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Enough Already: Is High-Fructose Corn Syrup Good or Bad?


A blogumn by Jordan Weeks

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you’re looking to get a good year’s worth of smoke blown directly up your ass in just 30 seconds, turn on your television.

And if you’re lucky, as soon as that goofbox warms up and starts to glow, you’ll catch one of two new commercials trumpeting the (unnamed, nebulous) virtues of high-fructose corn syrup, a molecularly altered version of corn starch, which, over the last forty years, has replaced sucrose (table or cane sugar) and other natural sweetening agents in a huge number of comestibles, becoming the most common sweetening ingredient in untold numbers of food products made and sold in the U.S.

Here are the commercials, if you haven’t seen them:

Another commercial, plus me losing my shit about them after the jump:

Just in case you can’t play play these at wo, here’s a bit of dialogue from one of the commercials:

“You know what they say about high-fructose corn syrup.”

“Like what?”


“That…it’s…that…um…,” indeed, America. “That…it’s…that…um…,” indeed.

The main chemical difference between sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup (“HFCS” for short) is that sucrose is comprised of fifty-percent glucose and fifty-percent fructose; HFCS 55 (a widely used type of HFCS) contains only forty-five-percent glucose and fifty-five-percent fructose (hence, I imagine, the nominal “high-fructose” designation).

Now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the amount of cane and beet sugar available (and presumably used) to sweeten U.S. food products dropped from around 100 dry-weight pounds per capita year in 1966 to about 50 pounds in 2006. Conversely, high-fructose corn syrup’s availability (and, again, presumed use) increased in that same period from zero to over 50 pounds per capita year.  Also increased over the years have been tariffs on sugar (sucrose) imported to the U.S. This is no coincidence.

Look, all I’m saying is this:

Fuck high-fructose corn syrup.

High-fructose corn syrup does not exist in nature; people have to make it. And making it involves a lot of chemical mucking-around with corn starch in order to change it into glucose. Once changing the molecular constitution of ingestible goods enters the picture, I think it’s fair to call into question the validity (and safety) of such a change.

New York Times writer Michael Pollan notes in a 2003 article (“The Way We Live Now”; October 12), “The underlying problem is agricultural overproduction.” He goes on to say of The Great Depression, “The problem then, as now, was too much food, not too little.”

HFCS is only being used in all of these foods because it’s so goddammm cheap. And it’s cheap as shit ‘cause there’s so damn much of it. There’s so much of it, in fact, that nobody knows what to DO with it all. “Hey – let’s shove it in our food!” “Hey – let’s shove it in our gas-tanks!” It’s like a chorus of stupid angels.

“Cheap corn,” continues Mr. Pollan, “is truly the building block of the ‘fast-food nation.’ Cheap corn, transformed into high-fructose corn syrup, is what allowed Coca-Cola to move from the svelte 8-ounce bottle of soda ubiquitous in the ‘70’s to the chubby 20-ounce bottle of today. Cheap corn, transformed into cheap beef, is what allowed McDonald’s to supersize its burgers and still sell many of them for no more than a dollar. Cheap corn gave us a whole raft of new highly processed foods, including the world-beating chicken nugget, which, if you study its ingredients, you discover is really a most ingenious transubstantiation of corn, from the cornfed chicken it contains to the bulking and binding agents that hold it together.”

At a bottom-line level, HFCS is a sugar, and as such should not be in everything we consume. Nutritionists, doctors, and dieticians seem to agree pretty roundly that people need sugar, but not very much of it, and certainly not in everything they eat. So maybe the USDA and the FDA should stop cramming this cheap-ass filler/sweetener into every ingestible product under the sun and selling it to us in every aisle of nearly every grocery store in this big, beautiful, misled, stupid country.

Or maybe not.