Corn Sweetener Ruled Unnatural

Disclaimer: I hate corn syrup with a passion. When I eat anything with corn syrup, I feel sluggish and groggy. It makes it hard for me to think and work, let alone do anything physical. I avoid the stuff like the plague.

How did I find this out, you ask? About eight years ago I worked at a startup that provided unlimited access to packaged food. There were snack bars and candy, as well as drinks, in huge abundance. I decided one day to eat nothing but one type/brand a day to see what would happen to my body.

Shortly after beginning the experiment, I noticed that I struggled to get my work done when I ate certain foods. Using the binary method (eliminating half and seeing if the results persist) I quickly narrowed the problem down to things sweetened with corn syrup.

Luna bars, for example, have no corn syrup. I could eat them all day and feel absolutely fine. Cliff bars also lack corn syrup. Powerbars, on the other hand, and Balance bars both made me so tired and unfocused that I had to extend deadlines in order to get my work completed.

Right, enough of my personal opinion on this awful disgusting substance. The FDA announcement tells me that I am correct in my assumptions:

Products containing high fructose corn syrup cannot be considered ‘natural’ and should not be labeled as such, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said.
The decision is likely to cause a massive stir in the food and beverage industry, where a discreet battle has been raging over the status of the controversial sweetener.

What really bothers me is that virtually every soda in the United States is laced with this stuff. I just came back from Canada, and there is not a drop in the same brands. Want safety from a can of Coke, go to Canada. If you drink the American variety, you are literally poisoning yourself with a non-natural sweetener that will do real harm to your health and productivity. Well, in my opinion of course, but it seems I am not too far from the facts on this one.

…in response to an inquiry from, the regulatory agency examined the composition of HFCS, which it said is produced using synthetic fixing agents.

“Consequently, we would object to the use of the term ‘natural’ on a product containing HFCS,” the agency’s Geraldine June said in an e-mail to June is Supervisor of the Product Evaluation and Labeling team at FDA’s Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements.


“The use of synthetic fixing agents in the enzyme preparation, which is then used to produce HFCS, would not be consistent with our (…) policy regarding the use of the term ‘natural’,” said Geraldine June.

“Moreover, the corn starch hydrolysate, which is the substrate used in the production of HFCS, may be obtained through the use of safe and suitable acids or enzymes. Depending on the type of acid(s) used to obtain the corn starch hydrolysate, this substrate itself may not fit within the description of ‘natural’ and, therefore, HCFS produced from such corn starch hydrolysate would not qualify for a ‘natural’ labeling term,” she concluded.

Bottom line is that virtually all packaged foods in America are full of corn sweeteners, and you have to be extremely cautious if you want to eat something truly natural and healthy. The Ethicurian has an excellent summary of the issues. For example, they show a shift in public opinion that is impacting the more sensible brands:

Hansen’s says that 30% of consumer calls it received were asking for a change from HFCS to a more natural sugar. “Consumers asked and we listened,” is how one executive put it. This response is a refreshing change from the typical corporate doublespeak along the lines of “public pressure had nothing to do with our decision, it was planned long ago.”

Compare that with the perspective of the 900 pound gorilla:

The biggest driver of HFCS’s rise was the beverage industry, which nearly eliminated the use of sugar in its products in the early 1980s. I consulted several books about the history of Coca-Cola (including “For God, Country and Coca-Cola” and “Secret Formula”) and it appears that the change from sugar to HFCS was not a big deal within the company. There was a little bit of resistance from someone who had been with Coke for almost 60 years, but in the end the management could not resist the enormous financial benefits of the switch. “Secret Formula” claims that the savings from replacing 50% of Coke’s sugar with HFCS were $100 million per year in the early 1980s.

Good luck trying to tell Coca-Cola that you would prefer natural ingredients and the old recipe. They are sure to have put some of the $100 million a year in savings toward a lobbyist or PR firm ready to fight:

The researchers “give the impression that high-fructose corn syrup is the secret reason Americans are all obese, and that is patently false,” says Stephanie Childs of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade group representing Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and others.

“High-fructose corn syrup is very similar to sugar in its chemical makeup. We are overweight and have an obesity epidemic because we have an imbalance in how many calories we consume and how many we burn,” she says.

Very similar but NOT THE SAME. Did I mention how much I hate corn syrup? I do not blame it for obesity, I find it a disgusting chemical that impacts my quality of life. I am happy that there are alternatives to chose from, and I hope that others can try living without it to see if they find similar benefits. That would be the real taste test. Jones soda seems to have figured this out. Hopefully more brands will follow.

2 thoughts on “Corn Sweetener Ruled Unnatural”

  1. Plus, the slurry from which most corn sweeteners are refined is routinely sulfited (sulfite is a preservative).

    Sweetener products made by cornstarch hydrolysis include dextrose, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, and crystalline fructose

    This gives individuals with a sulfite sensitivity (common symptoms include headaches and bronchoconstriction) additional reasons to avoid foods with corn sweeteners.

    HFCS, which is the most refined of the corn sweeteners, has the least residual sulfite. Corn syrup has the most.

  2. Davi -> You should read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, by Michael Pollan. The description of the odd state of US Agriculture, and the resulting surplus of corn, is a fascinating read.

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