybe it depends on how you define nutritious.... The family pictured above certainly looks happy and healthy--no obese, diabetic children there.  and i bet their pantry is just full of HFCS-laden products....  See? HFCS makes good things even better... (well for the conglomerates like Archer Daniels Midland anyway...)

There's simply no better way to end this entry than with a photograph of a water tower in Rochester, Minnesota, painted to look like an ear of corn.  (Photo source)  Ah, corn is certainly king in this great land of ours.

Additional sources:

The sordid history of food politics: First came Big Sugar

Sugar tariffs? Corn subsidies?  When and why did it become so political and contentious?  And what does Cuba have to do with it? How abut NAFTA?  Why is King Corn so defensive?

The late 1880s and 1890s were a tumultuous time in U.S. Courts as sugar refineries scored a number of key victories, enabling them to become bigger and more powerful as trusts, and demonstrating the extent to which the sugar industry could maintain prices that would generate profits for those refineries.

The New York Times archives contains relevant reporting about the "Sugar Trust's" victories.  Kind of funny that Big Business was (a) up to the same tricks then as now, and (b) the lovely politicians of our great nation could be bought back then just as they can be now.

From the first page of The New York Times, August 19, 1894:

By the turn of the nineteenth century, the increasingly powerful "Sugar Trust" purchased large quantities of Cuban sugar and had an interest in influencing tariffs in order to maximize profits.

If Rick Berman were a vampire or otherwise somehow had the ability to have been alive and kicking in 1902, i would think he would probably be running the American Literary Bureau, which was no doubt a "non-profit"!

More sources on the Sugar Trust empire (this one mentions the Cuba connection):

Indeed the folks involved in sugar refining were investing in Cuban sugar and wanted to maintain control over the refining process and expand their business empire.  Even Milton S. Hershey got involved, building a sugar refinery town in Cuba he named Central Hershey, which supplied some of the sugar needed for his chocolate factory.

It took decades for the U.S. Government to trim down the "Sugar Trust" in terms of size and power.

Just as one example of the power that Big Sugar continued to wield: Sugar even played a role in the U.S. embargo on Cuban goods.  The incidents leading up to the U.S. embargo on Cuban goods involved sugar at many of the twists and turns.  Here are some examples:


The events leading up to the embargo

The U.S. Sugar industry, although it may not have been quite the monolith it was in the late 19th century, still exercised quite a bit of power politically. 

Of course, there are still some powerful players in the US sugar world (especially in South Florida!), but as an entity, Big Sugar as a monolith would never quite hold the same powerful position again.  In large part due to trust busting, but also in part, because more players emerged onto the scene.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The myriad charges against HFCS

Several of the "charges" levied against HFCS have been referenced in previous posts on this blog; one of the troubling issues for me is that there seems to be little consensus.  It is clear that some "scientists" and scientific/medical organizations have countered existing studies without saying much more than "more research needs to be done."  The studies that have been done have often been done under extreme conditions (i.e. involving unrealistic levels of fructose, etc.)  Of course, it is not unusual for such studies to be conducted under these circumstances.  The problem this set of circumstances poses for consumers interested in gaining clarity on HFCS is that there's so much politics involved.  There are few definitive, objective, politically independent, scientific studies about HFCS and the effects it has on digestion, as well as other health-related side-effects of HFCS consumption.

Unfortunately all I can do is talk about this deficit; sadly my background and training doesn't make me qualified to judge reports i read from scientific/medical journals.  I can research it until i am blue in the face but i can't do more than be a critical reader, checking footnotes and noting sources.

So, what are the charges levied against HFCS? In the interest of objectivity, i will word these "charges" in such a way as to suggest that we do not have definitive answers. The litany of charges includes:

  • HFCS may be a contributing factor to the increasing numbers of obese Americans
    • due to the fact that it is so widely used (it is present in items one would never suspect of containing sugar and even in some items that prior to the invention of HFCS would not have contained sugar)
    • due to the fact that it may not stimulate feelings of fullness (because it may actually cause leptin resistance), thus leading to a lack of satiation
  • HFCS may be linked to an increase in diabetes cases and may cause insulin resistance
  • HFCS may contain trace amounts of mercury
  • HFCS may cause memory impairment
  • HFCS, when heated, may be a factor leading to bee colony collapse (due to the formation of  Hydroxymethylfurfural)
  • HFCS, due to it being metabolized in the liver,  may cause a rapid increase of high triglycerides
  • HFCS, again due to how it is metabolized, may be linked to fatty liver disease
  • HFCS consumption may cause a significant increase in the concentration of uric acid 
  • HFCS may have some negative impact on collagen in the skin
  • HFCS seems to have some impact on the way the body stores and absorbs minerals
  • HFCS will cause scales to form on the palms of your hands and your fingernails may fall out as a result.

