My Personal Food Journey: Corn Syrup

Aug 7, 2010 | 2010 Articles, Claire Lang, Food Fun

by Claire Lang

Healthy eating. What does that mean anymore? Fat used to be the culprit, then carbohydrates, then calories, now it’s additives. I’m going to go with additives for now. Why? Because it’s the new thing? No; because, as someone who plants her feet squarely in the center of science, it makes the most sense. It makes sense to want food that doesn’t spoil quickly, if one is trapped in a bomb shelter. In a world where there is a store on every corner, where we have refrigerators that can have three different temperature zones, it doesn’t make sense to have food that can be left out for years and maintain its color, shape and flavor.

Eat Fruit • Be Healthy

From the Federal Art Project, dated 1938

Changing the way one eats is a drastic action. Moving from mainstream consuming to more natural living is a huge undertaking and not to be done quickly or taken lightly. I am a firm believer in baby steps in all aspects of lifestyle changes.

My first baby step toward healthy eating was to eliminate. I had a pantry that was chock-full of things we don’t need. Not only did we not need them, but they could very well be causing harm.

My first baby step of that baby step was to eliminate High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Truthfully, all corn syrup. When I refer to corn syrup or HFCS, I mean both.

You can’t Google High Fructose Corn Syrup without coming across dozens of studies that make claims on either side. Some say that corn syrup is the devil, some that it’s no big deal. I am of the belief that it falls somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards the devil side of the equation.

Again, I am swayed by the science behind it and the amount of processing that it takes to produce corn syrup. There are 11 steps in the process to produce corn syrup. There are an additional three steps in the production of High Fructose Corn Syrup. Our misconception is that, because corn syrup comes from corn, it is somehow ‘natural’. The problem is that corn is not naturally ‘sweet’. To try to understand the process, visit “How corn syrup is made” at Made How.

Sugar also goes through a process to be refined… Except for the use of the cattle bones, I find the process a lot less frightening in terms of the sugar being closer to the natural plant. See “Refined sugar production” at Food Market Exchange. If you are like me, in search of even less processing, the production of raw sugar reads like basic cooking directions. Here’s the first step in sugar production: “Processing raw sugar from sugarcane.”

Sure, we’ve all seen the commercials paid for by the corn industry. “It’s OK in moderation.” The problem is, are we getting corn syrup in moderation? Now, we all know there is HFCS in sodas and candies so avoiding these things or drinking/eating them in moderation will help us avoid the ugly stuff. Think so? If you are a mainstream shopper, go to your cabinets and start pulling things out. Spaghetti sauces, BBQ sauces, teriyaki, many breads (including bagels and frozen waffles), fruit rolls or other fruit snacks, cereals and cereal bars, yogurts, almost all syrups (including chocolate), ketchup, cocoa mixes, ice cream, and even canned fruit all contain HFCS. At least the most common brands or store brands do. How do we find moderation when nearly every item on our shelves includes corn syrup? This includes dry pantry products. I recently discovered that one of my favorite “go-to in a pinch” pasta boxes contains corn syrup byproducts.

NutriGrain bars made of high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, plutonium, dogshit, barbed wire, etc.

Filling (High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Apple Puree Concentrate, Glycerin, Sugar, Water, Sodium Alginate, Modified Cornstarch, Malic Acid, Methylcellulose, Dicalcium Phosphate, Cinnamon, Citric Acid, Caramel Color)

Are you ready to throw in the towel yet? It’s frustrating and, when you start to think about it, you want to go through your cabinets and just toss it all — Jillian Michaels style. If you have the financial means, go for it. But please, please… take pictures and forward them to me. I would love to live vicariously through you. However, if you’re like the rest of us, it’s time to sit down and make a list.

I started by just replacing all of the HFCS-laced items with better alternatives as needed. When I ran out of something, I replaced it with a brand that wasn’t laced with HFCS. It means a little more time in the grocery store (I’ve found that sunglasses and an Ipod help with this task). I became a label reader. You know, the one that’s in the way. That’s me. I’m that woman who reads the label, makes a face and puts the item back on the shelf. Most of us stick to certain menus so, after a while, you’ll know which brands to buy and which to avoid.

Label reading led me to two discoveries. The first was how many items have HFCS in them, the second was how much more it costs to avoid the stuff. How much? That depends on how willing you are to shop around. For instance, I buy my sauces at a different store than I do my regular groceries. Sauces are easy because they keep. I just stock up. However, I’ve found some inexpensive items, such as spaghetti sauce, that don’t have HFCS. I discovered one inexpensive brand with several different flavors of sauce, but one flavor that has no corn syrup in it. I managed to save money and health by spending a little more time.

