Advice from former FDA head: “absolutely” avoid foods with high fructose corn syrup

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May 17, 2012 — May 17, 2012 — In a 2010 interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric, former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler was asked, “Should I try to buy things that don’t have high fructose corn syrup in them?”

“Absolutely,” was Kessler’s reply.

But exactly how does that work? High fructose corn syrup, a “highly processed sweetener” in Kessler’s words, can be found in so many food items these days it’s possible even the Corn Refiners Association has lost count.

While eliminating HFCS from your diet is difficult, it can be done. And in the process you may just find that you’re eating more “real food,” as Kessler advised Couric to do. “Real food” means food with real ingredients, food that can stand the test of label-reading scrutiny, food that your grandmother would have eaten.

And in case you’re wondering what Dr. Kessler thinks of the 2010 Corn Refiners Association’s attempt to rename high fructose corn syrup to the sweeter sounding “corn sugar,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying last year, “Whatever you call it, it should have little place in the American diet.”

So if you feel the same as Dr. Kessler on the subject, here are five ways you can follow his advice to  keep high fructose corn syrup out of your diet:

1. Buy organic varieties of certain foods

Sure, it would be great to buy all organic food. But if that’s not happening any time soon at your house, there’s an easy way to bring some organic into your life and at the same time avoid HFCS.

Just like in the good old days when ketchup, rolls, mustard, salad dressings, jam, and hundreds of other processed  food items didn’t contain this test-tube sweetener, organic foods do not contain HFCS.

So swap out some conventional condiments, breads and crackers for organic ones and  you’ll get an “easy pass” to faster HFCS-free shopping.

2. Shop at a Whole Foods Market

Is there a Whole Foods Market in your area? If so, the entire store is an HFCS-free zone!

High fructose corn syrup is on the Whole Foods Market list of “unacceptable ingredients for food,” a list that also includes such chemical additives as artificial colors and flavors, aspartame and bromated flour.

3. Steer clear of fast-food restaurants

Fast food places are hotbeds of bad ingredients – including, of course, high fructose corn syrup. Buns, dressings, drinks, condiments and sauces are likely culprits, but so are items such as cole slaw and potato salad and even many so-called “healthier choices” such as carrot salad and sliced fruits.

One chain where you don’t have to worry about HFCS, however, is Jason’s Deli, with over 230 locations in 28 states, which claims to have no trace of the sweetener in any of the food items it sells.

4. Eat more “food” and fewer “food products”

Sure it’s fast and easy to buy a ready-made meal (actually called a “TV dinner” when it was first introduced by Swanson in the early 1950s), but convenience comes at a cost, and if you’re trying to cut HFCS out of your diet, this is a very good place to start.

Author Michael Pollan says in his book “In Defense of Food,” that long lists of ingredients that are “unfamiliar, unpronounceable,” and “more than five in number or that include high fructose corn syrup,” are “reliable markers”  that the foods you are considering consuming have crossed the line from “foods to food products.”

5. Read the ingredient label before the item goes in your cart

Once something hits your shopping cart, it’s pretty much a done deal, so make your decisions carefully before that fateful moment. Despite what may seem like a bounty of delicious, healthy foods, supermarkets are stocked with scores of ersatz and chemical-laden products, including loads of items containing HFCS.

Pollan’s other shopping tip, however, may be the best one of all: “get out of the supermarket whenever possible…you won’t find any high fructose corn syrup at the farmers market.”