Saturday, August 21, 2010

Paying Attention to Food Labels: HFCS

My former self would go to the grocery store, go up and down aisles placing all manner of "foods" into my shopping cart. I would see the "heart healthy," "no trans fats," "made with whole grains," etc. labels on the foods and would think "I'm making a good choice" without actually turning the package over to see what ingredients were listed. If you are paying attention to food labels, you will know that it is very difficult to find items in the regular grocery aisles that do not contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It is in just about everything including juice, soft drinks, breads, cereals, and condiments (many condiments have HFCS listed as the first ingredient!). The Corn Refiners Association would lead you to believe that HFCS is natural and that our body reacts to and metabolizes it the same way it uses regular sugar. However, calling HFCS "natural" is a stretch since it takes quite a bit of processing to produce. As far as how our body metabolizes HFCS, this study reveals that fat cells do respond differently to HFCS than to regular sugar. HFCS has also been found to contain traces of mercury. Either way, as I try to transition our family to a less-processed, more traditional way of eating, I'm going to avoid HFCS as much as I possibly can. This seems to be a growing trend, as many of the larger food companies are beginning to remove HFCS from their products due to consumer requests. I recently noticed that both Hunts and Heinz ketchups are producing HFCS-free ketchup and going back to sugar as the sweetener. As of last week, Sara Lee announced that they will be removing HFCS from some of their breads.
While I'm very happy to see food manufacturers removing HFCS from their products, this doesn't mean I'm going to buy their products. Many of these products will still contain large amounts of refined white sugars, which aren't all that good for you either. The American diet fills us with sugar (in various forms) during every meal, snack, and drink. Most of us don't even think about our sugar consumption unless we're eating dessert, and I think our desserts have to be sweeter and sweeter for our sweet tooth to be satisfied. Once we cut down our sugar intake in everyday foods that we don't think of as "sweet", I think we'll be able to better satisfy our sweet tooth with more subtle flavors.
So, what sweeteners do I use? I'm mostly using pure maple syrup (pay attention to pancake syrups at the grocery store. Most are HFCS with maple flavor), honey, and rapadura/sucanat (unrefined, unbleached whole cane sugar--pictured in the bowl). I do keep refined sugar on hand for certain things, but I don't use it very often.


  1. Good for April for making better choices.Are you and the rest of the family feeling any better?

  2. I think so. I can't say I felt "bad" before, but I feel more satisfied eating these foods. I used to be a nighttime snacker because I would leave the dinner table feeling unsatisfied and still hungry. Not to say I don't ever have an evening snack, but I don't "need" one any longer. I also feel like real food has real flavors that are more noticeable. I'm enjoying the food a lot more than the previous processed variety. Those are the biggest differences I have noticed.