How much was the First Lady on target about HFCS? Let us count the ways

Posted by
April 24, 2014

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The occasion was a White House Easter Egg Roll, but it was a rhetorical egg thrown by First Lady Michelle Obama that got the most attention – and seemed to have ruffled a few feathers in the corn refiners’ coop.

“Our bodies don’t know what to do with high fructose corn syrup – and don’t need it,”the First Lady told chef Marc Murphy, who serves as a judge on The Food Network’s “Chopped.”

But while Mrs. Obama’s off-the-cuff remark buffed her image among many consumers as a champion for healthy living, it seems to have incensed John Bode, the Corn Refiners Association’s militant new president and CEO. While claiming to “applaud” her “commendable work to educate the public about nutrition and healthy diets,” Bode contended, “It is most unfortunate that she was misinformed about how the body processes caloric sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup.”

He further claimed that “(y)ears of scientific research have shown that the body metabolizes high fructose corn syrup similar to table sugar and honey,” adding, “Moderation and the right caloric balance are key to a healthy lifestyle.”

So was the First Lady “misinformed”? Not according to the research teams for some of the nation’s leading universities and health facilities who have, in fact, done “years of scientific research” on the differences between HFCS and other “caloric sweeteners,” such as natural honey and sugar (which HFCS has replaced in numerous processed foods).

And if you check out some of these studies, it looks like the First Lady was right on the mark with what researchers have been saying.

For example:

  • Georgia Health Sciences University researchers found in 2011 that high fructose consumption by teens can put them at risk for heart disease and diabetes, and also speculated that kids may “crave the cheap, strong sweetener.”
  • Another study done in 2010 at Princeton University found that rats with access to high fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.  Long-term consumption of HFCS also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides – findings the researchers said sheds light on factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.
  • A Yale University study in 2013 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fructose – especially in the form of HFCS – may contribute to weight gain and obesity, since it has little effect on brain regions that act as a check on appetite.
  • A 2013 study done by the University of Southern California compared the average availability of high fructose corn syrup to rates of diabetes in 43 countries, about half of which had little or no HFCS in their food supply.  The researchers found that countries using HFCS had rates of diabetes that were about 20 percent higher than countries that didn’t use the sweetener in processed foods. Those differences remained even after researchers took into account data for differences in body size, population and wealth.
  • A 2011 University of California at Davis study that examined 48 adults between the ages of 18 and 40 found that those who consumed high fructose corn syrup for two weeks as 25 percent of their daily calorie requirement had increased blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which have been shown to be indicators of increased risk for heart disease.
  • A 2010 study by the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA found that pancreatic cancer cells love fructose. The researchers said fructose activates a key cellular pathway that helps the cancer to grow more quickly and that “cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation.”

That’s not all, folks. But it’s enough to prove that Michelle Obama was in no way “misinformed” when she made that comment. And neither are the increasing numbers of consumers who have come to realize that high fructose corn syrup has no place in a healthy diet — despite the claims of the chief lobbyist for those who are trying to squeeze as much profit as possible out of it before the food industry ends its ill-advised experiment with this test-tube additive.

And that’s why we at Food Identity Theft want amounts of HFCS in food products clearly labeled.