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The high-fructose corn syrup bloggers: A symptom of a larger problem?

Almost exactly one year after the Nestle Family bloggers, we now have the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) bloggers, otherwise known as the "Corn Sugar" bloggers (note: HFCS is known as glucose/fructose in Canada). Like Nestle a year ago, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) invited a bunch of bloggers to listen to their one-sided version of the story in the hopes that they would help spread the gospel on their blogs.

Unfortunately, I didn't hear about the HFCS blog tour webinar event (compensated with Walmart gift certificates...a great place to buy HFCS-laden products) until after it happened. If I had heard about it before the event, I would probably have written an open letter to the bloggers, like I did last year, encouraging them to be cautious about the types of associations they make, to ask tough questions, and to not take everything they hear at face value. Because it should be obvious (although evidently it isn't to everyone), that when an organization with a vested interest offers you gifts in return for listening to their "experts", you are probably only getting one side of a complicated story. Just like a few minutes on Google should have told anyone doing research on Nestle that it is a controversial company, a few minutes on Google would also have revealed that high fructose corn syrup is a controversial issue.

Since I didn't hear about the "Corn Sugar" event until it had already happened, I didn't feel there was any rush to post about it. I knew that some very strong and smart voices were already writing about it (see Jessica Gottlieb, Liz from Mom101, Mir at WorkItMom, Kristin at Our Ordinary Life, Heather at Rookie Moms, Christine at Boston Mamas, and Karen from Notes from the Cookie Jar). Since I was busy with other commitments much of the week, I decided to wait a few days, read a bit, research a bit and gather my thoughts before joining the borg posting.

Is high-fructose corn syrup unhealthy?

At the centre of this discussion is the question of whether high-fructose corn syrup is bad for you. Or, more accurately, whether it is better or worse for you than other types of sugar. The Corn Refinfers were trying to convince mom bloggers that high fructose corn syrup is no worse than regular sugar and they were also trying to position it as the "natural" sugar option (versus plain old regular sugar). While high-fructose corn syrup may be made from a natural ingredient (corn), there is nothing natural about the highly processed end product that the Corn Refiners now want to call "corn sugar". Just like chicken nuggets are nothing like chicken, high-fructose corn syrup is nothing like corn.

There seems to be some debate about whether HFCS is more likely to contribute to obesity than other sugars. The corn refiners were trying to convince people that it doesn't whereas other people believe that it may. To be fair, the research that claims it causes obesity is disputed by renowned food researchers. That said, I'm not ready to jump on the HFCS is wonderful bandwagon.

According to Michael Pollan, in his book Food Rules, we should avoid products that contain HFCS:
Not because high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is any worse for you than sugar, but because it is, like many of the other unfamiliar ingredients in packaged foods, a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed. Also, high-fructose corn syrup is being added to hundreds of foods that have not traditionally been sweetened - breads, condiments, and many snack foods - so if you avoid products that contain it, you will cut down on your sugar intake.

This makes a lot of sense. As many of my readers know, we just got back from spending the summer in Germany, where I lost 20 pounds. I was moderately more active, but now that I reflect on it I think the primary factor in my weight loss is the fact that in Germany not every food under the sun has sugar of some sort, primarily HFCS, added to it. Here in Canada I have to search for no-sugar-added bread, whereas in Germany no-sugar-added is more likely to be the default. I ate lots of sweets while in Germany, but they were not sickeningly sweet like they are here and I also didn't have to worry about my non-sweets (like bread) being sweetened. Quite simply, in North America, unless you are eating a whole foods only diet, you are probably ingesting more sugars that you should be and those are probably primarily HFCS.

Beyond the nutritional issues, there are also many environmental and financial concerns with the way that corn is produced and subsidized in the United States, a situation that is exacerbated and facilitated through the overuse of HFCS.

So whether HFCS contributes to obesity more than other sugars is really only one of many problems with high fructose corn syrup. I don't believe that you are poisoning your child if you feed them food with HFCS every once in a while, but I do think that HFCS is generally a problem and is something that bloggers should be wary about promoting.

Selling our social capital

I have to admit that I am continually frustrated when I see bloggers accepting cash or gifts in return for promoting unhealthy or unethical products, especially when they use the words right out of the promotional materials and pretend that it is their authentic voice on the issue. It frustrates me that they simply pass along what they have been given, without truly considering what they think of it themselves or without looking into or reporting on the other side of the story. I will admit that there are issues I am uneducated about. But I would not put up a one-sided blog post about those issues without first doing research on the other side of the story.

I also continue to be frustrated by the fact that unhealthy and unethical products are buying their way into blogging conferences as sponsors. Personally, I think that blog conferences should be sponsored by companies that can contribute something to bloggers and blogging, not by companies that want to use bloggers to shill their crap. I've criticized BlogHer before for accepting Nestle and other undesirable companies as sponsors and I was disappointed to learn that one of the sponsors of the Type-A-Mom Conference was the Corn Refiners Association (i.e. the people who want to tell you that "Corn Sugar" is great).