Ok, that last one was a joke. 

If you know of some "charges" i left out or if you have inputs on anything related to these issues, please post!

Monday, October 12, 2009

King Corn takes on Big Sugar

Those groups so vigorously and valiantly defending High Fructose Corn Syrup with multi-million dollar advertisements are facing a treacherous and unforgiving foe:


A "newswire" press release from Richard Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom entitled "New Ad Campaign Pushes Back Against Big Sugar's Bogus Attacks on High Fructose Corn Syrup" describes the role played by Big Sugar in this public relations war.  According to Richard Berman, Big Sugar has "propagated" "blatant inaccuracies" about High Fructose Corn Syrup; they have "spoon-fed misinformation" to the public about HFCS.

Berman contends that Big Sugar is responsible for a "disingenuous and baseless attack within the food industry" unlike any he has seen in his 30 years in the business. He explains that "The sugar industry is relying on urban myths and marketing gimmicks to perpetuate this misinformation about high fructose corn syrup."  What misinformation? Well, although Big Sugar doesn't want the public to believe it, "leading nutrition experts are in universal agreement that the two products are nutritionally equivalent."

Wow!  Experts in universal agreement????  That's a first!  Prior to reading this "news story" I would never have believed it to be possible that leading experts were in universal agreement about anything!  I'd say that's something to celebrate.  Like world peace or something.

Ok, so (big surprise, i know) i researched Big Sugar.  The first thing I found was some pretty damning articles from Time Magazine; after perusing a few and not recognizing the names, i realized the articles were all over 50 years old.  Then i found a pretty ridiculous advertisement from the early 1970s promoting sugar consumption on the grounds that it is just a source of energy.  I found some more recent articles about tariffs and international trade agreements.  (Basically, domestically made sugar prices are inflated as a result of huge tariffs placed on imports of sugar from other countries; there are also apparently some domestic sugar companies who engage  in unsavory practices to keep the prices high.)  And I found references to the dark history of foreign sugar cartels.  But the closest thing I found to a lobbying group that would mirror the Corn Refiners Association, Center for Consumer Freedom, or American Beverage Insititute, was the Sugar Association.

Ok, so let's return to the ring, where the bloody fight is being waged between Big Sugar and King Corn.

What has the Sugar Association actually said about High Fructose Corn Syrup?  It's frankly sad that they resort to such name-calling, mud-slinging and unprofessional behavior. 

What about the Sugar Association's multimillion dollar television- and full-page newspaper- ad campaign attacking poor High Fructose Corn Syrup?

Um, well actually there are no commercials.

Why is the Corn Refiners Association and Center for Corn Freedom (oops....  CONSUMER not corn!) spending tens of millions of dollars to counter one press release?

Who is actually most actively promoting sugar at the expense of High Fructose Corn Syrup?


just kidding.  but seriously, the majority of the efforts the Corn Refiners Association and Center for Consumer Freedom are fighting are actually led by consumers, consumers who don't work for any lobbing group or otherwise stand to gain monetarily from their efforts.  Consumers who are willing to pay more for foods with shorter ingredient lists.  Consumers who, for whatever reason, prefer "table sugar" to "corn sugar," which is glucose enzymatically isomerized to fructose.


In the interest of impartiality, below is a link to Berman's latest newswire release in which he describes Big Sugar's "disingenuous and baseless" attack against poor High Fructose Corn Syrup:

"New Ad Campaign Pushes Back Against Big Sugar's Bogus Attacks on High Fructose Corn Syrup"

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Glucose Isomerase

Just a spoon full of.....

High Fructose Corn Syrup
makes the medicine go down?

Hmm, just doesn't have the same ring to it...  and the melody doesn't really work. 

Now if we believe the repeated assertions from the Corn Refiner's Association or the Center for Consumer Freedom that High Fructose Corn Syrup is "simply a kind of corn sugar" then what does it matter?  It's just a name.

