Saturday, September 13, 2008

High Fructose Corn Syrup Ads and Evaluating Information

The Corn Refiners Association currently has two TV commercials abut the consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).  In this commercial we view a backyard party where two moms get to talking.

You can also view the ads at set that was created to support the ad campaign.

Let me say to the food producers and refiners of American that I am quiet capable of expressing why I chose not to eat certain food products. I tend to use full sentences like “I don’t like the taste.”, “I don’t trust how it is made” or “When I eat that particular food I get a headache.”

The commercials are insulting and really underestimate the growing national concerns about the quality and safety of food products. That is how I feel. However I also need to find the facts to back up my feelings and perceptions.

So what I want to attempt to convey is a simplified way to research and learn about a product I only know from a consumer standpoint.

Questions and Identifying Sources

I start with my questions. My questions might be different from yours; you might know more about HFCS than I do. These are questions that I have from viewing the commercials.

  • Is it a natural product? Is eating HFCS harmful?
  • Why are they doing this now? HFCS has been on the market since the 1970s.
  • How do I eat HFCS products in moderation?

When you start to look for information you want to get as close as you can to the primary source as possible. In this case the primary source happens to be the creator of the commercials.

(Note to Science folks, I know this means something different in your terminology but I’m going for a concept and I’m on the Library/Information Studies side of the fence.)

Now certainly I’m going to review the Sweet Surprise web site. At the FAQ page there is a list of statements made to support their belief that HFCS is a natural product, comparing the refinement to sugar and honey. There is also HFCS Facts.which is more of a trade organization and the actual Corn Refiners Association that gives the actual process in making HFCS:

High fructose corn sweeteners begin with enzymes which isomerize dextrose to produce a 42 percent fructose syrup. By passing 42-HFCS through a column which retains fructose, refiners draw off 90 percent HFCS and blend it with 42-HFCS to make a third syrup, 55-HFCS. Further processing produces crystalline fructose.

Yeah, that sounds like it was just plucked off the tree. I also learn that Americans are consuming at least 42 pounds of HFCS per year according to the Corn Refiners Association Web site.

Secondary Sources

Next I want to find secondary sources that take the information provided and evaluates, support or refute the claims and statements. At this point I’m looking for nutritionists, dietitians, scientists and similar authoritative sources.

Everybody Into The Pool

In this final stage I’m looking for folks that have a stake about the topic. I’m a little more open so I want to find those people that have health issues such as diabetics, food allergies, or those folks that are required or choice to be on a low carbohydrate diet. Also I want to hear from others that have something to say about the topic.

So I am reading an article from Lazslo Pentek, a Beekeeper  who has an opinion about HFCS.  Ed Brayton over at Scienceblogs on Government Subsidized Obesity, Debra at The Ethicurean on this specific ad campaign, The Organic Consumers Association article on Corn, Used and Abused.

I’m checking in with food bloggers like The Slow Cook who has thoughts about the FDA switch of allowing HFCS to be called natural when it initially said it was not.  Wannabegreen did a count of the number of  HFCS items in the cupboard. Karina’s Kitchen  writes about Sugar Blues and alternatives to Sugar. Marion Nestle on-going posts on high fructose corn syrup.

I could keep going but my fingers are cramping up.  

My point in doing this was to demonstrate that you can get the information that you need to make an informed decision about a topic. A positive from this silly campaign is the recognition that consumers have the power to let food producers know what they will and will not accept. Information, good. Misinformation, bad.

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup bad? From what I have read there isn’t enough legitimate research done to confirm or disprove. I do know that we are being involuntarily fed way too much sugar in products that we don’t expect to be loaded with sugar. But there is not one single reason for Americans packing on the pounds. However there is enought responsibility that both consumers and food producers need to step up and accept.

That is a rant for another time.

This post originally appeared on BlogHer.

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