Coming soon from Big Corn: lessons in ‘health and nutrition’

Posted by
December 27, 2013

big_corn

Looks like the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) is launching another consumer “engagement” campaign!

You may recall the last big, multimillion-dollar effort the CRA put out – the one that included the classic scene where a character dares to hint that high fructose corn syrup is an unhealthy ingredient:

“You don’t care what the kids eat?”

“Excuse me?” says the host, pouring the HFCS-sweetened punch at a kids’ birthday party.

“You know what they say about it,” says the concerned party guest.

“What? That it’s made from corn?”

This much-parodied commercial then goes on to embarrass the ingredient-questioning friend because she can’t rattle off the numerous scientific studies and concerns from MDs and other health professionals about the ill effects of consuming HFCS.

That commercial, and a multitude of other print and online ads, was part of the CRA’s big-buck campaign to try and get consumers to believe that HFCS and sugar are one in the same, along with promoting its failed attempt to get the Food and Drug Administration to OK a name switch to “corn sugar.”

While that video has since been retired to Saturday Night Live parody archives, the CRA has been busy planning a new advertising blitz. Putting its “corn sugar” disaster on the back burner, the group is busy readying another consumer-confusion campaign, this one, said by the CRA to “promote a healthy lifestyle through caloric balance…rather than focus on a specific type of sugar.”

In other words, ‘please don’t pay any attention to that high fructose corn syrup on the label.’

Newly installed CRA President, John Bode, is quoted in the group’s press release announcement as saying, “Our goal is to provide consumers with facts about health and nutrition so they can make informed decisions…” Yes, you read that right. Big Corn is going to teach us about “health and nutrition.”

This “digital campaign” will be presented, according to the CRA, as banner advertising on some high- cost sites such as AOL’s Food Super Channel network and FoodNetwork.com. The featured “experts” who will inform us that natural sugar and HFCS are “nutritionally equivalent” will include one of the trade groups favorites, Registered Dietitian Neva Cochran, and perhaps one or more of its hard-selling ‘spokesdocs’.

This isn’t the first time the CRA has dipped its toes in the health and nutrition bandwagon. This spring it launched a similarly-themed website called balancingup.com to help folks manage stress, give “values” to kids, and of course, not worry about consuming HFCS. While the site appears to have been discontinued, the CRA’s health and wellness messaging marches on.

How much is that in HFCS?

While the trade group readies its new campaign, one that’s focused on blurring all types of sweeteners into one sticky haze, a recent study found that consumers are confused enough already in deciphering what “added sugars” actually means.

University of Florida Registered Dietitian Gail Rampersaud and  Lisa House, a food and resource economics professor, working with other university researchers, set out to discover just how much people know about added and naturally occurring “sugars” in beverages. And the results were: not very much.

The group’s study, published at the beginning of December in the journal Nutrition Research, discovered that half the surveyed participants believed that the term “sugary” means any sweet drink, even diet ones containing artificial sweeteners, and that 40 percent of respondents thought that 100 percent fruit juice is “sugary” despite containing no added sugar.

Commenting on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that recommend consuming water instead of “sugary” beverages, House is quoted as saying in the university’s press release, “If we’re going to be using the term ‘sugary’ in dietary guidance to refer to beverages with added sugars, we need to make sure people know what that means.”

Rampersaud added, “The issue is: the Nutrition Facts panel does not make a distinction between natural sugars and added sugars. The labels list ‘sugars’ but don’t define whether they’re added or sugars that are natural to the beverage…”

The term “sugars” is one of the many confusing aspect of the nutrition facts label, which, as Rampersaud noted, gives no hint as to whether such “sugars” are naturally occurring or added, nor what the source may be.

“Sugars”ending in ‘s’ is defined by the FDA as “the sum of all free mono- and disaccharides (such as glucose, fructose, lactose and sucrose).” In other words “sugars” can include lactose (from milk), added honey, real sugar (sucrose), fructose and high fructose corn syrup.

With all the confusion surrounding exactly what “sugary” means (helped along by the media), we really don’t need the CRA chiming in with more “help.”

The best thing you can do to clear up the confusion is to go right to the source, the ingredient label. That’s the only item on a food product that will tell you what kind of sweetener is in a food or beverage. And if you want to learn more about health and nutrition, there are much better sources out there than the HFCS-coated statements issued by the  Corn Refiners Association.