A comforting reality is that more and more brands are changing their ways. They’re listening to consumers and cutting out the corn syrup. It’s becoming easier for the consumer to find items made with real sugar. The more we purchase items without HFCS, the more companies will ‘hear’ us and the more likely they are to produce similar items. Happily, when this comes about, we will see a drop in cost as well.

Have I seen a drastic change in my family’s weight, health and well-being since the change? Yes and no. The most drastic change I’ve noticed is that my daughter no longer wakes up during the night. Without fail, she would wake up several times a night. I had decided that was just who she is. Yet, a month after our switch, we realized she was no longer waking up. Why would this be surprising? She is ten years old and, as old as nine, she was consistently waking up more than once an evening. Now, even on our Saturday fun nights when she has a soda, she sleeps through the night. I have found that I have much less joint pain. I acknowledge my family has made several dietary changes and the combination of them could be contributing to the lack of joint inflammation. Have I lost weight? Yes, but this too can be attributed to several factors. I will heed my new motto: “Correlation does not imply causation but, if I can use a really good excuse to continue a healthy habit, I’ll use it.”

Does it hurt to cut corn syrup out of the diet? Not even a little, so why not? Can corn syrup be bad for you? Yes. Thus far, we know that, in large amounts, it can. And, with as much stuff as it is in, the American public is getting large amounts without realizing it. When the pasta sauce, pasta noodles, bread, salad dressing and beverage that make up your meal all have corn syrup in them; that is a lot.

Do I still have HFCS in my home? Sure. That can of soda is nothing but High Fructose Corn Syrup. My chocolate bar is made with the stuff. Do the items that make up the ingredients for my family’s daily meals contain HFCS? No, not one. This is what I consider moderation: The absence of a questionable additive in our daily foods and the educated decision to have it when one chooses to.

Claire Lang is an ongoing contributor to our
Food Fun section as well as others, in true form to the Renascence woman she is.


  1. Hi Claire,
    My google alert for HFCS picked up your post. Interesting and sane reading. Yes, it’s hard to do a HFCS-clean out. You can find plenty of lists of HFCS containing foods, but where do you go to buy HFCS-free items. Try for an extensive list of HFCS-free foods and beverages. Also, if you live near a large city, try European import stores. Europe generally does not use HFCS because they are wary of GMO foods. Please try and ditch all national brands of soda. When you drink an American Coke, you are getting far more fructose than you think. HFCS-55, used to sweeten soda, is 55%fructose:45% glucose. This appears to be just a nickel’s difference than the 50:50 in sucrose, until you do the math. 55%:45% = 55/45 = 1.22. This means in every American Coke there is, compared to glucose, 22% more fructose. What does this mean in everyday terms? 5 HFCS Cokes = 4.25 Sugar(sucrose) Coke + 0.75 Fructose “Coke”. Almost a whole can of fructose sweetened beverage for every five Cokes you drink. I’m not at all surprised at our current health woes.
    Take care,
    Cynthia Papierniak, M.S.

    • Cynthia, thank you for the links and information. We have cut out most of the soda intake in our home and, when at home, we’re slowly making the switch to Mexican Coke or Pepsi Throwback. Both made with cane sugar. Not that I’m excited about drinking them but, when we have the soda craving, it’s a better option. A more expensive option, but paying the higher price also means that we don’t drink it so readily. That said, we haven’t bucked the HFCS completely.

      Luckily, I’ve found a lot of HFCS-free products in our mainstream markets, it just takes time and patience. That means a lot, considering that I (and many of the readers of this magazine) live in a very small town that offers few alternative shopping options.

      For anyone reading, I would say that I have moved from having upwards of 12 sodas a week to averaging three (maybe 4 on especially rambunctious Saturday nights). I will admit that I’m a bit embarrassed to admit how much soda used to make up my weekly intake.

      .-= A previous submission from Claire: The Vampire Diaries: TV Review =-.

  2. Chef Hymie Grande’ ( ) is the first and only bottled BBQ sauce to carry the seal of the American Diabetes Association on the label. It has no high fructose corn syrup, no processed sugar, it is all natural and vegan friendly. It is produced by Jamie Failtelson, a.k.a. Chef Hymie Grande’ of Carlstadt, NJ. 5% of proceeds go to the American Diabetes Association.


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