High fructose corn syrup is commonly used in place of sugar in processed foods in the USA. In fact, the average American eats an astounding 41.5 lbs of high fructose corn syrup per year. American subsidies and tariffs have resulted in corn being a much more economical sweetener than sugar–a trend that is not seen in other parts of the world. Now that high fructose corn syrup is being added to an increasing variety of foods (breads, cereals, soft drinks, and condiments) some people are looking for ways to avoid this artificial sweetener.
- Be clear about your reasons for avoiding high fructose corn syrup. There’s significant controversy surrounding the safety of consuming high fructose corn syrup, but there is, as of yet, no conclusive evidence that it’s more detrimental to one’s health than table sugar. Despite its name (“high fructose”), it contains about the same amount of fructose as table sugar. Nevertheless, many are concerned and suspicious for various reasons:
- Beverages containing high fructose corn syrup have higher levels of reactive compounds (carbonyls) which are linked with cell and tissue damage that leads to diabetes.
- Many nutritionists believe that the human body can better handle foods that exist naturally rather than novel foods and additives created or modified on a molecular level in a lab. Unlike high fructose corn syrup, sugar undergoes no chemical processes or molecular changes (although it does undergo mechanical processing).
- The corn from which high fructose corn syrup is derived may be genetically modified.
- There are increasing concerns about the politics surrounding the economics of corn production (subsidies, tariffs, and regulations) as well as the effects of intensive corn agriculture on the environment.
- Some people are allergic to products derived from corn.
- Some argue that sugar simply tastes better than high fructose corn syrup.
- Read food labels. This is the easiest and most sure-fire way to know if there is high fructose corn syrup in your food. If there’s an ingredients list, look for high fructose corn syrup. Read labels even on foods that don’t seem sweet. Most commercial sliced bread, even whole grain and multigrain varieties, contains HFCS, for example. So do many processed meats like sausage and ham.
- Be wary of the words “natural” or “organic” on labels. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the use of the word “natural”. Foods and beverages can be labeled as “natural” even though they contain high fructose corn syrup. Many companies justify the labeling under the premise that high fructose corn syrup is derived from a natural substance–corn (although the corn may be genetically modified). The word “organic” is heavily regulated, but food with multiple ingredients can use the word “organic” if it’s made with at least 70% organic ingredients (but those with the USDA seal must have at least 95%). That means that a product can be labeled organic and still have HFCS, as long as the HFCS doesn’t constitute more than 30% (or 5%, if the seal is present) of the product. Only foods labeled as 100% organic can be assumed to be HFCS-free. Otherwise, check the ingredients list to be sure.
- Be especially picky about beverages. Soft drinks, sports drinks, lemonade, iced tea, and almost every sweet drink you can think of contains high fructose corn syrup.
- If you can’t see the ingredients list, such as when you go out to eat, choose water (if it’s flavored, make sure it’s no-calorie) or diet drinks. Beverages with fewer calories typically avoid high fructose corn syrup, which is a high calorie additive.
- Buy from small bottlers who use sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Some smaller brands, such as Jones Soda and Dublin Dr. Pepper, have switched to pure cane sugar in the interest of both health and taste.
- Buy soft drinks from across the border. If you must have your fix of certain soda brands and you happen to live near Canada or Mexico, look into buying in bulk from those countries, which use sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.
- Check the Passover section of your supermarket. Some soda companies produce a sugar/sucrose-based version of their products around Passover for Jews who are restricted by custom from eating corn during this time. Coca-Cola produces a version of Coke without corn syrup that can be identified by a yellow cap and is considered by some to taste better than Coke Zero, which is also free of corn syrup but contains artificial sweeteners, not sugar.
- Consider 100% fruit juices as an alternative to sodas. Beware of juice “cocktails,” which may only contain a small percentage of actual juice and almost certainly will have added corn syrup. Welches and Northern have both kinds. All Libby’s products are 100% juice and, while many Simply Orange products are sweetened (simply Lemonade, Simply Limeade, etc…) Not all of them are and the ones that are use sugar.
- Lower your sweetener consumption altogether. It’s been largely shown that the supposed link between high fructose corn syrup and obesity is not due to the high fructose corn syrup itself, but to the increasing consumption of sweeteners in general, especially soft drinks. The USDA recommends that a person with a 2000 calorie, balanced diet should consume no more than 32 g (8 tsp) of added sugar per day. Here are some sweet foods and the percentage of the daily recommended amount of sweeteners they provide:
- typical cup of fruit yogurt – 70%
- cup of regular ice cream – 60%
- 12-ounce Pepsi – 103%
- Hostess Lemon Fruit Pie – 115%
- serving of Kellogg’s Marshmallow Blasted Froot Loops – 40%
- quarter-cup of pancake syrup – 103%
- Cinnabon – 123%
- large McDonald’s Shake – 120%
- large Mr. Misty Slush at Dairy Queen – 280%
- Burger King’s Cini-minis with icing – 95%
- Some grocery stores have gone as far as to ban all products which contain high fructose corn syrup which makes avoiding it much easier, if you can find such a store.
- Adding more fruit to your diet can help you avoid high fructose corn syrup as well as satisfy your sweet tooth and get the vitamins you need.
- Replacing all the calories consumed in high fructose corn syrup with sugar will not have any noticeable impact on weight because they both contain the same amounts of fructose and calories. The switch may beneficially impact your health, however, only reducing your sweetener intake overall is guaranteed to lessen caloric intake and improve health.
- How to Stop Sweet Cravings
- How to Follow a Low Sodium Diet
- How to Read Nutrition Facts on Food Labels
- How to Add Fruit to Your Diet
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