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By Brian A. Stenzler, M.Sc, D.C.

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In my book, DREAM Wellness: The 5 Keys to Raising Kids for a Lifetime of Physical and Mental Health, I wrote about the four ingredients that my family and I avoid as much as humanly possible. In no specific order, they are corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils and artificial food coloring (food dyes).

In previous posts, I have mentioned many of these common ingredients, but I hadn’t delved too deeply into explaining what they are, why to avoid them and what you can substitute in place of them. I will dedicate my next several articles to those specific items. While these are not the only ingredients you should consider avoiding, if you want your body to look, feel and function the way you desire, then there is no place for these items in your or your family’s diet, PERIOD.

What is Corn Syrup?

Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are both forms of processed sugar, and they seem to be in almost everything processed and sweet in the United States. They are derived from corn and are just as sweet as table (cane) sugar but much worse for you. The difference between corn syrup and HFCS is that corn syrup is the product of breaking down corn starch into individual molecules and is 100% glucose, whereas HFCS is corn syrup that has had enzymes added that converts some of the glucose into fructose. For purposes of this Wellness Wiki, we will use them interchangeably since the adverse effects are essentially the same. So, if they are so bad, why are they everywhere?

Did you know that the United States government pays farmers approximately $100 billion to grow corn? Since corn is a subsidized crop, it makes the production of corn syrup much cheaper than cane sugar, and therefore, less expensive to sweeten processed foods, which leads to much higher profit margins.

Why Corn Syrup is Bad for Your Health?

“So why is high fructose corn syrup so bad for me? I thought fructose is good. Isn’t that the sugar in fruit?”

Fructose is in fruit, but it is one of three sugars in fruit, the other two being sucrose and glucose. When fructose is consumed in large amounts (especially when not bound with sucrose), it can have very harmful impacts on your health. According to a 2013 article, risk of metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease are increased.[i]

Additionally, corn syrup will always be genetically modified because two of the enzymes that are used to make it more stable are genetically modified. Additionally, most (some argue all) of the corn supply is now genetically modified in some way.

Another issue with HFCS is that it easily converts into fat because fructose is metabolized in the liver, which in turn stores it as glycogen (stored carbs) but with a limited capacity. This can lead to fatty liver and obesity more so than consuming sugar cane. Also, HFCS does not satiate the person’s appetite like cane sugar, thus having people consume much more than what would usually be eaten.


Alternatives to Corn Syrup

Sadly, if you are not a food label reader, it is likely that you have many items in your home that contain it. (Click here for the free download, Guide to Reading and Understanding Food Packaging Labels.) If you have children, there are going to be even more and they can have devastating impacts on your children’s health including, but certainly not limited to childhood obesity, type II diabetes and ADHD.

In fact, when my son comes home from school, camp, a friend’s house, a birthday party or ‘trick or treating’, he often shows us his “loot” which is typically filled with corn syrup and the other non-negotiable “no no’s” listed above. The most common candy he brings home are Gummy Bears, Starbursts and lollipops, all of which typically are made with corn syrup. We have set up a system in our home where he can switch out these non-negotiable items for some reasonable alternatives that we allow him to consume in small amounts on the weekends (see below).

While we prefer him to not consume any food or candy with added sugar ever, we know that’s not realistic. So, we choose our battles and have decided to keep certain food and snacks that are sweet and enjoyable that do not have all the bad stuff.

Our family will always choose regular cane sugar over corn syrup, no matter what. That said, when possible, we will choose food items with more natural types of sugar which may be a bit less destructive than regular refined cane sugar. These options include coconut palm sugar, coconut nectar, raw honey, agave, maple syrup, date paste, date syrup and blackstrap molasses. While many of these have a lower glycemic index than table sugar, you should be reminded that they are still sugar and should be consumed in limited amounts.

Here are the alternatives we choose for the most common culprits:

Navigating through a sugar crazed world, especially while raising children, is no easy feat. I know it is tricky finding a balance between being conscious of what you consume and not depriving yourself or your child of life’s little indulgences. That said, you can essentially have your ‘cake and eat it too’ if you make wise choices by making the bad stuff a little less bad by choosing higher quality ingredients, particularly in the sweetener category. (And no, that does not mean to go with artificial sweeteners that are zero calories… I will cover that next week!)

I would love to hear what has worked with your family. Please comment and share your favorite products, recipes and solutions to avoiding corn syrup.

[i] Kimber L Stanhope, Jean-Marc Schwarz, and Peter J Havel, “Adverse metabolic effects of dietary fructose results from the recent epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies,” Current Opinion in Lipidology 24, no. 3 (June 2013): 198–206, doi: 10.1097/MOL.0b013e3283613bca.

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