But what IS HFCS?  How is it made? Is it really just "corn sugar," nutritionally no different than any other form of sugar?

Boiled down (no pun intended), High Fructose Corn Syrup is glucose that has been enzymatically isomerized into fructose. 


Ok, so during my free time over the past few months i literally scoured professional journals, medical reports, etc until i found authoritative sounding descriptions of both what HFCS is, as well as how it is made.  Over the course of this research, I found patent records, EU regulations, professional journal articles, medical studies, etc.  According to the the reports and articles i read, the central component in HFCS production is the enzyme used in the isomerization process, Glucose Isomerase.  For the record, none of the sources I found suggested some other process or otherwise contradicted the fact that Glucose Isomerase plays a key role in the production of High Fructose Corn Syrup.

The most detailed description I found of Glucose Isomerase (GI), how it is formed, and its role in HFCS production, was contained in The American Society for Microbiology's academic journal, Microbiological Review.  In the article "Molecular and Industrial Aspects of Glucose Isomerase,"  Snehalata Bhosale, Mala Rao, and Vasanti Deshpande describe the production of HFCS and break it down into a 3-step prcess:
"The production of HFCS from starch comprises three major processes: (i) liquefaction of starch by α-amylase, (ii) saccharification of starch by the combined action of amyloglucosidase and a debranching enzyme, and (iii) isomerization of glucose by GI."

This article does not delve into the politics of the debate; it's as rigidly objective as any academic report could possibly be.  There is no discussion of digestion or subejctive statement about how great it is that there is such widespread use of HFCS.  They describe the enzymatic isomerization processes in excruciatingly minute detail.  They also detail the reason behind the genetic modification of Glucose Isomerase.

So why, if I am so opposed to HFCS, do I reference this study?  Because it is informative.  It describes in more detail than I have seen anywhere else what HFCS is.  It doesn't take sides.  The authors are not from a lobbyist group;  they are scientists who work in a laboratory.

And in conclusion, i cannot help but contend that anyone who says HFCS is "natural" and just a "corn sugar" stands to benefit monetarily from these utterly ridiculous assertions....

"The horror! The horror!"

The above image, an Anti-obesity advertisement from the New York Health Department, depicts what appears to be a soft drink being poured into a glass of human fat.

It should come as no surprise that the top opponent in this gruesome fight is.... yes, that's right: Rick Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF)!!!!  The CCF's PR campaign focuses on the central question: "When did the Big Apple become Big Brother?"  As i have said before, in my view, any time Rick Berman is involved there is a sleazy residue.  Even though I see both sides of the argument and don't come down firmly on one side, Berman's involvement makes me want to support a soda tax.  CCF of course assaults the soda tax as another example of "Nanny Culture;" taxes should not be used, CCF contends, to socially engineer change.  CCF suggests that there should be no soda tax but rather exercise/fitness should be promoted.  So let's tax all people who don't exercise!  wait...  oops nanny culture rears its ugly head.   what about making health insurance relative to the individual's BMI?  Wait, even airlines can't manage to get the public to accept extra charges for morbidly obese passengers who, yes, cost more due to extra fuel consumed and may render the seat next to them uninhabitable.

To be fair, it's not just CCF that is in opposition.  The public, perhaps nearly evenly divided, is being quite vocal.  One article on the tax has stirred up a reaction that is a good example of the public's very strong views and people's desire to express them.  So far, this New York Times Sunday Magazine story has 53 replies.  It was originally posted on September 23, 2009, under the title "Following Up on a Sugary Tax That’s Hard to Swallow," by Randy Cohen.

As an aside, one of the 53 replies is indeed from our beloved Audrae Erickson, patron saint of HFCS.  And to my great amusement, one of the 53 replies is also TO the charming Ms Erickson.  My thanks go out to "healthy in michigan because I avoid HFCS."  I applaud you.

September 30, 2009 8:44 pm Link
To Audrae Erickson,
Do you really believe what you are saying? I would put you in the same category as those who still claim that global warming is not caused by human activity. Sure, HFCS is not the only cause for our obesity, but it surely is one of the main ones. You can pay your scientists to conclude whatever is convenient for you, but remember, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. And according to the vast majority or research and testing, you are part of the problem.
— healthy in michigan because I avoid HFCS


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fructose High

Card source:  is such a terrific place for funny ecards....

