High fructose corn syrup — debunking the myths with science and facts

high fructose corn syrup

People demonize food “chemicals,” like high fructose corn syrup, all of the time — see monosodium glutamate, as just one example. And there’s high fructose corn syrup, a sugar that is blamed for everything from cancer to diabetes to climate change. OK, maybe not climate change.

High fructose corn syrup is just sugar, but because it has a complicated name, it must be bad. It’s part of the “chemophobia,” the fear of anything that sounds like a chemical.

The so-called Food Babe has made a lot of money endorsing a belief that all chemicals are evil. Of course, such claims ignore the simple fact that all life, the air, and water are made of chemicals.

They want us to believe that man-made chemicals are more dangerous than “natural” chemicals, but that betrays several things about science:

  1. Many “natural” chemicals are dangerous.
  2. Those “natural” chemicals didn’t evolve for the benefit of humans, so they are not inherently better for humans.
  3. Nature isn’t always better.

And high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is considered one of the evil “chemicals” that are destroying humanity. But is it? Let’s answer that question.

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Golden rice — anti-GMO activists keeping it away from children

golden rice

Golden rice is a genetically modified rice that is a cost-effective way to combat vitamin A deficiency which has killed millions of children in less-developed countries for at least 30 years. Unfortunately, activists who are opposed to transgenic and genetically modified foods raised false concerns that led governments to delay the approval of golden rice.

This is sad since the safety of GMO foods has been firmly established over the years. Because of the pseudoscience pushed by the anti-GMO forces, the world hasn’t been able to provide a nutritional food source for children who are dying across the world. I’m not one to push morality or ethics, but what is the morality of fighting against this life-saving food? There isn’t any based on the science of GMO foods.

Let’s take a look at vitamin A deficiency and golden rice.

Greenpeace anti-GMO beliefs

Vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A is in a class of nutritional compounds called antioxidants. It is needed by the body to help with vision, reproduction, cell growth, and the immune system. It works to protect your cells against free radicals and to support cell growth and function.

Vitamin A is used to prevent and treat xerophthalmia (unable to see in low light) and night blindness. Individuals with vitamin A deficiency are at risk of mortality from measles (although vitamin A supplements do not prevent measles).

People most at risk for vitamin A deficiency are those with a limited variety of food in their diet, with cystic fibrosis, and with malabsorption problems (problems absorbing food).

About 2 million people died annually in the early 1990s from vitamin A deficiency. More recently, it is estimated that over 200,000 die every year.

a group of african boys posing for a photo
Photo by Lagos Food Bank Initiative on Pexels.com

Golden rice

Golden rice was first developed in the 1990s and then modified in 2004 with transgenes from maize and the soil bacteriumErwinia uredovora. This genetically modified rice produces beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, in the normally white endosperm of the rice.

Pathway to creating beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, in golden rice.

Golden is now awaiting final approval in Bangladesh. In July 2021, it was approved for cultivation in the Philippines. Other countries will likely follow.

A recent study has estimated that substituting golden rice for conventional rice could provide 89% to 113% and 57% to 99% of the recommended vitamin A requirement for preschool children in Bangladesh and the Philippines, respectively. Even if there were no other dietary vitamin A sources, golden rice would provide sufficient vitamin A to prevent diseases that are associated with vitamin A deficiency.

Golden rice is also financially viable. Bangladesh tries to produce rice that is fortified with vitamin A and zinc which increases the cost of rice by 5-6%. And, it is only applied to about 1 million metric tonnes of rice out of the total of 25 million metric tonnes produced by Bangladesh. Golden rice adds no extra cost to governments, farmers, or consumers.

Every bit of real scientific data says that Golden Rice is safe for humans and the environment. A group of Nobel laureates wrote:

Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.

colorful bottles with smoothies beside carrots ginger leaves and berries
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Opposition to golden rice

Much of the opposition to golden rice comes from the environmental activist group, Greenpeace.

Greenpeace is opposed to the planting of golden rice because it is genetically engineered, so it is “environmentally irresponsible,” poses risk to human health, and could “compromise food, nutrition, and financial security.” Of course, none of this is based on real scientific data, just on Greenpeace’s continued belief in the appeal to nature, that is, if it isn’t “natural,” it must be dangerous.

I want to examine each of their points one by one:

  1. Environmentally irresponsible. Greenpeace believes in unscientific things like the rice will contaminate organic farms (no scientific evidence), or that there could be some unknown environmental effect, sometimes called the precautionary principle, a logical fallacy. But here’s the thing – if the most brilliant scientific minds can’t see this, then maybe it’s a false flag.
  2. Human health risk. Similar to the application of the precautionary principle above, Greenpeace claims there’s some possibility that the genetically modified rice could have some unknown harm to humans. Again, there is simply no evidence that any genetically modified crop has had any harm to any human or animal. Humans have been genetically modifying crops, including rice, for over 10,000 years – why golden rice should be different is not explained by any scientific research at all.
  3. Compromise security. Greenpeace has invented some trope that genetically modified foods somehow affect food security. For example, using that appeal to nature fallacy, Greenpeace tries to claim that GMO crops, like golden rice, does harm to family farms and good nutrition. They think that there are other methods to prevent vitamin A deficiency, including supplements and more vegetable in diets. Of course, most of these solutions are expensive in areas of the world where rice is a stable of the diet. Greenpeace seems to want to push the white privileged method of keeping children from dying, all out of an anti-science belief set.

Greenpeace and other groups, who oppose transgenic or genetically-modified organisms, raised concerns that lead governments and policymakers to delay the approval of golden rice.

One of their arguments is that it will bring huge profits to the biotechnology companies. However, the golden rice technology is available at no cost for humanitarian uses, like supplementing vitamin A for children in underdeveloped areas. There are also no limitations, except for export, on golden rice use — anyone can replant, sell, or give away seed, which is different from other transgenic crops

There are many things that bother me about the anti-GMO rhetoric, but one of the major ones is a matter of privilege and entitlement. Unfortunately, Greenpeace and others are presenting fake science to support an issue that is irrelevant to rich countries, while ignoring the deaths and harm caused to poor countries by keeping golden rice out of farmers’ hands.

In high-income nations where populations have access to a diversity of foods, vitamin A deficiency is rare. On the other hand, in many low-income nations, people have limited access to foods rich in vitamin A or beta-carotene, a vitamin A precursor — vitamin A deficiency rates remain dangerously high in children.

As an example, children in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia continue to disproportionately experience vitamin A deficiency and its associated risks — infectious and diarrheal diseases, irreversible blindness and other sensory losses, and premature death.

Vitamin A deficiency is endemic in areas of poverty and agricultural market constraints. Meat and produce that are rich in vitamin A are unavailable or so expensive that they are effectively unavailable. Supplementation is expensive and may not be available to individuals outside of urban centers.

On the other hand cereal grains, such as rice, are less expensive and more readily available. Although they do provide sufficient calories for survival, they tend to be missing key nutrients such as vitamin A. This is where golden rice is truly golden.

close up photo of black typewriter
Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com


In an editorial in PNAS, Felicia Wu and colleagues wrote:

The arguments used by organizations to delay adoption of GR often resemble the arguments of anti-vaccination groups, including those protesting vaccines to protect against COVID-19. Some of the opponents of GR and agricultural biotechnology more generally see the introduction of GR as forcing the consumption of GMOs on the population. However, for the case of GR, consumers have the option of easily avoiding consumption because GR is very easily identifiable by its color.

The tragedy of GR is that regulatory delays of approval have immense costs in terms of preventable deaths, with no apparent benefit. The approval of GR is even more urgent with the ongoing pandemic, which has made access to healthcare services more difficult in vulnerable populations worldwide. The World Bank has recommended that micronutrient biofortification of staple crops, including specifically GR, should be the norm and not the exception in crop breeding.

This is part of the reason why I started writing about GMO foods — their arguments sound like the pseudoscience and misinformation presented by climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers. I used to joke that science deniers get together at annual conventions to share tactics and pseudoscience to help one another.

It’s ironic that most of the anti-GMO nonsense comes from the left, generally, those who accept anthropogenic climate change and the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, especially the COVID-19 vaccine.

From my perspective, the anti-GMO forces are as filled with gibberish, nonsense, and logical fallacies as the anti-vaccine folks.

The number of studies that have shown that GMOs are safe for humans, animals and the environment is overwhelming. This evidence led to the AAAS releasing a statement of consensus science on genetically modified foods (pdf):

The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe … The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.

I haven’t discovered all of the reasons why people are scared of GMOs — they fear that the genes can get into humans (no, they can’t), that nature is better (a logical fallacy), that ancient agriculture was healthier (GMOs started at the beginning of agriculture), or that GMOs cause cancer in rats (no, they don’t). There are some liberals who conflate GMOs with Monsanto, which fails to grasp the importance of genetically modified foods to people of earth.

All of this pseudoscience about GMOs and golden rice are causing deaths. Period. These people need to shut up and let us save children from death. Period.

If Greenpeace and these other anti-GMO activists would get behind golden rice to prevent vitamin A deficiency, that would be the moral and ethical choice, but they don’t. They argue from privilege using junk science and ignorance of science to harm their fellow humans. And I am calling them on it.

Golden rice can effectively control VAD. Delaying the uptake of a genetically modified product shown to have clear health benefits has and will cost numerous lives, frequently of the most vulnerable individuals. Policymakers must find ways to overcome this resistance and accelerate the introduction and adoption of Golden Rice.


High fructose corn syrup does not cause cancer — real science speaks

high fructose corn syrup cancer

While trolling through the pseudoscience world, I’ve seen claims that there is a link between high fructose corn syrup and cancer, so I thought I’d dig into the science. And you can assume that science doesn’t support these claims.

I’ve written boatloads of articles about cancer, most of which say “this or that doesn’t cause cancer,” and that “there’s only a handful of good ways to prevent it.” To be honest, if I see any news report that makes a claim that something prevents or causes cancer, I’m immediately going into full skeptic mode.

Honestly, I don’t get the issues with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Part of my brain thinks that, as we’ve seen with monosodium glutamate (MSG), people just get scared of a chemical name, rather than making an evidence-based analysis of what we’re really eating.

For example, “high fructose” sounds like there’s too much evil fructose, and it will certainly cause some health problems. It must! Except, as we’ll find out, “high fructose” is a misnomer and there’s no logical or scientific reason that we should consider it dangerous.

I think the loathsome and much-ridiculed David “Avocado” Wolfe produced some of the pseudoscience surrounding HFCS and cancer – apparently converting corn syrup into high fructose corn syrup magically turns it into a cancer-causing poison.

Now, most of you will just ignore what Wolfe says about anything because he lacks any science knowledge in his writing – but maybe I reach a couple of people who saw that article and want more scientific evidence about it. Let’s look into it.

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Gluten-free diets are a food fad that brings few benefits to most people

gluten-free diets

Let’s take a little break from vaccines and COVID-19 and focus on a food fad that lacks scientific support — gluten-free diets. If you listen to the quacks on the internet, apparently organic, GMO-free, gluten-free diets will fix all that ails you and your kids.

Except it won’t unless you suffer from very rare medical conditions that make you very sensitive to gluten.

Like a lot of food fads, such as avoiding fats or carbohydrates, gluten-free diets seem to have a basis in real science and medicine, but it has exploded far beyond what real science-based medicine would recommend, and that would be to a very tiny patient population.

Let’s take a look at gluten and this diet fad.

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Thanksgiving turkey and sleep — tryptophan isn’t the reason

Thanksgiving dinner

The old Thanksgiving turkey and tryptophan causing sleep myth appears every year on the fourth Thursday in November when the United States celebrates a holiday called Thanksgiving. You’ll hear about it over and over and over.

Basically, after eating mountains of food, including turkey, one of the guests at the table (fully vaccinated, of course) will pontificate about how eating turkey, which they claim is high in tryptophan, makes everyone want to sleep after the meal. 

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Inflammatory foods and dementia – there may be a link

inflammatory foods dementia

I know you want me to write about COVID-19 vaccines, but a new study seems to show a link between inflammatory foods and dementia. And I thought it might be of interest to my readers.

I’m not a big fan of nutrition studies for reasons that I’ll explain – they are generally hard to interpret, but this one might show us that foods with a higher inflammatory potential are tied to an increased risk of dementia.

Let’s take a look at what was the researchers found.

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The science of red meat and cancer – what does it say?

ingredients for delicious lunch with meat and vegetables

Over the past few years, there have been numerous stories about whether red meat increases the risk of cancer and other diseases. Well, the science on this is extremely complicated and nuanced, something doesn’t play well with clickbait headlines. People want to know The Truth™ about meat.

A few years ago we were flooded by memes, articles, and tropes laughing at us carnivores because the World Health Organization stated that eating red meat increases the risk of cancer.

Then recently, we were flooded by new memes, articles, and tropes when an article was published to tell us that red meat was safe, and did not cause cancer. Of course, that was followed up by even newer memes, articles, and tropes that that new article was junk, and red meat causes cancer. 

Even those of you with good scientifically skeptical minds (which includes a lot of vegans, who might have wanted to point fingers at us carnivores) are wondering if anyone knows anything about red meat and its relationship to any disease, let alone cancer. So I sliced some excellent salami and ate it with my GMO crackers – this old avian dinosaur did what he is supposed to do, he read the underlying scientific articles.

So, should you worry whether red meat increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases? I agree that there are a lot of issues about people eating beef, pork, and chicken for our individual health and for the health of the planet. But that’s outside of my bailiwick, and it will garner an incredible amount of yelling and screaming.

But I’m going to be brave (or not) and just try to answer the simple question of whether red meat increases the risk of cancer. And here we go.

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Do not feed your cat vegan food – they are obligate carnivores

vegan cat food

While writing an article about dog food myths as the Skeptical Canine, I ran across something that flabbergasted me – vegan cat food. I was literally going to scream at my computer screen, then I decided I’d redirect my thoughts to a post about it. 

Time for the Skeptical Feline.

The ridiculous thoughts about pet care have caused some pet owners are avoiding vaccines for their pets because they believe it may cause them to become autistic. Let me remind the world that there is no scientific evidence of any link between any vaccine and the autism spectrum disorder. 

I’m troubled by well-meaning, but scientifically illiterate, individuals trying to anthropomorphize their pets by pushing their beliefs about their own health (almost always wrong) onto their pets. This vegan cat food trend is just plain wrong for the health of their cats.

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Grain-free dog food is not good for your pet – Skeptical Canine speaks

Now, for something completely different, the Skeptical Raptor is giving way to the Skeptical Canine (not really) to discuss grain-free dog food fad. It is based on pseudoscience and harms our pet dogs. I wish humans would keep their nutrition nonsense away from their pets, as the new fad of giving cats only vegan food. So, this article is here to give you some science about dog food.

I have no idea where this grain-free dog food fad began, but we can assume it started like all other human food crazes with about 1% science and 99% myth, misinformation, pseudoscience, and outright lies from those who want to profit from it. Wait, that sounds like cancer cure and anti-vaccine scam artists

Anyway, the Skeptical Canine is here to talk about grain-free dog food, and whether it’s healthy for dogs. Well, I hate giving away the plot, but no, it’s not. We’ll try to explain why.

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Bananas do not prevent cancer – another internet myth debunked

I wrote this article many years ago, debunking the claim that bananas prevent cancer, and it remains the most popular article I’ve ever written. It probably gets so much traffic because of the ongoing memes about how bananas will cure every cancer known to man. 

Too many individuals see these memes on Twitter and Facebook, then they accept them as scientific facts. They rarely are. That’s why critical thinking is necessary. 

But if a meme is going to make an extraordinary claim, like bananas prevent cancer, then that claim ought to be backed by extraordinary evidence. But this wild belief about bananas is not even supported by ordinary evidence. It is supported by zero evidence.

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