I asked Kelby Carr (@typeamom), the founder and organizer of the Type-A-Mom Conference about why she would accept a sponsor like the Corn Refiners. Here is what she had to say:
I am a foodie myself, and I certainly understand there are concerns. There were a couple things that were deciding factors in allowing them to sponsor. The main factor was that they expressed an interest in coming to Type-A Mom to hear moms' concerns, to listen, and not to pitch attendees. It seemed like an opportunity for parents to have those concerns heard face to face by the association. The second factor was that my conference, and many others, have sponsors who use sugars. It was a matter of fairness. I would love to have all organic/whole foods companies as food sponsors, but it takes tens of thousands of dollars above and beyond registration fees to put on the conference. The fact of the matter is that we pitched every company that falls into that category that we could think of, and in most cases got no response.

Bottom line, though, this wasn't about money because their sponsorship was the lowest level available. I had a lengthy phone conversation with the marketer with the association, and in fact encouraged her to just attend and not sponsor. She felt that would be a bit disingenuous and also said they wanted to show financial support for the mom blogging community. What I agreed to, finally, was the lowest level of sponsorship. They placed a water bottle into gift bags (easy enough to discard), and they got a logo on the site.

I think Kelby is a smart woman, as are the founders of BlogHer. I don't think they are likely to be easily swayed by the companies that they accept as sponsors. However, I do still question their judgment in accepting those types of sponsors because I don't think they realize (or perhaps they do) how easily their attendees are sometimes swayed. As I reflect on the issue with blog conference sponsors (and blog tours and blogger trips), I think the biggest problem I have is that there are obviously too many people attending these events who are willing to take a couple of freebies and a bit of information and accept that it is the truth. Are a lot of bloggers missing critical thinking skills or morals or do they discard them when money, free stuff, free trips and lower blog conference prices are offered to them? I realize that that sounds very pejorative and it isn't intended that way, but I am truly baffled by the willingness of bloggers to promote so many things with so few questions. I wonder if it would be easier to affect change in that community if I could get inside their brains, but somehow it seems that I can't.

It is frustrating.

I'm not sure what else to say about it right now.
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Reader Comments (102)

Great, informative post. There's pretty much nothing that would convince me hfcs is as safe or okay 'in moderation' as regular old sugar. The more natural, the better is my motto, and so I totally hear your concerns. I wouldn't be surprised if I also blog about this topic within the week and reference your post. Thanks!

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Thank you Annie. I was talking to my writing partner today and she was asking me some very basic questions about why HFCS is so bad. Having done a lot of reading, watching, and listening on the topic, I forget that most people don't know/believe what I know/believe on the topic.

I was going to turn to my old friend, Google, tonight and find out "what would Michael Pollan" say so I could answer in a simple way rather than make her read The Omnivore's Dilemma at the point of a corn cob. But then. I stumbled upon your well-written post.

I appreciate the excerpt that you pulled. And your thoughts on the matter. Welcome to the borg.

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRookieMom Heather

If I knew that the Corn Refiner's Association was sponsoring a conference, I wouldn't go. I guess that I'm as passionate about that as you are about Nestle, lol!

The whole thing bothers me too. What, wave some free products, coupons, promises of traffic, etc and people forget? When I first began blogging about Food Revolution, Mom Central sent me a thing asking if I wanted to be involved with a campaign for Lay's chips. I remember being kind of swayed at first, because it seemed so fantastic. Trips to Vancouver, admission to cool places, oh my! But as I talked to my husband and son they pointed out that in the end, we'd be paying to do it because the $100 gift card for gas wouldn't cover the 4 ferry trips, we don't eat chips anyway, and the places we'd go are all far too young for Jake. And then, my dear 14 year old said something I'll never forget.

"Mom, you have worked so hard to be the healthy eating blogger. Why would you throw it away just for some stupid chips that you don't even EAT? Wait a bit. Better stuff will come along. You just wait. "

And dammit, he was right.

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScatteredmom

I'm realizing more & more as I get older (now that I'm a wise old 25 year old haha) that a lot of people don't really care about issues. As a political science major, I got used to seeing the world basically as a battleground of interest groups, companies, organizations & individuals competing for money and influence. But a surprising number of my reasonably intelligent college-educated friends don't have opinions on many topics that seem important to me. Many of them don't even have a political party, not because they are such individualists, but because they don't have an opinion on things like healthcare reform and taxation and federalism. And some of them are moms and/or bloggers.

I can't really understand what's going on in their heads either. I sort of want to shake then out of their apathy and shout "Care!" because it just seems like life is too important to just float through working 8 hrs a day and watching reality TV and accepting what everyone else is telling you to eat and buy and think and like and watch and wear without question.

