More Nutrition “Spin” From Corn Refiners Association

Maybe this is the survey that prompted the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to run those expensive TV and print ads about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Perception is reality and HFCS is perceived by many as a nutrition “don’t”. I can understand why the Association wants to confront some of this perception with their position on HFCS, but when the spin can be easily picked out, I think they lose credibility.

I’m going to dissect the press release below to point out some of the spin in their messages.

According to CRA’s press release on Newswise, A recent national survey revealed that moms are more concerned with individual ingredients rather than their children’s overall caloric intake. Since total calories typically determine weight gain and even obesity, parents must understand the basic nutritional facts to keep their kids healthy.

“Many accusations today rely on speculation that tries to link single ingredients, including sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, to obesity,” said Dr. James M. Rippe, cardiologist and biomedical sciences professor at the University of Central Florida. “Americans are eating more of everything – it’s the excess calories and sedentary lifestyle that are having the greatest impact.”

analysis: Pretty harmless and I agree overall… it’s the quality of the food that matters. High quality foods are whole foods, such as nuts, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and milk. These foods provide good nutrition for the calories. When we eat too many calories and don’t exercise, we gain weight.

The survey asked 400 mothers from across the country what their biggest nutrition concerns were for their children as they return to school. When asked what they are concerned with when buying food for their children, half responded with sugar (50%), trans fat (50%) and high fructose corn syrup (49%), while only one quarter cited the caloric content of food.

analysis: They are just reporting survey results here. But in my opinion, it is proof that parents are concerned about the right things. Parents don’t need to worry about counting calories for their kids if they feed them healthy meals and keep junk foods, sweets, and fast food/restaurant dining to a minimum. Kids will get full on healthy, nutritious foods and they will have energy for school, sports, and other activities – and I don’t mean tv and video games.

Parents should be worried about added sugars – whether its refined (a.k.a. processed) table sugar or HFCS. That’s because the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (anyone over age 2) lump in added sugars and fats in a category of discretionary calories. The amount varies among age groups and activities, but it is about 250 calories a day. Not a lot.

Parents should absolutely worried about trans fats because there is no recommended safe consumption amount and the upper limit of consumption is a measly 2 grams a day. To put it in perspective, a donut that is made in oil with trans fat will have about 5 grams and a medium order of fries made in oil with trans fat will have about 8 grams.

However, having their children eat healthy is also a top priority for parents. The majority of those surveyed (64%) have concerns about their children’s health and nutrition as they return to school, despite the fact that nearly 7 in 10 moms (68%) indicate their children’s schools have wellness policies. Concerns included that their children won’t eat healthful foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products (20%) and that they will choose junk food when not being supervised or provided with specific food choices (18%).

analysis: Just because a school has a wellness policy doesn’t mean that it is a good wellness policy and it doesn’t mean that parents should not be concerned. Wellness policies are a great way for schools to prioritize nutrition. But they can be different between states, counties, school systems and individual schools. Parents may think their particular policies don’t go far enough… but they are entitled to that opinion.

I’m not sure what CRA was trying to achieve with this part, except to add fuel to their argument that parent’s concerns are somehow misplaced. I would not go that far.

Single Ingredients Don’t Make Kids Overweight or Obese
“No single food or ingredient is the cause of obesity or overweight children,” said Dr. Rippe. “Eating too many calories and getting too little exercise causes it.”

analysis: This argument is so tired. Of course parents know that it is not one ingredient, but the bottom line is that foods high in sugar, HFCS, and/or trans fats are likely empty calories — sodas, processed foods, other junk that might be “fortified” with vitamins to make it look like a health food. If parents are concerned about HFCS and that leads to decreasing consumption of empty calories and junk and increased consumption of healthy foods then “mission accomplished” in my opinion.

Excessive calories – from whatever source – can promote weight gain in children and adults alike. Sweet foods are meant to be enjoyed in moderation, Rippe added. The caloric density of high fructose corn syrup is relatively low—only 4 calories per gram, compared to 9 calories per gram for fats.

analysis: trickery here… any carbohydrate has 4 calories per gram and any fat has 9 calories per gram. CRA is clearly trying to trick you into thinking that HFCS is somehow “better” than fat because it has a lower calorie density. But fat helps bring on satiety so you feel full and eat less. Fat also slows digestion and keeps hunger at bay. You need fat. It should be about 25-30% of calories in a healthy diet.