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bringin' out the big guns

Richard Berman, "Dr. Evil," the food industry's "hired gun"

What does it mean when a company or lobbying group hires Richard Berman?
USAToday: "Companies hire Richard Berman to be their public face as they take on what are sure to be unpopular battles."

CBS, 60 Minutes, Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. "Dr. Evil":  "Berman’s the booze and food industry’s 6'4", 64-year-old weapon of mass destruction. They hire him to front for them in the 'food wars.'"
He's a "a hired gun."
No matter what you think about this successful PR man, Berman has a habit of achieving his goal, which is "getting people to think twice." (source: Meet Rick Berman)

>>How does he do it?
He owns/runs through the for-profit Berman & Company, which is the umbrella company housing over a dozen companies, some non-profit, through which he channels his messages.  Among them: Center for Consumer Freedom, American Beverage Institute, Center for Union Facts.  See the Wikipedia article on Berman for more specifics on each.  Another source for information, however scathing it may be: Berman Exposed.)  These companies take donations from various industry giants, whose interests they support with various press releases, advertisements, etc.  If you take the Center for Consumer Freedom as an example: In addition to "anonymous donations," they take in large sums of money annually from everyone from Coca-Cola, to Tyson's Chicken, to Wendy's fast food chain, and many many more. And as mentioned in a previous blog, this particular non-profit started with S600,000 in seed money from tobacco giant Philip Morris.

>>Something seems fishy here. 
But since this man was trained in law and certainly no novice in PR campaigns,  it can be assumed that he runs a tight ship (from the perspective of legal codes): but, ok bear with the simple-minded American with no legal training for a sec:  how can a non-profit first of all take in millions through donations, and secondly be run by a corporate for-profit umbrella company (whose sole owner, R. Berman, is a very wealthy man indeed)?  Legal loop holes, i guess. 

The status non-profit is justified by CCF on their 990 tax form with the following as the company's stated purpose:

>>What are some efforts in which he played a role? 
Berman's companies have been engaged in efforts to combat groups such as MADD, PETA, major labor unions, and a variety of environmentalist and medical/nutrition-oriented groups; they have fought both raising minimum wage and the Americans with Disabilities Act (on the grounds that both are just too expensive for employers), supported Uniroyal's Alar; supported companies like PayDayLoans;  engaged in a campaign to suggest that the Environmental Protection Agency's "safe levels" of mercury contained in fish is too low; worked to combat smoking bans in bars and protect the rights of smokers (and of course protecting the bottom line of Big Tobacco in the process), and they have also fought the lowering of the legal blood alcohol limits; the list goes on.

>>And Berman's latest:

See also the television ad:

"Bizarrely maligned by what amounts to an urban myth"...  only a real pro could come up with a statement like that!

>>Now back to the original question: 

What does it mean when a company or lobbying group hires Richard Berman?

It means that they realize the sophomoric efforts in which they have engaged to defend their interests have not worked; they need to pull out the big gun: Richard Berman. 

Is it just me or is the Corn Refiners Association starting to look ever more like Big Tobacco?

Additional sources used for background research: (source used for the 990 information) (kind of funny that Marion Nestle is no fan of CCF because they cite HER as the primary authority in support of HFCS.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Center for Consumer Freedom acquits HFCS

OH MY GOD all this time i was wrong.

HFCS doesn't make me sick.  It's my fault my body can't digest high-content fructose products, such as those containing HFCS.  After all, as the CRA has told us, a sugar is a sugar.  The body can't tell them apart.  No idea why the one "corn sugar" makes me sick when none of the others do....  could it be... the fructose content???  OH MY GOD THAT IS ALL A LIE! I AM MALIGNING HFCS! How dare i!

Never mind the fact that i can eat gobs of desserts (just ask anyone who knows me) and not get sick as long as there's no HFCS in it, but if i get more than a tiny amount of HFCS, i am gasping for breath and unable to breathe, with a painful and distended abdomen...  that's my fault.  i am aberrant or something.

What i find interesting is who is behind the ads (you may have seen them on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News or CNBC, or the full-pager featured above in major newspapers): The Center for Consumer Freedom.

Soooo, what's the big deal about that?  Center for Consumer Freedom: don't we want consumers to be free?  Sounds like a good thing.  and plus it's a nonprofit.  that gives it an air of credibility, right?  sure, but do keep in mind that they were founded with money supplied originally by the Philip Morris tobacco company.  And since their creation in 1995, they have backed tobacco companies, fast food chains, and processed food companies. Not sure what "nonprofit" even means given how much their top execs make (think, 8 digit "fees" for management of CCF).  Did i mention the numerous and often sizable donations they get from a wide range of fast food chains, to major processed food companies, etc.

More related posts will follow shortly...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Letter to In-N-Out

This letter (below) was written by an ardent fan of In-N-Out who also happens to be the source of inspiration that prompted me to start this blog and also inspired some of the entries.  It made me very happy that he, someone who can eat HFCS-laced products all day long without suffering from intestinal distress, was motivated to contact his favorite restaurant and ask that they take their dedication to old fashioned ways and high quality products even more seriously, "perfect the perfection," by removing HFCS from their product line. 

Date: September 19, 2009

In-N-Out Burgers Corporate Office
4199 Campus Drive, 9th Floor
Irvine, CA 92612

To Whom It May Concern:

My intent in writing this letter is to make a suggestion to one of my favorite places to eat – In-N-Out Burger. Far be it for me to make suggest anything that would improve on an already perfect product, but recently I discovered information that somehow tarnishes my view of what could be argued as the greatest hamburger joint on the planet.

As a Southern California native, I believe I took for granted having an In-N-Out restaurant within minutes of driving distance. Because now, after having living on the East Coast for the past 13 years, I am well aware of the fact that there is not other place like In-N-Out. Like many fans living on the opposite side of the country, whenever I have an opportunity to travel to California or Arizona, one of the first places (if not the first) I go after leaving the airport is the closest In-N-Out. I have successfully introduced In-N-Out to friends and colleagues who have never experienced the greatness that is the food. I belong to the In-N-Out fan group on Facebook and own a number of In-N-Out products. My appreciation for In-N-Out furthered after reading the glowing blurb in Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Perman’s In-N-Out Burger. Both books further my discoveries of In-N-Out’s commitment and dedication to the quality of their service and products. This knowledge not only allowed me to proclaim that In-N-Out is one of the best restaurants ever, but there was now proof to back it up.

A month ago, while visiting Southern California on vacation, I became aware of In-N-Out’s use of High Fructose Corn Syrup. While this product had never been a concern of mine before, my focus had changed when entering a relationship with a beautiful woman who has a condition known as Fructose Malabsorption. Put simply, my girlfriend cannot digest fructose the same way as someone without this condition. Because of this, she must vigilantly avoid any product with High Fructose Corn Syrup. During our vacation, I had the opportunity to introduce her In-N-Out burgers and fries that she had always heard me praise before. Before our visit, I had assumed that because of In-N-Out dedication for the freshest quality ingredients there would no use of HFCS. However, in order to make absolutely sure we began to research whether In-N-Out used HFCS in any of their products. I placed a phone call to the In-N-Out Customer Service and was thoroughly amazed and impressed that not only did a human being answer after the first ring, but also the woman I spoke with was helpful and exceptionally nice.

I was informed that HFCS is used in three products: the secret sauce for the hamburgers, the milkshakes, and the pink lemonade (the lemonade, as is the case with fountain drinks in general, is not technically an In-N-Out product and thus does not reflect In-N-Out quality standards in the same way as In-N-Out menu items). I was very surprised. Everything I had heard or read up until that point had always led me to believe that In-N-Out uses the freshest quality ingredients. According to the website, “At In-N-Out Burger, quality is everything. That’s why in a world where food is often over-processed, prepackaged and frozen, In-N-Out makes everything the old fashioned way.” From my unique perspective of being a tremendous fan of the restaurant and having a close relationship with someone who must avoid HFCS, I was more than disappointed by this discovery. To me, it seemed illogical for a company to continually proclaim the quality of their products and their commitment not use ingredients or methods that similar restaurants use.

I do not wish to further the debate of whether HFCS is to be consider a ‘natural’ ingredient or not and I am fully aware of the reasons why companies continue to use this product. But I do feel that In-N-Out could do better. If In-N-Out were to announce plans to stop using High Fructose Corn Syrup, this would only go further to prove their commitment to the quality of their food and demonstrate to their customers the importance the company lays upon this dedication. Other companies, as large as Starbucks and as others such as Jason’s Deli, have made the choice to abandon their use of HFCS in an effort to provide quality products. This is my suggestion: I believe In-N-Out can perfect perfection by stop using HFCS in the secret sauce and the milkshakes.