I think my friends think I "sweat the small stuff"

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaman A Droit

I think that it's fine for bloggers to support controversial products and companies, as long as they are willing to withstand the controversy. What I don't think is fine is supporting something without researching it. And I also don't think that it's fine for companies to use bloggers as frontline spokespeople, taking the heat for them.

I think the last point really sticks out for me. If I'm Nestle, or I'm the CRA, it seems almost unethical to not let people know that they might take some heat for representing me. Especially when they're being paid almost nothing to do so. Being all sympathetic after the fact doesn't mitigate your responsibility to fully inform people of what they're taking on, and to consider how any negative reaction may be handled.

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

PS there's nothing wrong with either working 8 hr days or watching reality tv or not picking one if the 2 major political parties if you've done those things after some soul-searching and reflection and not just 'cause you are going through life mostly mindlessly following the herd.

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaman A Droit

Just wanted to say I appreciate your breakdown of the health and environmental concerns about HFCS. Very good and honest reporting, Annie. Thanks for that!

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFearless Formula Feeder

I have just returned from 2 months in the states (I live in Australia). While I was there I was shocked at how sweet the foods are. HFCS or sugar of some sort seemed to be in everything. My daughter had a plain croissant, screwed her nose up and told me it was "too sweet". The layer upon layer of having sweet foods for breakfast (toast, cereal and juice), lunch (sandwich and yogurt) and dinner (ketchup, sauces, bread) has to add up to not so good health.
I also attended the Typeamom conference while I was there, which I enjoyed immensely. I do remember the Corn refiners drink bottle and info (they went in the trash) - but other than that I was not aware of their presence. More noticeable was the large Little Debbie display (major sponsor). I didn't take any of the Little Debbie freebies but I am guessing that they provided a more subtle, but greater exposure for HFCS.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Here is my take - I think as a community bloggers need to say no to lobbyist using us like that . There will always be people who either out of need or greed decide that the payout is greater than the damage it does to the community ad a whole and I do think it's damaging. It sys to people who don't know the difference from one blog to another that bloggers can be bought For a campaign ,so the louder those of use who can't be raise our hands and say not me the better.

And I just want to add I think the difference between something like this and working with a brand or as a brand ambassador is that I hope people only choose to sell ads, work for brands that they use and then share true knowledge about the end - preferably personal experiences they can write about. Regurgitating "facts" from a webinar on any subject mo matte what it is just seems like someone trying to make a fast buck and a lobby taking advantage of that. Urgh I could be way off but that is what bubbles to the surface when I sit to think about this.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllie

Sorry typing one handed on iPod while I nurse my baby - I hope some of that comment made sense.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllie

I read Mom 101s posts on the issue, and the "borg" response, with interest. The comments were passionate and interesting (re Mom101 anyway). Personally, I do my best to avoid fructose/glucose (corn sugar, HFCS, etc), but I'm not perfect. Like you said, it's so hard to avoid in North American grocery stores.

I was very interested in the last thing you said, "Are a lot of bloggers missing critical thinking skills or morals or do they discard them when money, free stuff, free trips and lower blog conference prices are offered to them? I realize that that sounds very pejorative and it isn’t intended that way, but I am truly baffled by the willingness of bloggers to promote so many things with so few questions." Personally, I think that some of these women's (or men's) reasons for blogging are very different from yours or others who see themselves as activists. They are, as you indicate, in it precisely for things like gift certificates, free samples, trips, etc. Without trying to pass judgment on blogging for that purpose, I think it can be very hard for someone who takes blogging, and their personal integrity, very seriously to understand how someone could do that. But if that person never became a blogger in order to "have a voice", then I can completely understand why they are motivated purely by what they can acquire over what they can accomplish. (And harkening way back to your post on homeschooling vs public education, I will say that one place public education tends to regularly fail our kids is in the area of developing critical thinking skills.)

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMandy

This CRA stuff is just another reason why blogging and reading blogs is getting tiresome. Is it still a creative process when a company is paying you to advertise or give-away their products? It seems that this has increased by several fold in the last couple of years, and I'd rather read a post with some thoughtful content than win something or be educated by someone with a corporate puppet-master.

Btw, thank you for mentioning that HFCS is glucose/fructose on ingredient lists in Canada! I am out of the loop on things like that.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlaura

This isn't from the blogging perspective, but the chemist side. In Canada what do you call table sugar if you call HFCS glucose/fructose because table sugar (sucrose) is a glucose/fructose disaccharide?

The proportions are slightly different: HFCS is 55% fructose and 45% glucose and sucrose is 45% fructose and 55% glucose. The slight difference gives HFCS a sweeter taste, better mouth-feel (better texture for processed foods), and a longer shelf life for processed foods. HFCS is also metabolized differently than sucrose because of the higher fructose content: it skips the initial glycolysis pathway and goes straight to the liver where it is turned into glycogen (unless you have low blood sugar, then only part of it is converted into glycogen). Glycogen is the human body's way to store sugars, when our glycogen reserves are "full," which they usually are unless you engage in a lot of aerobic physical activity, the body starts converting the glycogen to fat.

Just thought some of you might like the technical information here too.

I agree that people should hesitate before attending these events. I'm a biochemist and after visiting the "corn" site, I had to look a few things up to make sense of what they saying (including going back to my old biochemistry texts from university). It makes me wonder, if I had to look that stuff up how are the other mothers/fathers/families faring? Not saying I'm a genius, but this is my area/field, and I was a bit bamboozled by them. It's not always as simple to say, "while I will evaluate what they say critically." Do you have the resources and knowledge to do that? Do you know where to find those resources?

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan

Is it because America is such a lobbyist country, constantly working - through whatever means necessary - to get people on their side, to up their market share, to become immune to rules and regulations, to be the author of those rules and regulations? I'd say it's a huge part of how corporate America works, and the CRA found a willing, easy participant in the mommybloggers, who have now become lobbyists themselves. Too bad.

I think that part of the issue is that most people don't know the real story behind the insidious corn industry. I strongly recommend a read of Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Honestly, it should be required reading for all humans.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkarengreeners

With many days this week spent thinking about this, and hearing people out on both sides, including some of the bloggers who participated, I've come to this assessment:

I do eat foods with HFCS in moderation. I'm not dogmatic about food and I don't want to scold people for what they put in their bodies if it doesn't hurt me. (Of course there are some arguments that continued purchase of refined corn products hurts us all, but that's a tangent!)

That said, I would still eat those foods - say, ketchup or Rice Krispies if it *wasn't* made with HFCS. Would ketchup made with an alternative sweetener like cane sugar make me less fat? Maybe not. But it might have other positive impacts. So then why advocate for an ingredient that might be among the least preferable sugar alternatives?

The bloggers who have defended their choice to participate have mainly used the logic that they believe in eating anything in moderation. I agree with that statement. But I think you can still eat in moderation while not being a spokesperson/ advocate / information disseminator for the refined corn products lobby either.

Or at least without totally understanding its implications.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMom101

I am not a chemist, a doctor, a farmer, or an endocrinologist. I am a mother, who is trying to make the best decisions for her children. When I have to decide any issue, I try to get the opinions of people who do not have a vested financial interest in the outcome of my decision - because those people are most likely to be objective and unbiased on the issue for me (because I couldn't possibly attain all the education necessary to make an objective, informed, and unbiased decision on my own).

With that in mind, I invested the 90 minutes to watch this video:


From YouTube's description - Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin. Series: UCSF Mini Medical School for the Public [7/2009] [Health and Medicine] [Show ID: 16717]

...and it convinced me that HFCS is something that I want my family to avoid. I'm not a fascist about it - we still have the occasional soda, but we have it once a week or once a month instead of once a day or more.

I couldn't possibly understand how the liver metabolizes HFCS and sugar differently - even after watching the video I'm fuzzy on the details, but the main point is accessible - that sugar metabolizes into fat at one low rate, and HFCS metabolizes into fat at a much higher rate. Also, that fructose needs fiber to be digested properly - which has changed the way I pair foods for my kids (if they have juice, they'll have it with oatmeal, for example).

I encourage anyone who has any interest in this discussion to watch the video. You really can't argue with the science... When someone says, "It's just like sugar!!" it doesn't hold as much water for me as a scientist saying, "Here are the enzymes and proteins and molecules that it breaks down into, and as you can see, they're completely different!" I mean, that's kind of a no-brainer!

For what it's worth, I have visited some of the pro-HFCS websites, and this level of metabolic science just isn't there.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Thanks for sharing your (always insightful) thoughts Annie. As you know, I've been very troubled about the big picture issues, as well as the acceptance of "expert knowledge" as fact.

I'm sort of thinking we ought to pitch a critical thinking session at BlogHer. Then again, maybe we'd be preaching to the choir (unless we jazz up the title).

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBoston Mamas

There are so many issues at play, here, and I think you've touched on many of them. When I first started thinking/writing about this, for me it was heavily centered on my own dislike/distrust of HFCS, and what it means for bloggers to choose to represent a harmful product for little remuneration. But after the Mom Central response I'm left just positively flabbergasted by how healthy debate can be misconstrued as an evil attack, particularly be someone who is supposed to be a leader in this space.

The take-away, of course, being that yes, everyone has to think for themselves---in part because even the people supposedly "helping" you may be the most dangerous element in the equation.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMir

I think Mandy hit the nail on the head. So many people have become bloggers purely as a way to score freebies that questioning their integrity as writers seems laughable to me. I can't tell you how many "Mommy Blogs" I have seen that are simply lists of unhealthy product reviews, coupon codes, and giveaways for junk/fast food companies. Those companies saw an audience and jumped on the chance to spread their misinformation via gullible and sometimes needy moms. Who are we really meant to blame then? Maybe some of these moms are subsidizing their income and feeding their kids with these offers, but would I do it? Hells to the no. I'd rather sell my shoes and take a second job than feed my kids free garbage. However, should I blame these ladies for doing it, not really.

What we really need are more educated, intelligent bloggers with actual writing skills to bring these issues to light. Thanks for being one of them.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna

Annie, excellent post. You always do such a great job at laying it all out for people. I think the bigger picture is bothersome but like another commenter said, not everyone blogs for the same reason. They might be okay with HFCS and even if they don't believe the "expert" they will still eat the stuff because it is too hard to find alternatives and it takes time in the states because just about everything has HFCS!

I also believe with the economy the way it is many people are going to take coupons, free items and buy cheaper and yes maybe more unhealthy because that is what they feel they need to do to survive. Working with people in poverty I see this all of the time and those on the WIC programs are limited in what they can buy or choose from. Just some food for thought.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSommer

What gets me is that people today still seem to think a marketer has their best interest in mind. People- mom bloggers- some still seem to think that packaging and making a yummy product an then being nice = equals caring! If you like processed foods- great! I do and sadly my family does - but I know they are full of garbage and not good for me. Why 'do' people seem to need to put trust in these companies and products instead of just being aware that selling a product will always trump health and 'caring'

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCrunchy

It is a confusing picture, even going back to the original peer-reviewed research papers there's a lot of contradiction there. But people do need to get involved in controversial topics, from "within" the topic too but it needs to be done with some sort of basic education/understanding/critical thinking skills. Metabolic studies in lab animals have shown altered responses HFCS vs sucrose, fructose is shown to be 'dangerous' but arguably in artificial circumstances, short term studies in man have been equivocal ...... the general consensus is further studies are required. Where does that leave the consumer?
Whether we know more or not we still should be cutting down on sugar in our diet, which in N America means cutting out processed foods and sugary beverages .... which means decreasing our HFCS intake anyway.

PS: other nutritional buzz words from my (european) past; monosodium glutamate, artificial colouring, GMO, trans fats - apart from one, i was amazed to find all of these abundant in my N American grocery store when I arrived here 9 years ago, and they're mostly still there. To its shame, N America is waaaaaaaay behind Europe in terms of nutritional awareness

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpomomama aka ebbandflo

Hi, I followed a link over from Mom-101. I have commented at length on her posts, so I won't recapitulate that here.

The thing that makes me sad about the health debate around HFCS is that a lot of people seem to think using cane sugar (aka "sucrose") is somehow healthier. A lot of evidence indicates that it is not. @Amy, I think that if you go back and watch that YouTube video again, you'll see that it is primarily about the health impacts of fructose, which is found in both HFCS and sucrose. I'm afraid we'll make a big stink about HFCS, get the food manufacturers to switch to sucrose (while they proudly trumpet that their products are "HFCS free!") and be just as fat and unhealthy at the end. What we should really try to do is reduce the use of all refined sugar- i.e., stop oversweetening our food. (Incidentally, I think that sugar content went up during the low fat craze- take out the fat and you need something else to make it taste so yummy.)

The only thing I'd add to your summary on the health impact of HFCS is that there have actually been studies looking for a difference in metabolism of HFCS and sucrose, and not finding it. The Princeton study you linked to got so much buzz in part because it was the first study showing any difference, and that would be a big deal- both from the nutrition side and from the basic biochemistry side because then we'd want to know WHY there was a difference, since the two compounds are so similar chemically.

Anyway, I wrote up a summary of some of those studies quite awhile ago, and will link to it here for anyone who is interested:

And since this subject has gotten so heated, I'll do a little disclosure statement: I have a PhD in biochemistry but have never worked in nutrition or food science. I have nothing to do with the CRA. I work in drug discovery, but not doing bench science anymore. I follow the HFCS issue out of interest for my health and the health of my family- not for any professional reason. I keep posting on these threads because I wish we'd talk about added sugar in general instead of just about HFCS. It would make my grocery shopping easier!

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCloud

"In Canada what do you call table sugar if you call HFCS glucose/fructose because table sugar (sucrose) is a glucose/fructose disaccharide?"

Traditional sugar from sugar cane will be labelled as just "sugar" although is may be labelled as sucrose as well depending on the application.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhypatia

Thank you, Annie, as you've said everything I want to say in succinct post; now I'll simply link to you on Simple Mom instead of write about it myself.

(I also lived outside the U.S. for three years, and got in great shape simply by eating local food and walking everywhere. Strange.)

Keep up the good work!

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTsh @ Simple Mom

As someone who proclaims to Eat Clean, and who follows Michael Pollan's books closely, I would be a poor choice for any marketer of HFC to approach, just as you would be. They know what they're doing when they invite certain bloggers.

I've just come back from a trip to Europe and I can't believe how we treat our food here. It's something I'm passionately pursuing and fighting for. I will not stand to eat like an American.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. Flinger

This post is about so many things!

To the point about corn syrup itself, I appreciate your excerpt from Pollan and that you are clarifying that we don't specifically have evidence that it's worse than sugar. In my discussion with Heather, to which she referred above, I was calling out that what we are trying to do is reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes for our children. I want to participate in that effort. In my individual family we might not carry those risks, both genetically and environmentally, so HFCS is fine in moderation. But in the case of all of us engaged in this dialog, if we are privileged enough, we can be activists on behalf of those who cannot do it for themselves. I am willing to do that sort of thing, but want to be armed with specific reasons for my protest. So I am still struggling with an elevator pitch against HFCS!

As for bloggers being set up as spokespeople, I totally agree with Amber that it's cruel for a company to bring someone in and not prepare them for controversy if there is some. I truly appreciate my relationship with Huggies during which we have talked about how to address concerns about disposable diapers and asking our readers to have respect for families (especially those in need) who use them.

On the other hand, Heather and I have been approached by a major corporation who wanted to pay us more money than we've ever made via blogging to put a message from their "spokesmom" on our blog. They said nothing about their motives. I tossed and turned over this and finally walked away because it felt like a damage control move on the part of the company. We didn't want to be associated with their product, having spotted numerous consumer complaints online, on amazon, and on blogs. The issue did not go away and I heard they had to execute a painful recall.

I'm sure we won't always make the right decision, but I'm learning from the mistakes of others to always do my homework! I appreciate your work on all of this, Annie.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRookieMom Whitney

@Amber – After this happened, I was of course sympathetic to the bloggers. Did I feel like I let them down, after I saw some of the things that were being said to them? Absolutely. If I knew that they would be attacked as they were by some, then I would have pressed the point till I was blue in the face, but this is not to say that the point wasn’t made. However, I do want to point out that I think the bloggers could have handled controversy fine, what they were so upset about was the personal attacks. Also, it is important to note that the pantry hunt and pre-sent questions were designed to have the bloggers thinking about added sugars, and asking questions – which they did. I feel as if they are being misrepresented as they didn’t know what they were talking about, but a few reposted to specifically state what they learned and they stood their ground. Bloggers could have taken down their posts and they still would have been compensated, so if the gift card(s) were their main driver as suggested, then why are the posts still up? If some would have asked the bloggers questions that they had vs. attacking them on other blogs then they would have found out quickly what they knew and didn’t. Further, in the letter we announced we were the CRA, and we stated that there has been a lot of scrutiny around this topic. We respect these bloggers and believe they were well-equipped to understand the situation. And given the easy availability of massive web discussion on this subject, I don't see the problem you raise and wonder how you would have done this differently.

@phdinparenting “and they were also trying to position it as the “natural” sugar option (versus plain old regular sugar).” <- this is not true. I am not trying to be snarky here – I promise. But, what gets me is that the wonderful bloggers that we worked with have been attacked because they are being accused (falsely for the most part I believe) of not researching before they posted when talking about a controversial issue, but then I see post after post come out about what we did in our campaign, what we are trying to do, and information on HFCS, and no one has researched if this is the truth, and most are so wrong, even though I provided the webinar (www.cornsugar.com/momcentral) on multiple occasions, and have talked about our efforts. How is this different?

Therese Pompa, Corn Refiners Association

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTherese (CRA)

I think that when it comes down to it, the real nitty gritty, people like to get free stuff. Hard working mum's aren't necessarily thinking about all the information that you have provided, and are thinking about the gift card and what they could buy for their families.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMama in the City

We noticed and commented on one of the "corn sugar" posts the other day. We didn't want to be rude to the blogger, who we like, but we had to say something.

One thing I noticed was that this is a Mom Central blog tour, and it's interesting to note that this isn't the first time they've done something controversial. Last year they ran some Mirena IUD house parties that prompted a warning letter to Bayer from the FDA because the script was full of violations. Here's my post on the subject:


October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJezebel


Not hanging out with you two more is still one of my big BlogHer regrets...sigh.

Thanks for the link to your Mirena post. It doesn't surprise me. I wrote about one of their campaigns once and I have to give Therese from the Corn Refiners kudos for commenting under her own name here, because someone who worked on the Mirena campaign did comment on my blog post (IP addresses tell more than most people know), but she didn't disclose who she was.

Here is my Mirena post: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/12/18/mirena-follows-in-motrins-footsteps/

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Therese (CRA):

If my comments were inaccurate, then so is at least one (if not more) of the posts that came out of your campaign. Here is a direct quote from the http://momstart.com/2010/09/what-exactly-is-the-big-deal-with-high-fructose-corn-syrup/" rel="nofollow">post on Momstart:

Can you please explain what benefits, if any, there are in using a "natural" sweetener, over regular sugar?

As mentioned earlier in my overview, all of the nutritive (caloric) sweeteners we used are comprised of approximately equal amounts of fructose and glucose. Though a great deal is made about the "natural" or "not natural" origins of food ingredients, fructose is fructose and glucose is glucose as far as your body is concerned – it can’t tell fructose from one source or another. And as far as the US Food and Drug Administration is concerned, HFCS and sucrose are both natural sweeteners. So, I don’t think there’s an appreciable difference between natural and regular sweeteners.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

RookieMom Whitney:

With regards to the "HFCS is bad" elevator pitch, I think the key points for me are that:
- HFCS is highly processed (and is added to highly processed foods)
- HFCS is unnecessarily present in too many foods
- There are significant environmental and financial issues regarding the production of HFCS (and other corn products)

While I do think that HFCS is worse than regular sugar for those reasons, I wouldn't accept a gift certificate to listen to and report on a webinar from the sugar refiners either.

I was interested to see you raise your association with Huggies. I have watched the campaign with interest and disgust. I understand that there is a true need out there for diapers, but it pains me to see more chemical-laden diapers going to the landfill as a result of the campaign. I wish there was a way to meet the needs that these families have, but to do so with a more environmentally friendly diapering option. I don't think I would have been willing to sign on to work with Huggies on that initiative unless I had a really good indication that they were working on improving their products to reduce the environmental impact.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

"The bloggers who have defended their choice to participate have mainly used the logic that they believe in eating anything in moderation. I agree with that statement. But I think you can still eat in moderation while not being a spokesperson/ advocate / information disseminator for the refined corn products lobby either. "


October 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

We strive to avoid HFCS as best we can, but we're not neurotic about it. Really, though, we're just thankful for our farmers market. It's easy to avoid that sugary stuff there (except for the occasional doughnut. :) )

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

As usual Amber's said it better than I could. Researching products and not just believing what a company tells you about their product is so important. And I agree, it's a bit like throwing the lamb to the lions to say here you go, talk about this and oh yeah, it may come back and bite you but we're not going to tell you that...

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnnemarie

I try to choose healthy foods for my family, but we have celiac's disease (Can't eat anything with gluten). Since finding out we've increased our sugar intake by almost double. YIKES! In one way we're lucky gluten free foods are not, typically, as refined as regular foods, but the problem is that (IMO) gluten-free tastes miserable without something to cover the taste.

So now my mission is to find better sources of sweetness for home cooking/baking. BUt then I have to convert my old recipes into gluten-free, sugar, HFCS free recipes and hope for at least as good of results. It's an upward battle and right now I have a bottle of Corn Syrup in my pantry.

Some days I really wish it were easier, and I long for the days when it was as simple as choosing whole/mixed grain flour for baking and making meals from scratch to avoid the sugars and processing.

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

[...] material presented to them. That’s about when the shit hit the fan. Some very capable and level-headed bloggers called out Mom Central and the individual blogs for selling out their integrity on such an [...]

Since these manufacturers don't accurately inform people of the risks of using their products it doesn't surprise me that they wouldn't inform the bloggers who are shilling for them either. Ethics isn't exactly high up on either Nestle nor the CRA list IMO.

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeanine

What a smart kid!

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

Sarah, we are gluten free by choice, and we choose not to replace traditional carbs with substitutes. This has been a smart choice for our family because it has significantly reduced our sugar and carb intake, and increased our veggie and fruit intake.

We do use some substitute products that taste quite good on occasion, but they are so expensive it's a rare and special treat.

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

I am still ruminating a blog post on this whole topic. I really appreciate your take on the controversy surrounding the campaign.

I am just dumbfounded that anyone would want to be paid to say "eat sugar in moderation, including HFCS." Americans eat way too much sugar PERIOD.

If we put aside the whole biochemical debate (because really I don't care how it is processed by my body), there are issues of economic and environmental impact that this campaign doesn't even begin to touch on.

We have avoided HFCS for more than 10 years in our family, with the exception of my husband's soda addiction until recently (he quite drinking it several months ago when my daughter's told him it was bad for him and he shouldn't). Of course if we eat out we are likely to encounter some HFCS in our food, so we do our best to be vigilant at home.

I'm really tired of hearing how everyone tries to avoid it, and how hard it is, and how expensive it is. While all those things are true, we vote with our dollars and the more people that seek out healthier alternatives, the better.

As far as the bloggers, I think someone above hit the nail on the head. Bloggers have different goals and ideas about what they want to do, and many do not realize how cheaply they are selling their trust capital.

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

Thanks. We have cut back considerably, but some (most) days I just want something. I love pies and pastries and such. And for that reason I'm compiling recipes as I try them to cut out the sugars (subbing when possible for honey, nectar, or maple syrup) but sometimes I just want a recipe to turn out the first time and for that sugar and even corn syrup (Is there a 'good' corn syrup vs HFCS? Ive read there is but have no idea how to tell the difference) is used at times - for instance having family come over they aren't one for flavour so my regular bbq sauce uses corn syrup. It really does taste great, but so far I've yet to find a substitute that works as well.

It is hard to avoid the processed foods and hard to avoid the sugars. For some things there's a difference between needing to adjust to the new tastes but for other things there is a drop in quality. When it comes to food I want the best of both worlds, but in order to have that it takes time. I agree that in moderation it isn't necessarily that bad for you. Unfortunately for my family moderation is just that - a gooey treat here or there, occasional treats that are processed (as in once or twice a month) but for many North Americans moderation means only one food per meal has HFCS or refined sugar. To me that is not moderation.

A company paying people to tell others it's okay to have in moderation is wrong for many reasons, but mostly because the average person has no idea what moderation means.

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

It's one of our regrets too. Next time!

Mirena seems to have a lot of questionable advertising. I guess the Mom Central campaign is just one example. I also noticed when I was researching my Mirena post that Mom Central did a blog tour for NovaSure a couple of years ago. It's an endometrial ablation procedure with some potentially serious risks and side effects, but most of the blog posts that I found were along the lines of 'heavy periods are a bummer! wouldn't it be cool not to get your period anymore?' Definitely problematic stuff.

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJezebel

Just as a side note, because you mentioned Germany as not having issues with refined and processed sugars: we do. If you buy regular food at regular supermarkets, there will be "Glukosesirup" (which is one step of processing down from high fructose corn sirup) in most products, even in ridiculous things like frozen beans. But! there is also a government campaign that seeks to produce growing awareness about the risks of processed food, trans fats, and glucose/fructose. We also have fast food and it's entirely possible to live and eat in an unhealthy fashion, even in Europe.
Here, it's a matter of education and also of money. Being conscious about the dangers of certain processed foods seems to be the new way of the middle- and upper-middle class to distinguish themselves (no offense). If you are trying to feed a family on government benefits, you simply can't afford to pay attention to those things.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertina

I've managed to miss this storm online so I don't know all the ins and outs of the current discussion. After living in Europe then living in the States for 3 years and now back in Europe , like many others before me, it is really noticeable how sweet the foods are in the US as compared to Europe. I understand too that I probably walk and move more in Europe than I was able to in the US- due to logistics, lack of sidewalks and clear safe pathways.

I also believe we we just know more about our food and have different legislation so able to make better choices. The labelling is confusing in the States perhaps it is here too. I just find it easier to see what's inside my food here compared to the States.

Thanks for providing a platform for discussion and debate. It's easy to get polarised on issues like this and for mums to switch off instead of becoming more informed.
Life can be and is different outside of the US with food.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelitsa

Great post!

I currently live in Germany, but I am British originally. I'm married to an American and we live on an American Army base here. I honestly avoid shopping at the American Commissary because I can't handle how sweet all of the food is. American sandwich bread is the main offender, I just can't stomach it (literally, it makes me feel ill) and I don't understand why there is so much sugar in everything! Not just sugar either, I want to buy things that don't advertise "added vitamin blah blah blah" added this and added that. Even something so basic as American milk tastes strange to me, I just want to eat regular food!

Oddly enough, in the year or so that I lived with my husband in the States I put on a lot of weight without really changing my eating habits. Now that we've been in Germany for 2 years I've lost it all, again without changing my eating habits.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSatakieli

I am glad that you are doing the right thing by researching something that is important to YOU.... But I am 114 pounds at 5'9 and have never had problems with eating sugar all day long ... I just happen to WORKOUT...
What does bother me is when you start turning opinions into fact of life.... Now even if it is bad (and we have no proof) then you can control what you do but please stay out of my life.. It bugs me when people make it their mission to control everyone else... Thanks for your thoughts, but no thanks.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVik

Thank you for this post! It is my first time on your blog (I found it via a link on SimpleMom) and you touched the topic I was pondering about for a long time. Ever since I learned about HFCS I was following any updates and new research. I have eliminated any foods that contain HFCS from my family's diet and yes, losing weight became much easier.
I personally do not want to be one of the guinea pigs who participate in "How bad HFCS really is" study. I believe that natural foods are the way to go and like you said HFCS does not look like anything natural.
I am originally from Ukraine and I have moved to the US only two years ago. I used to always like sweet foods when I lived in Ukraine (candy, cakes and other sweets) but in the US I could not eat any of those foods. Like you said, everything is so much sweeter.
Now I try hard to find foods with no added HFCS or sugar and most of the time I end up cooking meals from scratch - this is the only way I can control the amount of sugar (of any sort) in my family's diet.
Thank you again for this thoughtful post. I wish there was a way to talk to more people, especially moms, about the importance of eating natural foods.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnastasiya


I wouldn't say that Germany doesn't have issues with refined and processed sugars. However, I don't think the problem is as big as it is in North America.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

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