Despite a national advertising campaign aiming to convince consumers that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a natural sweeter similar to sugar, many parents still have questions about this popular sweetener and whether it is, indeed, safe for their children. While it is true that high fructose corn syrup is naturally derived, it is far from true that this sweetener can be found in nature. It is a highly processed ingredient originating from corn (most of which has been genetically modified).
As to the safety of this ingredient, there are many questions yet to be answered. Several studies have linked the consumption of foods and beverages containing HFCS to the increase in childhood obesity and earlier onset of type II Diabetes across the population. This ingredient was first introduced just before 1970 and since then, there has been a clear rise in metabolic syndrome (syndrome associated with insulin resistance and pre-diabetes) as well as elevated lipids (which contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes).
Besides the potential harm caused by HFCS as a sweetener, there is also an unknown danger of consuming any foods that have been genetically modified. A recent study showed that genetically engineered corn (which is used to make HFCS and other fructose sweeteners) caused organ failure in rats. More and more evidence is pointing towards the hidden dangers of these foods, yet they are still consumed in large quantities by the population (an average US citizen consumes 88lbs of corn based sweeteners a year).
With these clear correlations and several animal studies showing the direct damaging effects of HFCS on organs such as the liver and pancreas, why is this still the most popular sweetener used in the food industry? Because it’s cheaper than sugar or other natural alternatives. The major players in the food industry are in the business of selling food and increasing profits for their shareholders. They are not necessarily interested in the long-term health of their consumers. I say this not to encourage cynicism, but rather, to encourage you to question the sources and credibility of the information you receive.
While critics of the anti-HFCS movement would say that correlation does not imply causation and that HFCS has been identified as a scapegoat for our growing obesity epidemic, they can not argue with the fact that a diet of whole, unprocessed foods rich in nutrients is better for you than a diet of processed, packaged, and refined foods. Neither can they argue the fact that the increasing consumption of any caloric sweetener can have a negative impact on an individual’s health.
As parents, it is our responsibility to do what is best for our children. When it comes to the foods they eat, it is responsible to educate them about healthy foods early and prevent them from becoming a part of the growing statistic of children with chronic disease by teaching them to avoid ingredients such as HFCS and also to moderate intake of sugar and natural sweeteners that can also lead to obesity and diabetes.
For more information about HFCS and other genetically modified foods, please visit the following sites (disclaimer–these sites do not necessarily reflect the views of Dr. Bowker but do contain factual information and links to other resources for those interested in researching this topic further):