I have been and always will be an ardent fan and supporter of In-N-Out. It is only through my passion for the company and it’s food that I write this letter. I have always believed that In-N-Out has continued to demonstrate how to run a company dedicated to service and quality while providing customers with low prices and good food.


In-N-Out Fan

I knew the author was understanding of my dietary restrictions due to having Fructose Malabsorption.  He scans nutrition labels almost to the extent I do and watches out for HFCS in whatever food we eat together.  This dietary issue of mine has been easier to cope with as a result of having such a wonderful and supportive man in my life.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Audrae Erickson: The Patron Saint of High Fructose Corn Syrup

The concept of news or web feeds, RSS syndication, whatever you want to call it, is incredibly cool, isn't it?  Web syndication technology has made it possible for someone to keep up to date with the enormous body of ever-changing news media now available 24/7.  Not only are just about all local, national, international forms of news media readily available, but also via the blogosphere, the rants and raves of individuals from all sorts of backgrounds.  Without RSS, how would we keep up to date on our favorite topics?

Well, there is one slight complication:  if you're not careful, you will get feeds for your topic that are not really relevant.    For example you're really interested in bulldogs and you set up an RSS feed and now you get all news stories about every team with bulldogs as mascots rather than only feeds about the actual dog breed.  If you wanted to post comments on each feed about how much you like bulldogs, it might be wise to, oh i don't know, read the article before you post your comment?  And if you plan to post widely and want to remain a credible authority (as opposed to a poorly informed but well-paid DC lobbyist for bulldogs) it might be wise not to have boiler plate comments you post on every single feed.

Here are a few examples (excerpted) of what not to do if you have a topic you feel passionately about (or are well-paid to represent):

Number 1:
Post a boiler plate comment on a feed that is not really relevant to your comment

The Sugar Shack in Sugar Pine
Story and photos by Thomas Atkins
This entry was posted on Monday, November 24th, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Responses to “Alicia’s Sugar Shack”
 1.    Audrae Erickson says: High fructose corn syrup may have a complicated-sounding name, but it’s actually a simple sweetener, made from corn, that is nutritionally the same as sugar. [....]

Number 2:
Post the same thing nearly every time you submit a comment:

The Diet & Weight Loss Blog
New From Starbucks

Posted by: Audrae Erickson | Jul 10, 2009 4:50:28 PM
High fructose corn syrup may have a complicated-sounding name, but it’s simply a kind of corn sugar that is nutritionally the same as table sugar. [....]

Number 3:
Post a boiler plate comment on a feed arguing against the feed when the feed is not really taking the position you're arguing against
The Daily Texan
The right to junk food
By Colin Harris
Daily Texan Guest Columnist
Published: Thursday, April 9, 2009
Updated: Thursday, April 9, 2009

Audrae Erickson
Fri Apr 10 2009 13:50
High fructose corn syrup, sugar, and several fruit juices are all nutritionally the same. [....]

But maybe i should cut her some slack….  Audrae Erickson Hughes is a hard working American making a living defending a great American product….


Um yeah.... The first screenshot really reads 778 results for the quote: "High fructose corn syrup, sugar, and several fruit juices are all nutritionally the same."; the second shows that the statement "High fructose corn syrup may have a complicated-sounding name, but it’s simply a kind of corn sugar that is nutritionally the same as table sugar." has appeared in 1,120 entries.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why so defensive?

In the "Talkback" section of their website, Restaurants and Institutions recently mentioned that consumers who took part in their survey favored three particular sandwich chains.  In this survey, Restaurants and Institutions' Consumers' Choice in Chains survey, consumers were asked to rank food establishments according to a list of attributes (including: food quality, cleanliness, value, service, menu variety, convenience, reputation, atmosphere.)  The tops sandwich chains, according to consumers who took part in the survey, included: Panera, Jason's Deli, and Einsteins.
Consumers' Favorite Sandwich Spots --Restaurants and Institutions,09/01/2009

Although the write up on sandwich chains only mentioned High Fructose Corn Syrup once, the Corn Refiners Association quickly posted a lengthy and detailed defense of "corn sugar."
Submitted by: Audrae Erickson
9/3/2009 2:23:57 PM PT
Location:Washington, DC
Occupation:President, Corn Refiners Association

Consumers are being misled into thinking that there are nutritional differences between high fructose corn syrup and sugar, when in fact they are nutritionally the same. Whether from cane, beets, or corn, a sugar is a sugar. They all contain four calories per gram. Switching out a kind of corn sugar for table sugar is not for health and it is not for science. It is unfortunate that consumers are being duped by these marketing gimmicks, which may result in higher food prices at checkout.