Research confirms that there is no difference between how our bodies metabolize high fructose corn syrup versus products such as table sugar or honey. Further, high fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients. The American Medical Association concluded in June 2008 that “high fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners.”

analysis: I think the only thing research confirms is that more research is needed. There are very few studies on HFCS, and they are small and funded by CRA. I don’t think we know the bulk of the evidence on HFCS metabolism. So for now, sure, treat it like other caloric sweeteners — except agave nectar, which I love. It has a lower glycemic index than sugar, honey, and HFCS (27 compared to 89 in HFCS). I add a little to smoothies or home made salad dressings. It can be substituted in recipes too – 1/3 cup for 1 cup sugar – so you use less and there are fewer calories.

Consumption of high fructose corn syrup has been dropping in recent years, yet the rates of obesity and diabetes in the U.S. continue to rise, Rippe added. “And in many other parts of the world, obesity and diabetes are on the rise despite having little or no high fructose corn syrup.”

analysis: I would like to see some real numbers here… has it really dropped? If so, by how much? I think there goal is to disassociate HFCS from obesity by saying it is not correlated with obesity rates. I agree that it is not just one ingredient… but I maintain that if you look at the foods with HFCS, they are foods that need to be decreased in the diet and chances are their consumption is high in their overall diet pattern.

What Can Moms Do?
A father of four daughters and a practicing physician, Dr. Rippe is uniquely experienced with the challenges of fostering healthy habits among children. He notes:

(analysis: poor choice of words here… what makes his experience so “unique”? A parent is a parent. What they are trying to do is use a credible, trustworthy expert to tell them “hey, HFCS is OK”.)
• Good nutrition is important year-round, so that kids get the nutrients they need to grow and develop properly. But it’s especially important to keep in mind as students go back to school because research shows that good nutrition leads to better academic performance and improved behavior.


(analysis: good point.)

• Momentum is building for multi-level approaches to health promotion, which means there will be more emphasis on working with schools to improve child health.

(analysis: fine – get physical activity in and junk food out of schools – fix those lunches)
• A sugar is a sugar, whether it comes from honey, high fructose corn syrup, table sugar, or fruit juices. Nutritionally they’re all the same. Moderation is the key.

(analysis: I don’t like “moderation”, even though I am guilty of using it. It is just not measurable. I like decrease, or even minimize, or rarely. This also is not entirely true… added sugars can be lumped together, but sugars in fresh fruit and milk are not the same as added sugars. I think they would have won points with me – and probably parents- if they were to say look, kids need to eat healthy, whole foods – fruits, veggies, etc. But an occasional treat with sugar or hfcs can be part of a healthy diet… or something to that effect.)
• Kids should be encouraged to eat breakfast regularly. Even if time is short, nutritious, on-the-go foods like cereal bars and fruit or milk, are good options.

(analyis: point lost again… a cereal bar as a health food? are you kidding me? I buy my husband granola bars, but not as a health food – a healthier alternative to a cookie. What about a hard boiled egg, pb&j bagel, oatmeal… Even plain cereal. It takes 10 minutes to eat a bowl of cereal. Surely, you can find 10 minutes in the morning and have your backup plan in case of a time setback. But plan breakfast.)

• Parents and teachers are important role models for their kids when it comes to healthy habits.
• Parents and teachers usually control when kids eat, but the kids themselves usually determine how much they eat.
(analysis: Wait… but didn’t you say that parents need to worry about calorie consumption vs HFCS? If kids are controlling what they eat do parents need to be concerned? There is also a missed opportunity with both these points to point out healthy messages or dietary guidelines)

• Physical activity is vital. Programs that encourage movement are getting more attention. There is growing interest in “walk to school” programs.

Summary… CRA does have to respond to the perceptions about HFCS. But the approach of “moderation” is transparent. I think it is OK to compare it to refined table sugar, but comparing it to fat and saying that parents are identifying the wrong “culprit” – suggesting parents should care more about calories than HFCS – is wrong. It’s misleading. Parents don’t need to be concerned about calories if they are giving their kids high quality, healthy foods and mimizing junk foods, added sugars, and fast food / restaurant dining. It is easy to pack an excess 300-500 calories in junk food, which can cause excessive weight gain.

What do YOU think??? Would love to hear it…

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One Response

  1. Well…as you know, I play ‘spot the spin’ regularly on Shaping Youth, and loved Marion Nestle’s deconstruction that just ran in our local S.F. Chron this past week here, to give a snapshot on the FAQ re: HFCS:

    http://tinyurl.com/4j697s

    Also, I just posted a bunch of the satirical spins that youth have created to mock the ‘badvertising’ from both a messaging, accuracy, and creative level of the ad campaign itself, called “HFCS Ads: The Satire is Snowballing”

    http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=2358

    The one ‘propaganda’ video is off the charts! ;-) Yowza. Those kids need a job on Letterman or Kimmel!

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