People demonize food additives all the time. Just 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:
Many “natural” chemicals are dangerous.
Those “natural” chemicals didn’t evolve for the benefit of humans, so they are not inherently better for humans.
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.
Chemistry is important. If you’re going to make negative claims about GMO sugar or high fructose corn syrup, we ought to be able to look at these different sugar molecules and confirm a difference between them. So let’s take a look at sugar from three different sources that capture our attention. Sorry, but there will be a quiz afterwards, so please pay attention.
A. GMO sugar after consuming it
B. Natural sugar after consuming it
C. High fructose corn syrup GMO sugar after consuming it
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 of evil fructose, and it will certainly cause some health problem. It must! Except, the evidence says otherwise.
I think an article by the loathsome and much ridiculed David “Avocado” Wolfe perfectly summarizes 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.
One of the most frustrating things I’ve observed in nearly six years of writing (here and in other locations), is that those who want to create a negative myth about any new technology (especially in food or medicine), one of the best ways to do it is mention “chemicals.” And if the chemical sounds unnatural, the assumption is that it is unsafe. The so-called Food Babe has made a lot of money endorsing a belief that all chemicals are evil, ignoring the fact that all life, the air, and water are made of chemicals. And so it is with high fructose corn syrup.
People have demonized monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive that makes people run away in terror if a Chinese restaurant doesn’t have a huge flashing sign in neon that says “NO MSG.” Of course, in just about every randomized study about MSG, researchers find no difference in the effects of MSG and non-MSG foods on a random population.
Another current satanic chemical is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has evolved into one of the the most “chemicals” of the food industry. Even the name sounds a bit chemical, unnatural, dangerous. But is it?
That’s where we need to look at the science, because the answers to the questions are quite complicated and quite simple.
I am generally skeptical of any claim that anything causes cancer. That doesn’t mean I reject every claim that something or another causes cancer – smoking, sunlight, obesity, viruses, genes have all been linked to certain cancers. Now, there’s a claim that sugar causes cancer – is there anything there?
I am convinced that part of the anti-GMO beliefs center on some ridiculous “natural genetic selection is inherently better than man-made genetic selection.” Well, the evidence doesn’t support that nonsense, but that rarely matters to those who rely upon their misinformed opinion rather than scientific evidence.
One of the tropes that have been passed around is about honey and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – honey is good, HFCS is bad. Scientifically, this is ridiculous, but the honey industry, disregarding the potential that science may actually refute that trope, funded a real scientific study about honey and high fructose corn syrup – well, let’s just say that the results confirm that honey is not the “nectar of the gods.”
I know that 90% of my articles are about vaccines. I know that I’ve shown over and over again that vaccines are effective and about as safe as anything in medicine. And I know that vaccines don’t cause autism. Obviously, I never have to write another article about vaccines. Hah.
OK, it’s never going to happen.
So let’s talk about beer. Everyone loves beer. Maybe not everyone, but good beer can be really good.
The arrogantly named food blogger, Food Babe (real name–Vani Hari), who passes along anecdotes like they were real data, and who invents pseudoscience faster than a homeopath, has recently been on a warpath about beer ingredients. She’s gone after the breweries for adding GMO grains (who cares, they are safe), coloring, and that evil chemical, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). She never quite explains what she has against HFCS, but based on her amateurish and unscientific review of food ingredients, it’s obvious that she thinks that HFCS is an “evil chemical” and must not be consumed. If someone named it “extra sweet corn syrup,” it’s quite possible she would have ignored it.
I’m also offended by her referring to herself as the “Food Babe.” When “babe” is used as a self-descriptor by a woman, it negates any other characteristic that woman has. It implies that the important reason to listen to her drivel (and it would still be drivel) is because she’s attractive. “Babe” promulgates a sexist attitude, a perspective that needs to be changed. The “Food Babe” may have something important to say, but arrogantly referring to one’s self as “babe.” That’s offensive on so many levels.
Let’s talk about HFCS and beer. Doesn’t really matter if it’s beer or soda or your favorite chocolate candy, but she went after beer. And like anything written by any pseudoscience pushing blowhard, I’m going to take down her junk science.
Over the past few months, there has been a lot of baseless claims trying to link high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and a variety of diseases, especially Type 2 diabetes. Like many of these medical myths, there is, at its core, some tiny bit of evidence that is generally misinterpreted or misused. But let’s take a close look at Type 2 diabetes, HFCS and the evidence that either supports or refutes the hypothesis that drinking HFCS is any more responsible for the disease than other sugars.
Just for background, the claimed link is between HFCS and Diabetes mellitus Type 2 (or Type 2 diabetes, T2DM), a metabolic disorder that is characterized by high blood glucose in the context of insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency. In general, someone with T2DM produces low (or maybe even adequate) levels of insulin, but various cells and organs become resistant to insulin, so cells don’t remove or store blood glucose. Although the cause of Type 2 diabetes is not completely understood, it results from a complex interaction between diet, obesity, genetics, age and gender. Some of the causes of T2DM are under a person’s own control, like diet and obesity, but many of the factors aren’t.
Because they are often confused, it’s important to note that T2DM has a completely different cause and pathophysiology than Diabetes mellitus Type 1 (T1DM, and once called juvenile diabetes). Type 1 diabetes results from the inability of the beta cells of the pancreas to produce insulin, mostly as a result of an autoimmune disease. Typically, T1DM begins in children, though there are forms of the disease that begin in 30-40’s that had been confused with the type 2 version in the past, but blood tests can determine if it is Type 1 or Type 2. As far as we currently know, T1DM is neither preventable nor curable, and there is only some conflicting evidence about what actually causes T1DM. Diet, including consumption of sugars, won’t cause T1DM. Furthermore, although there are numerous treatments and lifestyle changes that can change the course of T2DM, and there are several medical treatment regimens, Type 1 is a death sentence without regular daily insulin injections. However, over 90-95% of diabetes is the Type 2 form.
Over the past couple of weeks there have been numerous articles in the blogosphere that state, with a few variations, that high fructose corn syrup is addictive as cocaine. Wow, that’s quite a statement. In fact, one article, High-Fructose Corn Syrup “as Addictive as Cocaine”, doesn’t even make any caveats to that statement. They simply conclude that, “similar to cocaine addiction, the researchers say that some people are more vulnerable to food addiction than others, which explains why some are obese and some are not.” Setting aside the fact that food addiction is an eating disorder with a psychological basis, and more often than not includes foods that don’t contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), let’s look at the study that seems to have caused this myth that it is as “addictive as cocaine.”
Before we examine the article that is the basis of these claims, let’s find out a bit more about HFCS. But first, we need a little sugar biochemistry just to give the reader some background. There are two broad types of sugars, aldose and ketose, along with over twenty individual, naturally-found sugars, called monosaccharides. Of all of those sugars, only four play any significant role in human nutrition: glucose, fructose, galactose, and ribose (which has a very minor nutritional role, though a major one as the backbone of DNA and RNA). Got that? Four sugars. Whatever you eat, however you consume it, you can only absorb 4 sugars. Continue reading “High fructose corn syrup is addictive-myth vs science”