Children of the Corn Syrup

Yes, this IS a horror movie. Only it’s real.

I think I’m going to stop writing and become a lobbyist. My first mission will be to change the term ‘cancer’ to ‘happy fun stuff.’ Seems like everybody has cancer these days and it’s quite a downer. The word comes up and the mood in the room turns gloomy. It’s no fun. Maybe if we called it something else (Happy Fun Stuff!), we’d be less bothered by the reality. “This sounds like a good thing! I like being happy! And I sure like fun stuff!” Stupid, of course. Cancer is cancer. You can’t dress it up, change the name, and fool people.

Oh, wait a minute! You can! It’s happened in our pantries, fridges, and cupboards. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is now ‘corn sugar.’ “But Mike, I eat corn. And I like sugar! What’s the big deal?”

Robert H. Lustig, MD, is a University of California, San Francisco Professor of Clinical Pediatrics (with degrees from MIT & Cornell), and his presentation, “Sugar – The Bitter Truth,” shows how HFCS is basically a poison, and, like alcohol, can cause harm with chronic exposure. You probably don’t have time to watch his 90-minute talk on YouTube (that’s this faithful writer’s gig), so I’ll give you the gist (you will miss out on awesome phrases like “multi-variant linear aggression analysis”).

Dr. Lustig explains that only our livers can metabolize HFCS and it travels through there as though it were a poison, like alcohol. HFCS then causes chronically elevated insulin levels leading to fat accumulation and such things as obesity, stroke, type-2 diabetes, liver disease, asthma, depression (mood swings, anxiety), and colon cancer. Booze without the buzz! Not like eating corn on the cob after all!

“But Mike, I can drink a few beers on the weekend or have wine with dinner and not develop these problems. So what’s the problem with HFCS? I don’t eat it all the time.”

The problem is, yes, you do. I do (did). We’ve all been eating it for many years. Here’s a little test to prove it. Wait … not a test … a fun project.

Pick out 10 random food items from your cabinets and fridge. Anything in a box, can, or bottle. Don’t think about it too much; three from here, two from there, and five from over there. Perfect. Now read all the ingredients and see how many list ‘high fructose corn syrup’ or ‘corn sugar.’ Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Hmmm hmm hmmm … do de do … La tee ta …

WOW!! Crazy, huh?? How many items? Three? Seven? Nine?!?

It’s in our bread! Our mustard! Cereals! Barbecue sauce! Pretzels! Juice boxes, snack mixes, salad dressings, crackers, sports drinks. And the list goes on! I couldn’t believe the bread crumbs I purchased had HFCS! I was expecting two ingredients: bread and crumbs. Consider that most fast food choices contain it and we can see how it’s affecting our kids diets big time as well.

Avoiding HFCS isn’t so easy because it’s everywhere. And now it’s hidden as ‘corn sugar.’ Plenty of ‘natural,’ ‘low sugar,’ and ‘diet’ products contain it. When I drink a beer I know I’m drinking a beer and having 12 in one day isn’t a great idea for many reasons. But when I’m ingesting HFCS, or my kids are, I don’t realize it and that becomes the problem. We Americans consume on average over SIXTY POUNDS of HFCS per person per year! It would be nice to know when we’re doing it.

The Corn Refiner’s Association has lobbied, successfully, to change the dirty HFCS name to ‘corn sugar,’ which the FDA claims to “enable consumer’s to easily identify added sugars in the diet.”’ I’m not an MD, but I know when I’m being hustled. Once we consumers found out that HFCS was to be avoided, or at least controlled, they changed the name! Fool me once …

Dr. Stephen W. Ponder of the Children’s Diabetes & Endochrine Center at Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas calls type-2 diabetes the ‘family disease of the 21st century.’ He also makes the connection between the out of control childhood obesity rate of the last 30 years with the arrival of HFCS on supermarket shelves in 1975. Our vehicles have gotten bigger as well during the same time period to make room for those SUV-sized fast food sandwiches and their ‘little’ consumers.

Dr. Ponder explains that our food system has become convenient, pre-packaged, engineered to be tasty, enriched, refined, and, most of all, CHEAP! Better food requires more prep time, may be harder to find (especially in poorer neighborhoods), and can be more expensive than energy-dense processed foods. The young are falling victim to HFCS.

Once again we see that looking for one label, ORGANIC, means no HFCS, and no corn sugar. Call it any name you like, even Happy Fun Stuff; it’s not good for you or your children. We don’t want them to be children of the corn syrup, now we don’t want them to be children of the corn sugar.

Maybe I’ll just change my title from ‘Writer’ to ‘All-Around Good Guy and Organic Lobbyist.’ Full disclosure.


  1. says

    wow – I was just talking about processed foods in a comment to your food challenge! Nothing like pouring a bottle of corn syrup on everything you eat, right? yuk. I am prediabetic (had gestational diabetes)and while my A1c results are now “normal” since obviously my body is NOT – and while I was on a diabetic diet I found out so many things I was eating were unhealthy even though I was “cooking” them. Even the nutritionists were ill prepared to tell me how to eat healthier with their row of cans of prepared foods as “read the labels” motto. Knowing your raw ingredients and what you really want to accomplish healthwise, is key. So if you come across a homemade version of Oreo’s that taste pretty close -let me know because I miss them!

  2. says

    Wow!! I can’t believe they got the name changed. Funny story from a couple years ago: I do 99.9% of the grocery shopping for our family. One day my husband wanted to go grocery shopping for a few things, so he asked me “what are your rules again”? I told him, “today just stick with these – don’t get anything with HFCS, or food dye.” About 40 minutes later, he called and asked me if I was playing a practical joke on him because in 30 minutes at the grocery store he had yet to pick up something without HFCS!!!

  3. admin says

    Wow Amy that’s appalling … lol. We don’t do HFCS either and it took a while to weed it out completely. Sometimes it sneaks back in, it’s like kudzu!

  4. WindyD says

    Mike Gioscia, thanks for this great article. Writers like you are helping to awaken the health consciousness of America.
    I have asked the leaders of the Corn Refiners Association (over and over) if they actually consume that artificial red drink (from their first commercials) and give it to their own children. Of course, no answer!
    And to Denise, who commented above: The reason nutritionists are so ill-prepared to give health advice is because they are influenced by the fast food/snack industries. Check out the horrifying sponsors of the American Dietetic Association:

    Did chocolate become a “health” food when Hershey’s became a sponsor of the ADA? The first word in dietetic is “die.” Hopefully, Americans will not trust their health to members of this suspect organization–an organization that is quoted over and over by the corn refiners. Hmmmm?

    Thanks again, Mike. Keep up the fantastic reporting.

  5. Linda says

    Try hunting down Late July chocolate cookies. They are organic and really good! You won’t miss the Oreos.

  6. admin says

    Yep, we’ve had ’em. We found an organic version of Oreos actually and they are pretty tasty if completely devoid of nutritional value … at least no chemicals right?

  7. Kim says

    I’ve been trying to eliminate HFCS from our diets as well and you’re right it is a challenge! I’m now starting to notice that some of the products we stil use have “corn syrup.” What is the difference between HFCS and just “corn syrup.?”

    PS – I loved reading about your 30 day food challenge! A friend posted it on FB.

  8. Lisa says

    Gladys, I’ve found that if it’s processed it’s REALLY likely to have HFCS or “corn sugar” in it … it’s a shelf-life thing, it saves the manufacturers a lot of money. L–

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