High fructose corn syrup offers numerous benefits. For example, it retains moisture in bran cereals, helps keep breakfast and energy bars moist, maintains consistent flavors in beverages and keeps ingredients evenly dispersed in condiments. High fructose corn syrup enhances spice and fruit flavors in yogurts and marinades. In addition to its excellent browning characteristics for breads and baked goods, it is a highly fermentable nutritive sweetener and prolongs product freshness.

The American Medical Association in June 2008 helped put to rest misunderstandings about this sweetener and obesity, stating that “high fructose syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners.”

According to the American Dietetic Association, “high fructose corn syrup…is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.”

Consumers can read the latest research and learn more about high fructose corn syrup at

Audrae Erickson
Corn Refiners Association

Let's examine Audrae's comment:

Ok, the key point of the first paragraph is that HFCS (um "corn sugar") is "nutritionally the same" as table sugar. "Whether from cane, beets, or corn, a sugar is a sugar. They all contain four calories per gram."  Ok, sure.  Nutritionally speaking, they all have the same amount of calories per gram.  But only one of these "sugars" mentioned in this paragraph uses genetically altered enzymes in the chemical process required to create it.  But that caveat does not fall under "nutrition." And let's not forget: "a sugar is a sugar" after all.

Paragraph number two focuses on the many benefits of HFCS, among them: "retains moisture," "maintains consistent flavors," "enhances spice and fruit flavors," has "excellent browning characteristics," and is "highly fermentable." These benefits help the manufacturers, not the consumers (unless you argue that the savings in terms of their costs are passed down to the consumers.  But then we'd need to factor in the tariffs and price subsidies in order to assess the actual costs.)  And as to HFCS being "highly fermentable," yes it is.  In your intestines!  Yay for bloating!  Don't we all love the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

The final two paragraphs quote the American Medical Association (“high fructose syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners”) and the American Dietetic Association (“high fructose corn syrup…is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.”) Neither of these statements are ringing endorsements of HFCS.  The latter statement seems highly questionable given that it says "Once absorbed into the blood stream."  What happens along the way to the absorption into the blood stream?  How does that process (the digesting and absorption) differ if you compare the different sugars?

And one last question for you, Audrae: Why so defensive?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Corn Glut

Uh oh, not only is there a shortage of sugar due to weather conditions and other factors, but there's also an overabundance of corn. In fact, a record harvest of corn is projected for this year.  Thus, the difference in the prices of sugar versus HFCS will likely become even more dramatic.  That fact combined with the economic downturn and desirability of cheap food products with long shelf-lives means we are likely to see an increase in the number of products containing High Fructose Corn Syrup.   

Corn (C, CBOT) Daily

Source: Tale of Two Grains: Too Much Corn

I assume those of us who can't or won't or prefer not to eat food laced with HFCS will simply have to pay even more and scan ingredient lists more diligently than ever.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What's the Buzzzzzzz?

Heat forms toxic substance in corn syrups
(, August 31 2009)

Heat Forms Potentially Harmful Substance In High-fructose Corn Syrup, Bee Study Finds (Science Daily, August 26, 2009)

Many articles are reporting that "colony collapse" is occurring and it is directly related to a toxic substance that is found in HFCS when it is exposed to high temperatures. According to both the above linked news story, as well as a host of others, at least 1/3rd of the U.S. honeybee population has died as a result of this issue.

Some of the articles ask readers to consider how, if it can kill honey bees, HFCS may be having a negative health impact on us. Another concern I have is more of a long term evolutionary development... if our honeybee population is vastly reduced, how will the role they play in all sorts of natural processes be carried out?

HoneyBee Decline (2007 Science Daily article on Colony Collapse Disorder and the potential outcome)

And maybe this is a stupid question, but if people bake and cook with products containing HFCS with great regularity, is that toxic substance also an issue? Baking and cooking regularly involves temperatures in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit....