What’s in a name? A lot, when the name is ‘fructose’ and the product it’s in claims to have ‘no HFCS’

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December 4, 2014

By BILL BONVIE

chexIf you’re trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup — as well you should be — one of the products you’d probably gravitate to is General Mills Vanilla Chex with natural vanilla flavor and “no high fructose corn syrup” (one of several additives it claims not to contain on the front of the box).

But before you buy it, confident that it will help protect your family against the various health problems like diabetes and obesity that studies have linked to all that ‘free fructose’ in HFCS, you might also want to check out the list of actual ingredients on the side of the package.

Because one of the things you’ll find on that list is “fructose” – a term that, according to the Corn Refiners Association, is now used to describe something previously known as HFCS-90, meaning that it is 90 percent fructose, as contrasted with regular HFCS, which contains either 42 or 55 percent.

Here’s what the CRA’s website, corn.org, has to say on the subject under the section on “high fructose corn syrups” (something brought to our attention just this week by “Food Babe” Vani Hari):

“A third product, HFCS-90, is sometimes used in natural and ‘light’ foods, where very little is needed to provide sweetness. Syrups with 90% fructose will not state high fructose corn syrup on the label, they will state ‘fructose’ or ‘fructose syrup’.”

And that’s something we here at Food Identity Theft find very, very interesting – the reason being that HFCS-90 is a product that our sponsoring organization, Citizens for Health, has been concerned about for quite some time.

In fact, this past August, CFA amended a petition it had originally submitted back in 2012 to the Food and Drug Administration asking that labeling be required specifying the amounts of fructose in products containing HFCS.  The petition was revised to include a request that food companies be notified that “any product containing HFCS sweetener with more than 55% fructose is considered to be adulterated” under federal regulations and “cannot be sold in interstate commerce.”

That petition has received more than 10,000 favorable comments – and only one dissenting one, from the CRA itself, which, as we noted in a subsequent blog, cited outdated data used as the basis for the FDA’s original designation of HFCS as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), and erroneously maintained that there were no limits placed by the agency on the amount of fructose HFCS can contain.chex2

“Our food should not have HFCS with a fructose concentration above 55%,” CFH maintained, adding that if a food company wishes to use a higher amount than that, it must file a food additive petition for the amount it seeks to use and at all times “identify the percent of fructose in HFCS that it is using.”

Apparently, however, the corn refiners had a different idea, simply eliminating the high fructose corn syrup designation for the laboratory sweetener that’s nine-tenths fructose and calling it what it really is: fructose. And that’s how a processed-food product like Vanilla Chex that contains “fructose,” a substance that, according to the corn refiners, used to be called HFCS-90, can now declare itself to be high fructose corn syrup-free.

It’s also why you can safely assume that, until proven otherwise, any product that lists “fructose” as an ingredient actually contains an illicit form of high fructose corn syrup – one with way too high an amount of fructose to allow it to be formally recognized as HFCS.

A growing presence in processed foods

But the cereal aisle isn’t the only place where you’re apt to find products apparently containing the sweetener formerly known as HFCS-90, as a spot check of our local supermarket revealed. In fact, the word “fructose” seems to be popping up with increasing frequency on lists of ingredients for various processed foods.

Take protein bars, for instance. It seems to have been added to just about all of the standard brands — including the entire line of Nature Valley Protein Chewy Bars, Quaker Protein Baked Bars and Kellogg’s Special K Protein Bars.

Another item where we found it was in a bag of sweet-chili-flavored Quaker Popped rice snacks (formerly “Quakes”). Described as a snack choice “you can feel good about,” the product also contains monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed protein and yeast extract, a trio of excitoxins that, taken together with the fructose, might easily qualify this Quaker product as one of the worst snack choices you could possibly make.

So if you’ve noticed that some product you bought contained “fructose” and were wondering what the manufacturer meant by that, now you know – that is, if the CRA can be taken at its word, Only instead of having to get FDA approval for a name change, as they failed to get last year for HFCS itself when they attempted to rename it “corn sugar,” the corn refiners have simply opted to call it “fructose.”

But don’t be fooled – that’s not the natural fructose found in fruit, which is bound together with fiber. Nor is it the fructose that’s bound with an equal amount of glucose to form sucrose, commonly known as sugar. It’s fructose that’s been converted from the glucose in corn through a complex process of enzymatic transformation – the kind that’s been identified by researchers as a chief culprit in obesity, diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and a host of other health problems.

In other words, the same kind found in high fructose corn syrup – only in a much greater concentration.

Bill Bonvie is the author of “Repeat Offenders,” a collection of previously published essays now available at Amazon.com