Sunday, September 21, 2008

High Fructose Corn Syrup needs commercials?

My daughter likes applesauce.
I had purchased a food mill to make tomato sauce.
It's apple season.

Hopefully you can see where this is going...

So my wife and I spent a few hours 2 weeks ago making turning a box of apples into applesauce. It turned out really well. We even played around a bit with cinnamon in one batch, peaches in another.

In the past, we've always purchased applesauce from Aldi. We had some in the cupboard, so as we were working I picked up a container and read the ingredients. I jokingly told my wife "Oh no, we forgot to put High Fructose Corn Syrup in ours!"

She laughed and asked if I had seen the commercials. I was confused. Commercials for what? For High Fructose Corn Syrup. (HFCS) There are commercials? Yup.

I was in for a sweet surprise! Why would a product that I can't buy in the grocery store need a commercial? And why did these commercials have the same contrived feel as a political attack ad?

The first thing you should notice are the 'products' featured in the 2 commercials. Product 1 is some sort of kid's punch. Product 2 is a popsicle. Both of these things are "sweet", so you would maybe expect to find HFCS. Neither commercial talks about the hundreds of thousands of other products that contain HFCS. If you've got 30 minutes to kill, do this fun little activity. Go to your pantry, cupboards and refrigerator, and see how many of the foods contain HFCS. Go ahead, make 2 piles! What are you waiting for, you're not scared to look are ya? You're in for a sweet surprise.

Next, let's examine the dialouge: "....doesn't have artificial ingredients..."

It doesn't have artificial ingredients? How do you make HFCS? Can you make it at home? Sure! You just need to pick up a few ingredients first.

Production of high fructose corn syrup is a bit complex. Cornstarch originally contains very long chemical chains of pure glucose, which must first be broken down into shorter chains called polysaccharides. This is accomplished by adding an enzyme called alpha-amylase, which is derived from a bacteria.
Once the cornstarch has been broken down, a second enzyme called glucoamylase is added to the vat. Glucoamylase is derived from a fungus called Aspergillus. The continued fermentation converts the slurry into almost pure glucose.
The third step in the processing of high fructose corn syrup is the most expensive. An enzyme called glucose-isomerase is stored in tall columns and the glucose slurry is poured across the top of those columns. The enzyme converts the pure glucose into a combination of fructose and glucose, but not at the final percentages desired. A process called liquid chromatography essentially distills the syrup into 90% fructose. This concentrated fructose product is then blended back into the original mix to create the final 55% fructose, 45% glucose product called high fructose corn syrup.

Mmm, mmm, mmm - just like grandma used to make!

I also wonder exactly what constitutes an artificial ingredient. Is Plutonium a natural ingredient? How about Mercury? Both exist in nature. High fructose corn syrup can't even claim that.

I've been trying to read up on HFCS policy for awhile, and quite frankly I'm still confused as to if the FDA will allow manufacturers to use the phrase "all natural" for products that contain HFCS. The phrase was not used in either commercial.

A website called had this to say:

"In response to an enquiry from FoodNavigator, the US Food and Drink Administration (FDA) recently examined the composition and production process of HFCS.
"We would object to the use of the term 'natural' on a product containing HFCS", said the agency's Geraldine June in April."

That's was in April of 2008. Then...

"Last month, (June, 2008) however, a US federal judge rejected a claim by Stacy Holk, who filed the suit on behalf of herself and other consumers, that the use of the term 'all natural' on Snapple drinks was deceptive because the products contained HFCS.
The case was decided on preemption grounds, and the discrepancy arises from the lack of a clear definition of the term 'natural' from the FDA which leaves the matter open to different interpretations.
Judge Cooper said it was up to the FDA, not the court, to define 'natural'."

Hmmm. It seems the issue is still in contention, though:

...And Ivan Wasserman, an FDA and FTC compliance lawyer and partner at Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Washington, DC, commented: "I do not think that this will be seem as some kind of 'green light' for marketers (to call products with HFCS 'natural')."
"I think the decision, if anything, maintains the status quo. There has been no change in FDA's 'position', and there has been no court decision holding that it is, or is not, misleading to claim a product with HFCS is 'natural'.
So companies will continue to come to their own conclusion, and market their products accordingly."

So if you're concerned about HFCS intake, don't rely on "all natural" products to help you out - read the ingredients.

Is the stuff a poison? I don't believe so. Am I avoiding it when I can? You betcha.

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