The Dirtiest Four-Letter Word: HFCS

by Liz Caskey on March 16, 2011

From Eater National

This past weekend, I finally saw the independent film, King Corn. The premise? Two recent college grads set off from Boston to Iowa to discover where the United States’ food comes from after they discover that 60% of their carbon tissue is made from corn. They decide to plant a single acre of corn and follow it through the process from seed to how it ends up in your food. And, shockingly, all with the help of government subsidies, genetically modified seeds, mono-cropping, and powerful herbicides. Afterwards, it’s “converted” into food by creating a fake sugar (high-fructose corn syrup ), and pumping it into livestock to create the United States’ “cheap” food supply. Before I get into my two cents on this alarming subject, if you haven’t seen this movie yet and care at all about the environment and animal dignity, sustainability, and your health, you owe it to yourself to watch this. NOW.

So off go the two protagonists, Ian Cheney & Curt Ellis, to dive into what’s really behind the fast food nation of hamburgers, fries, and super-sized sodas. It’s corn. Plain and simple. And it’s part of the “trend” of obesity and bulging waistlines in the US—and now (unfortunately) starting in Chile. From a maltreated nearly infertile soil, genetically modified seeds, and then forced to grow using tons of chemicals, this “natural” corn, which is totally inedible in its “raw” state, is grown with the credo that it’s the source of feeding Americans cheaply. But here’s the key concept, since you cannot eat this corn in its “natural” state, it has to be transformed…into high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn-fed meat, and corn-based processed foods that have ironically become the staples of the modern American diet. Did you know that the per capita consumption in the US of this chemical substance (sorry, it’s NOT a “natural” sugar) is 41.5 pounds? 

Shocking? Hell yes.

From Mrlikehello

So what is HFCS anyway? It is NOT a substance found in nature. It is created when the sugar (glucose) in corn starch is changed to another form of sugar (fructose). The resulting substance is high-fructose corn syrup—a combination of glucose and fructose. What makes this substance damaging is that our bodies have not developed a way to metabolize HFCS, which can cause a whole host of problems: damage to the digestive tract, screwing up insulin levels, jacking “bad” cholesterol, among others.

It also is considered a low-satiety food and a highly addictive sugar, so your body’s natural “full” sensation when you eat isn’t triggered by hormones, and you can pack away thousands of calories, which get stored as (drum roll) fat. Anyone who’s been on a munchies binge can probably remember downing record burgers or twinkies.

Why HFCS? High fructose corn syrup has a longer shelf life than sugar, and it is cheaper. So what are the manufacturers who are looking simply at the bottom line going to use? The cheap stuff. Because of this, it is desirable to manufacturers of various types of cookies, candies, sodas, and other processed foods. Since it became widely used in by food manufacturers thirty years ago, it has found its way into many items we eat on a daily basis.

Folks, let’s get this straight. HFCS is a chemical. You’re putting a chemical in your body. It’s that simple. And while some of the HFCS proponents argue it’s “just” sugar as shown in this ridiculous propaganda that is trying to rebrand HFCS as corn sugar, a bunch of bunk. I have news for you, as humans we shouldn’t really be consuming any sugar beyond a small amount of low GI fruit every day. Think about it. Our bodies have not evolved too much from the cave man days in terms of metabolism and caloric necessities, but the modern food industry encourages us to focus on the taste (today processed with a ton of sugar and fat) and ignore the true purpose of food: to nourish the body. We cannot b.s. our ultimately wise bodies. They interpret food as information and process them accordingly. As an “evolved” modern society, we’re shoving a bunch of chemical crap in our systems. No wonder obesity and the surge in all these diseases like diabetes and heart disease are rampant in Western Society. If we stuck to eating natural, whole foods, as our ancestors did, it wouldn’t exist.

How to change this? It’s quite easy. Every time you buy food, you vote with your dollars. You send a message to companies and producers that you support the corn or mega-agro business or the farmers. You also choose whether or not you trash your metabolism with HFCS or feed it with nourishing whole foods, hopefully mostly lean protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It’s really that simple. All of this “modern” food really started in the 1970s when the government decided the US needed cheap food. Not nourishing, not sustainable. Cheap. Think about it, our grandparents didn’t eat like this. Why have we accepted this change for the worst? I, for one, decided a long time ago I wasn’t going to support this (corn) industry, nor intake this poor quality food into my precious body. After all, our body is our one and only temple. It has to be treated as sacred and with love if we choose to continue experiencing this gift called life. As Socrates once said, “let food be your medicine.”

Bottom line, the power is in your hands to cut out HFCS for your health and the sustainability of the planet. On Friday, I am going to share some tips for dejunking HFCS and corn-processed products and meat from your diet, house, and life.


Matt Wilson March 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Good post liz, though terrifying

For sure I will see that movie and am
Now on the look out for those HFCSs
I had no idea what they were!
Thanks for the eye opener

Casey March 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I eliminated HFCS, along with all the hydrongenated oils, around seven or eight years ago, when I had my first child. That’s when I really started reading labels and educating myself on what was going into my body.

I applaud you for a fabulous post about a tricky subject (as some still like to think of HFCS as harmless. And don’t even get me started on the “everything in moderation” line of thinking!) It’s not always easy to take a stand within the food community, but you’ve done a nice job here of digging a little deeper and presenting your argument (and the facts) in an clear manner. I hope that your writing encourages at least a few of your readers to rethink how they eat. Yes, it is expensive and time-consuming to buy whole, natural foods and cook them yourself. However, you’ve made it clear that NOT doing so is even more costly in the long run.


Nancy@acommunaltable March 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm


Just wanted to point out that with regard to the body’s the body’s ability to metabolize HFCS, you are incorrect. The human body has no trouble metabolizing it – just as it has no trouble metabolizing any other sugar. Chemically, HFCS differs little from regular sugar and the term (high fructose) is rather misleading (the amount of fructose in HFCS versus table sugar is insignificant. (This BTW, isn’t just my opinion, but scientific fact).
The problem with American’s health and our obesity problem isn’t HFCS, trans fats, etc, etc. None of those foods are a problem – in moderation – and therein lies the problem!!!

Christine March 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Great post, Liz. I’ve been a proponent of eliminating HFCS from our entire lexicon, let alone our bodies, for some time now. It can never be said often enough and you’ve said it well.

Francisco March 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Hmmm very intresting article, I saw the movie last year…
but if we extrapolate chemics to wine; Is Chilean wine free of chemics at vineyard and cellar level… Is organic really safe at cellar level? What do you think?


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: