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The Sweetener Wars – HFCS Strikes Back

The health conscious and trendy public are a bit obsessed with the food they consume. This can be a good thing, to the extent that it results in a more healthful diet, but unfortunately those interested in improving their diet must wade through a great deal of misinformation before getting to accurate and helpful information.

For example, I recently gave a lecture (ironically on health information) at Google (you can view the entire talk here). Google is a progressive company that tries to help their employees stay healthy. They provide many snack stations and helpfully divide snacks into red, yellow, and green shelves. Employees can freely choose whatever snacks they want, but they are gently encouraged to choose from the more healthful green shelf and avoid the unhealthy red shelf. I noticed that beverages sweetened with sugar cane were placed on the green shelf, while those sweetened with artificial sweeteners like aspartame or Splenda were slumming on the red shelf. It was ironic to see such a high-tech company falling for the naturalistic fallacy.

Sugar cane sweetened sodas are becoming fashionable, mainly to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which many claim is associated with obesity and increased cardiovascular risk. Jim Laidler did an excellent job reviewing this controversy two years ago on SBM. To me this represents a general tendency to try to understand a complex question by oversimplifying, specifically by avoiding perceived “villains.” It may seem overwhelming to grapple with all the complex information involved in basic dietary health choices, like which beverages are best. Following simple rules, such as avoiding single ingredients that are perceived to be “bad,” therefore has an appeal. I also think this is part of the appeal of the naturalistic fallacy, a simple litmus test to what is good vs bad.

While there are some simple rules that are helpful and mostly accurate (calorie control, varied diet, eat enough plants), there are many more which are misleading and counterproductive. The naturalistic fallacy and fear of HFCS may lead many a Google employee, for example, to consume sugar cane sweetened soda with the false security that the calories won’t contribute to obesity.

A recent commentary in the International Journal of Obesity seeks to set the record straight with respect to HFCS. The authors point out that, in reality, there is very little difference between sucrose and HFCS. Sucrose is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. There are two main forms of HFCS in drinks and processed food: HFCS-42 and HFCS-55, indicating the percentage of fructose they contain. So one form has slightly less and the other slightly more fructose than sucrose. Available evidence indicates that this is not metabolically significant. In fact HFCS-55 is slightly sweeter than sucrose and so products with this sweetener may use less sweetener, and therefore contain fewer calories.

The authors write:

HFCS existed as a benign and essentially non-controversial product for over 35 years until 2004 when Bray, Nielsen and Popkin published a commentary suggesting a potential link between HFCS consumption and obesity.1 These authors buttressed their argument by charting the consumption of high fructose corn syrup along with the prevalence of obesity in the United States between 1970-2000,

And…

Bray et al.1 used the temporal association as their primary evidence even though this is an example of an ecologic fallacy in which group data are extrapolated to individuals.

Later research showed that HFCS is not a unique cause of obesity (beyond the calories they contain), and there is no significant difference between the effect of different carbohydrate sweeteners on metabolism and weight gain. They also point out that there has been a lot of misleading research involving feeding animals a high carbohydrate diet consisting entirely of fructose, which cannot be extrapolated to HFCS consumption.

The scientific controversy is largely over. The Bray hypothesis, which was always weak, has not survived later research. But the meme that HFCS is harmful is out there, taking on a life of its own on the internet, and so the public controversy continues.

The disconnect between the scientific consensus and public perception remains a problem in many areas, not just with HFCS. We clearly need to do a better job overall of communicating scientific findings to the public – starting with scientists but also including journalists and the blogging community.

There doesn’t seem to be any way to stop misinformation from spreading on the internet, however. All we can do is get the accurate information out there.

Posted in: Epidemiology, Nutrition

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122 thoughts on “The Sweetener Wars – HFCS Strikes Back

  1. windriven says:

    “There doesn’t seem to be any way to stop misinformation from spreading on the internet, however.”

    And of course it isn’t just the internet. Business, religion, politics, all understand that the messages that are repeated frequently, at high volume, and with intensity tend to be embraced. Accuracy, especially where subjects are complex and data less than clear cut, doesn’t enter the equation for many people because they lack the education or the interest or the time to sort things out logically. It is much easier, arguably much more efficient, to adopt a read-made answer offered by someone else. There is a flood of information bombarding people every day. No one has the time or breadth of education to reach informed and reasoned independent judgments on every issue of the day. Rational people seek reasoned opinions from experts educated in the field. But even there opinions vary; sometimes there is not a ‘right’ answer. Others go with the messages that they read on the internet or hear on television or the dogma of their religion or political party or other self-identification group.

  2. rork says:

    It would have been nice to suggest that sugary drinks belonged on the red shelf. That might be part of “a better job overall”. The article mostly left me with the impression that author thinks HFCS’s are OK, but I very much doubt that is the case. The forest was entirely overlooked.

  3. Alia says:

    While I do not think that HFCSs are the main villain, I do believe that sweet drinks contribute to North American obesity problems. People simply do not realise how much sugar and calories are there in a bottle of this soda or that drink.
    On a side note – I do not know if it’s true, but a lot of my friends who went to the US claimed that your version of brand-name carbonated drinks is much sweeter than the one sold in Europe. Which would probably mean more caloric.

  4. mousethatroared says:

    ” I noticed that beverages sweetened with sugar cane were placed on the green shelf, while those sweetened with artificial sweeteners like aspartame or Splenda  were slumming on the red shelf. It was ironic to see such a high-tech company falling for the naturalistic fallacy.”

    If Google is anything like the tech companies I worked for, the designers moved the sugary drinks to the green shelf in the hopes of getting the skeptical doctor who’s been on OZ to make a snarky comment on his blog… now they’re all delightedly sharing their triumph.

    Why would they do that? How different ways do you think you can illustrate a Google logo without going insane?

  5. rork – all sugars as sweeteners (honey, syrup, cane sugar, or HFCS) are problematic to roughly the same degree because they are high caloric and also promote tooth decay. In general nutritionists agree that if you are trying to maintain or lose weight, you should avoid drinking a lot of calories. This includes fruit juice. Really the only point of the article is that HFCS should not be singled out, and that doing so is largely based on bad science or bad logic (the naturalistic fallacy).

    The contribution of sugar sweetened beverages to the obesity epidemic is a separate question, which I believe remains genuinely controversial. The same is true for the effectiveness of measures to tax, limit, or ban SSBs. This requires more study.

    There is also a separate question about the net effect of artificial sweeteners – do they lead to an overall increase in caloric intake because of their lack of effect on satiety and/or their disconnect between sweetness and calories? The evidence is mixed, but I personally find the evidence that they are a net benefit to controlling caloric intake more compelling.

  6. Alia – I don’t know if that’s true, but HFCS-55 is sweeter than cane sugar, so you can get the same, or slightly more sweetness with fewer calories. HFCS is used more in the US, while cane sugar is used more in Europe.

  7. Scott says:

    What I’ve always found amusing are the folks who will talk endlessly about how bad HFCS is because it has so much fructose, and agave nectar is so much more healthy.

    Apparently they don’t realize that agave nectar is something like 90% fructose, so if fructose were uniquely harmful, agave nectar would be a REALLY bad choice of sweetener.

  8. Alia says:

    Just a short question, dr Novella, to clear up on terminology – do you use the term “cane sugar” to include sugar made from sugar beet? Because that’s the main sweetener in Europe.

  9. As an expansion to what Scott said,

    It’s a similar deal with fruit juice.

    No sugar/ HFCS added fruit juices often uses pear juice as a sweetener.

    Pear juice has more than twice as much free fructose as free glucose, and just a smidge under twice as much fructose as glucose overall when you account for sucrose’s additional contribution to those sugars. Apple juice is similar in sugar content to pear juice. Both of these juices have more fructose content than Coca Cola sweetened w/ HFCS.

    Also fruit juice is typically also just as calorie dense as soda; an 8 oz bottle of Coca Cola has 100 cal, while an 8 oz bottle of Minute Maid Apple Juice has 110 cal. So not only are these juices not lower in fructose than HFCS sweetened soda (which wouldn’t mean anything anyway), they aren’t even lower in calories.

  10. BKsea says:

    Reading through the comments, it seems that HFCS and particulalry HFCS-42 are some of the best options if you want to make fructose into the bogeyman. Maybe they should change the name to “low fructose corn syrup.”

  11. Calli Arcale says:

    Alia — that struck me as well, since beet sugar is actually a fairly common source of table sugar (granulated sucrose) here in the US as well. More common than a lot of folks realize; if the bag doesn’t actually say “cane sugar” on it, don’t make any assumptions. There’s a very good chance it’s actually beet sugar. We grow a lot in my state; in some regions, the air can get quite stinky after harvest time, when they’re processing those beets.

    However, he’s right that cane sugar has become fashionable. Products that switch from HFCS to sucrose usually switch specifically to cane sugar and then make a big deal out of it. I’m not sure why, although part of me does wonder whether there might have been some marketing work on the part of sugarcane growers early on in all of this. ;-) Also, there are a number of traditional beverages in warmer parts of the US and its neighbors to the south, because cane sugar was a very important part of the economy in the early colonial days and on up into the 1800s.

    Sugar is sugar, in many respects. The healthiest sugar for the average American or European is probably *less* sugar, but of course none of us really want to hear that, since sugar tastes so awesome. ;-)

  12. Janet Camp says:

    “The contribution of sugar sweetened beverages to the obesity epidemic is a separate question, which I believe remains genuinely controversial. The same is true for the effectiveness of measures to tax, limit, or ban SSBs. This requires more study”

    I follow the work of Marion Nestle (foodpolitics.com) and read her books. The following is taken from a study reported on her blog.

    The currently available evidence is extensive and consistently supports the hypothesis that sweetened beverage intake is a risk factor for the development of obesity and has made a substantive contribution to the obesity epidemic experienced in the USA in recent decades.

    Sweetened beverages are an especially promising focus for efforts to prevent and reduce obesity for two reasons: (i) the evidence supporting the association between sweetened beverage intake and excess weight is stronger than for any other single type of food or beverage; and (ii) sweetened beverages provide no nutritional benefit other than energy and water.

    There is also this:

    http://www.foodpolitics.com/?s=public+health+strategies+ from a search of her blog presents evidence for portion ban and other strategies.

    I rely on expert opinion such as Dr. Nestle offers. She has excellent credentials in science as well as public health, and writes scholarly books in a readable way for lay people. Can you, therefore, link me to the evidence for the controversy you mention? I don’t deny it–it just seems to contradict what I’ve been reading from a much-trusted expert. At some point, we all have to choose someone we look to for honest interpretation and presentation of data. My two main sources are Nestle and this blog, so it is upsetting when they conflict.

  13. The Dave says:

    I have a question regarding all the “Specialty” or “fancy” sugars available in natural food markets. Many of them claim they are healthier because they are less processed and/or have nutrients/minerals naturally occurring in them that adds benefits over granulated, table sugar.

    Is there any validity to these claims of added benefits in these sugars? Some examples are coconut sugar, turbinado sugar, succinat, and muscovado. They are all brown in color due to “less processing” and is therefore “better/healthier”. If that’s the case, wouldn’t regular old brown sugar you use in some baking be “less processed” and therefore “healthier/better” so you wouldn’t really need to pay the premium prices for the specialty sugars.

    I’ve tried several of them because blogs have told my wife to, and although I am skeptical of the health benefits, I must say I really enjoy the flavor of the coconut sugar and the muscovado, but not so much the flavor of the succinat.

  14. stanmrak says:

    One critical item missing from this discussion… HFCS is manufactured from genetically-modified corn, unlike other sweeteners. Wanna know what happens to rats who ate GM corn for 90 days?

    http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/topics/technology-and-supply-chain/monsanto-weedkiller-and-gm-maize-in-shocking-cancer-study/232603.article

    http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

    http://geneticroulettemovie.com/

  15. Janet Camp:

    Dr. Nestle always makes me snicker when it comes to food politics. How ironic.

    I think you need to go beyond just two points-of-view to form a consensus. I wrote about the same topic a few weeks ago, and I found a few meta-reviews that seem to show that there just isn’t solid evidence supporting HFCS contributing to the epidemic. Or at least, it was difficult separate the high fructose from the sugars as the problem.

    In addition, fructose is not a insulin secretalogue, which may mean nothing for metabolic diseases, or since it’s metabolized by the liver and eventually converted into triglycerides, it may mean everything. But without a ton of graphs and such, the net result from the meta-reviews just aren’t telling much of a story that wouldn’t also be explained by a high sugar/calorie diet.

    My personal opinion, which I contend is supported by science is that we’re blaming a product in sodas that truly shouldn’t be blamed. Why are people drinking liters of this stuff anyways? We are blaming the wrong thing here.

  16. Alia says:

    @Calli Arcale – I know exactly what you mean by the smell, I’ve spent first 18 years of my life in the middle of beet-producing region.
    Over here sugar cane is treates as a kind of “luxury” sugar. So if you go to a regular cafe, they give you only beet sugar, but if it’s a fancy one, you have a choice. As for me, I don’t take any in my tea or coffee.

  17. RD says:

    Thank you for the article. Yes, we need many many many more articles like this to help science stay a float in the internets sea of misinformation!!

    This brought to mind a conversation I had with someone recently that had stopped eating certain ketchups because of the HFCS in it and was attributing her weight gain to HFCS. I wanted to point out (but bit my tongue) that her weight gain was more likely occuring from the french fries she was eating…and not the ketchup!

  18. Janet,

    I don’t doubt that sugary (any type of sugar) beverages contribute to obesity. Obviously they aren’t solely responsible for them. And anyone who wants to demonize them can do an observational study that looks at beverage intake and correlates it with weight gain. And in practice we commonly tell people to stop drinking sugary beverages because it can help you lose about a pound per month, or 12 lbs in a year. (I have no science backing that up. Heard it from a smart person, sounded great.)

    There’s a rather terrible observational study by a grad student in San Antonio that tried to demonize artificial sugars by blaming them for weight gain (the author was a nut job, she told me she definitely thinks aspartame makes you gain weight, that it makes you faint, causes mutations, etc.) But even in that article, they admitted that its likely people who are already on unhealthy trajectories simply overcompensate for what few calories they save by drinking diet sodas with eating more food (ie, “Yes, I’ll have the big mac, super sized, with a extra large chocolate shake, oh, and a diet coke.”)

    So it’s easy to imagine the same scenarios with people who simply don’t substitute diet sodas. Sure, people who drink more sodas are likely to be more fat. Obviously they’re consuming calories, but I’d bet the majority of them have unhealthy lifestyles anyway. It really just seems pointless for an otherwise healthy person to consume liquid calories (except for alcohol!)

    So… yeah, I agree they contribute to obesity in the individual, but they’re just one of many unhealthy choices that person is making.

  19. Janet Camp says:

    @Michael

    Nothing I wrote was about HFCS specifically, or Dr. Nestle’s view of it–which is pretty much the same as yours. I was asking Dr. Novella to share further details about the contribution of soda to the obesity epidemic. Of course I have more than two sources for my information–don’t be daft. I simply meant that the two blogs I mentioned are places that I visit regularly to get good information. This is after years of reading hundreds of books, magazines, and attending college (where I WAS taught to think critically). I find these two blogs to offer good science-based commentary on timely topics. They help me to sort through academic papers and other media that I don’t always have enough expertise to properly evaluate. I read many other blogs on a more casual basis and continue to read books and other media.

    What on earth about foodpolitics.com would make you snicker, except for the ignorance of many of the people who comment?

    @Skeptical Health

    I was addressing Dr. Novella, specifically as to one particular piece of his post. Please take a look at the links I included in my post–they relate to specific points, not observational studies of very dubious quality. Apparently I need to work on my writing skills as I seem to have been greatly misinterpreted by both you and Mr. Simpson.

  20. Janet,

    Definitely not your fault. I did not even read the study. I wrote that in a hurry, and I was barely following the conversation. My fault.

  21. norrisL says:

    Several months ago the issue of HFCS came up on, of all places, my favourite astronomy forum, Ice In Space. Nothing that I could say could convince people, who had been led down the garden path of very shaky science, to believe that fructose is just another sugar and is not the bogeyman it is made out to be. These people are vastly more clever than I when it comes to astronomy, but I felt that as a veterinarian in a group of astronomers, I was probably more qualified to comment than most in that forum. Could I get my point across to a group of people who will gently try to dissuade people who are “believers” in various beliefs? No, I could not. They just couldn’t see that they were believers and had therefore closed their eyes and ears so as not to have their own beliefs shaken.
    Stuart

  22. Chris says:

    Every time fructose comes up I have to laugh. On my shelf is a 1980s era edition of What to Expect: Eating Well When You’re Expecting. Apparently back then white sugar was bad and fructose was good, so all of the recipes were sweetened with apple juice concentrate.

  23. Alia says:

    Don’t forget Bitten Jonsson with “Sugar? No, thanks” and the idea that eating sugar (any kind) is an addiction and the source of _all_ health problems.

  24. lilady says:

    Chris: I recall during both of my pregnancies…babies born 1970 and 1976…being told by my OB to not gain more than 20 lbs during the pregnancies. My pre-pregnancy weights were ~ 110 lbs. So during my first three months of pregnancy I was wolfing down food because I was so exhausted (hormones, I suppose). :-)

    I have a new supermarket in my neighborhood…my daughter refers to it as the Whole Paycheck supermarket. Sashaying up and down the aisles I see huge displays of “naturally enriched (sugar) energy water” and other packaged foods that are “organic and/or natural”…at double the price of regular non-organic and/or natural foods. Have you ever checked the ingredients and the calories contained in energy bars? They are loaded with honey and fructose and they are truly tooth rotters. Thanks no, if I am going to “indulge” and blow some calories for energy, I’ll enjoy a semi-sweet dark chocolate bar.

  25. I’m in Australia, where all sugar is presumed to be cane sugar, unless otherwise specified. So I had no idea that “cane sugar” was used in the world of diet woo to indicate a contrast from “beet sugar” Seriously? How silly! By the time it’s turned into white crystals, there’s no difference. It’s the same compound, whether extracted from beets or cane.

    There is, of course, a difference in taste and mineral content in the various unrefined to lightly refined sugars. Palm sugar, brown sugar, molasses, golden syrup, coconut sugar, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, whatever… But if you’re relying on these for your vitamins & minerals, you are in big trouble! Try eating a vegetable now and then.

  26. That proves that even smart people of other areas easily commit errors based on common sense. People at google must be graduated in engineering of software design. For that reason, they will first try to cope natural world by a big common sense of physics and formulas (100% accuracy). In that way, we first need to explain concepts of science, biology (evolution) and bias

    My experience of explaining hard topics of medicine tell me that the first step is to let them in to medical statics. For instance, comparing cases of pulmonary cancer of smoker with the “normal curve”. Let them think about for a while about the complexity of biology…

  27. Krebiozen says:

    stanmrak,

    Wanna know what happens to rats who ate GM corn for 90 days?

    Not a lot, it seems, if you look at some real science instead of some dodgy statistical reanalysis of Monsanto’s work. Here are some comments on Spiroux de Vendômois et al’s paper, not just from Monsanto, but from other independent agencies.

    Although there are many other points that could be made in regards to de Vendômois et al., (2009), given the fact that these authors continue to use the same flawed techniques despite input from other experts, it is not worthwhile to exhaustively document all of the problems with their safety assessment. Most importantly, regulatory agencies that have reviewed the safety data for MON 863, MON 810 and NK603 (including data from the 90 day rat toxicology studies reassessed by de Vendômois et al., 2009) have, in all instances, reached a conclusion that these three products are safe for human and animal consumption and safe for the environment. Peer reviewed publications on 90 day rat feeding studies with NK603, MON 810 and MON 863 grain have also concluded that there are no safety concerns identified for these three biotechnology-derived crops.

  28. stanmrak,

    “Wanna know what happens to rats who ate GM corn for 90 days?”

    Wanna know what happens when that study is examined critically?

    The GM Corn Rat Study:
    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-gm-corn-rat-study/

  29. ConspicuousCarl says:

    stanmrak on 19 Sep 2012 at 2:28 pm
    Wanna know what happens to rats who ate GM

    I only learned of the crappy French experiment earlier today, and I was thinking, “I wonder who is going to be the first person I see citing this junk?” Who else? And you beat my curiosity by a whole day!

    One critical item missing from this discussion… HFCS is manufactured from genetically-modified corn, unlike other sweeteners.

    And how does that affect the structure of the fructose and glucose?

  30. mousethatroared says:

    Why are they feeding corn to Rats? I’m not a scientist, but I have a mouse and corn is considered rather a no-no for mice and rats. it causes allergies in many (it’s said) and then there’s this.

    http://www.rmca.org/Articles/corn.

    That claims corn causes rumors and cancer in rats.

    don’t know how true any of that is. There is no SBMC (Science Based Mouse Care) blog.

  31. mousethatroared says:

    tumors, not rumors…rats are notorious gossips whether they eat corn or not.

  32. rork says:

    Thanks for clarifications by Novella around comment 5. I’m just writing to say I figured those were your opinions. It’s part of Michael Pollan’s criticism of science writing that we are too silent on the big pictures about food while heroically splitting hairs about nutrients, and that’s not usually true of you.

  33. ryanodine says:

    I always thought it was hilarious that Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell anything with HFCS in it. But they do sell aguave nectar as a sweetener which is IIRC 70-90% fructose.

    Fructose from aguave = good. Fructose from corn = bad.

  34. Calli Arcale says:

    mousethatroared — your link is broken. Google found the right one:

    http://www.rmca.org/Articles/corn.htm

    The article blames the risks on fungal contaminants that are also dangerous in humans, though humans would need a much higher dose to get sick. It says the toxins can contaminate any grain, but are more common in corn. Also peanuts, though the article didn’t elaborate on those as a risk the way it did corn.

    I used to keep rats; I also found myself wondering whether or not *any* all-corn diet would make rats sick, just as it would a human. You need some variety in your diet. Looking at general recommendations of what *to* feed your pet rat, I didn’t find any that suggested corn, but also no others that suggested avoiding corn.

    BTW, to ryanodine: fructose from agave absolutely is good. It’s crucial to making tequila, after all! I’ve been liking the agave nectar* craze, because it’s usually cheaper than maple syrup, but is way better than Mrs Butterworth and the other fake syrups. ;-)

    *It ain’t nectar, of course. It’s syrup made from agave sap. But I doubt folks would’ve bought “agave syrup”. “Nectar” sounds so much lighter and exotic.

  35. Calli Arcale says:

    I tried looking up the study. I’m still not clear whether the rats were eating anything but corn (I hope they were), but the description makes it very doubtful they really knew just what they were feeding them. They acknowledge a lot of unmeasured variables in their methods.

    “This consisted of either 11 or 33% GM maize in an otherwise equivalent equilibrated diet; that is when the diet contained only 11% GM maize, the difference was made up by adding 22% non-GM maize (varieties not indicated). There were also two comparative control groups fed diets containing similar quantities of the closest isogenic or parental maize variety. Furthermore, groups of animals were also fed with diets containing one of six other normal (non-GM) reference maize lines; the same lines for the NK 603 and MON 810 tests, but different types for the MON 863 trials. We note that these unrelated, different non-GM maize types were not shown to be substantially equivalent to the GMOs. The quantity of some sugars, ions, salts, and pesticide residues, do in fact differ from line to line, for example in the non-GM reference groups. This not only introduced unnecessary sources of variability but also increased considerably the number of rats fed a normal non-GM diet (320) compared to the GM-fed groups (80) per transformation event, which considerably unbalances the experimental design. A group consisting of the same number of animals fed a mixture of these test diets would have been a better and more appropriate control. In addition, no data is shown to demonstrate that the diets fed to the control and reference groups were indeed free of GM feed.”

  36. stanmrak says:

    It’s not like this is the first time a GM study found harm. Monsanto is well into the process of monopolizing our food supply worldwide and converting everything to GM technology. They use “tobacco science” and “asbestos science” to hoodwink the public that this is good for them. They don’t have to prove GM agriculture is safe; they only have to create and maintain doubt. If we wait for “scientific” proof; by then, it will be too late – all of our crops will be contaminated.

    HEALTH HAZARDS OF GM FOODS

    “Most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter haematological [blood], biochemical, and immunologic parameters, the significance of which remains to be solved with chronic toxicity studies.” – Dona A, Arvanitoyannis IS. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49: 164–175. 1

    Feeding studies on laboratory and farm animals show that GM foods can be toxic or allergenic:

    Rats fed GM tomatoes developed stomach lesions (sores or ulcers). 2 3 This tomato, Calgene’s Flavr Savr, was the first commercialized GM food.

    Mice fed GM peas engineered with an insecticidal protein from beans showed a strong, sustained immune reaction against the GM protein. Mice developed antibodies against the GM protein and an allergic-type inflammation response. Also, the mice fed on GM peas developed an immune reaction to chicken egg white protein. The findings showed that the GM insecticidal protein acted as a sensitizer, making the mice susceptible to developing immune reactions and allergies to normally non-allergenic foods. This is called immunological cross-priming. 4

    Mice fed GM soy showed disturbed liver, pancreas and testes function. The researchers found abnormally formed cell nuclei and nucleoli in liver cells, which indicates increased metabolism and potentially altered patterns of gene expression. 5 6 7

    Mice fed GM soy over their lifetime (24 months) showed more acute signs of ageing in the liver than the control group fed non-GM soy. 8

    Rabbits fed GM soy showed enzyme function disturbances in kidney and heart. 9

    Female rats fed GM soy showed changes in uterus and ovaries compared with controls fed organic non-GM soy or a non-soy diet. Certain ill effects were found with organic soy as well as GM soy, showing a need for investigation into the effects of soy-based diets (GM and non-GM) on health. 10

    A review of 19 studies (including industry’s own studies submitted to regulators in support of applications to commercialise GM crops) on mammals fed with commercialised GM soy and maize that are already in our food and feed chain found consistent toxic effects on the liver and kidneys. Such effects may be markers of the onset of chronic disease, but long-term studies, in contrast to these reported short- and medium-term studies, would be required to assess this more thoroughly. Such long-term feeding trials on GMOs are not required by regulators anywhere in the world. 11

    Rats fed insecticide-producing MON863 Bt maize grew more slowly and showed higher levels of certain fats (triglycerides) in their blood than rats fed the control diet. They also suffered problems with liver and kidney function. The authors stated that it could not be concluded that MON863 maize is safe and that long-term studies were needed to investigate the consequences of these effects. 12

    Rats fed GM Bt maize over three generations suffered damage to liver and kidneys and alterations in blood biochemistry. 13

    A re-analysis of Monsanto’s own rat feeding trial data, submitted to obtain approval in Europe for three commercialised GM Bt maize varieties, MON863, MON810, and NK603, concluded that the maize varieties had toxic effects on liver and kidneys. The authors of the re-analysis stated that while the findings may have been due to the pesticides specific to each variety, genetic engineering could not be excluded as the cause. 14

    Old and young mice fed GM Bt maize showed a disturbance in immune system cells and in biochemical activity. 15

    Female sheep fed Bt GM maize over three generations showed disturbances in the functioning of the digestive system, while their lambs showed cellular changes in liver and pancreas. 16

    GM Bt maize DNA was found to survive processing and was detected in the digestive tract of sheep. This raises the possibility that the antibiotic resistance gene in the maize could move into gut bacteria, an example of horizontal gene transfer. 17 In this case, horizontal gene transfer could produce antibiotic-resistant disease-causing bacteria (“superbugs”) in the gut.

    Rats fed GM oilseed rape developed enlarged livers, often a sign of toxicity.18

    Rats fed GM potatoes showed excessive growth of the lining of the gut similar to a pre-cancerous condition and toxic reactions in multiple organ systems. 19 20

    Mice fed a diet of GM Bt potatoes or non-GM potatoes spiked with natural Bt toxin protein isolated from bacteria showed abnormalities in the cells and structures of the small intestine, compared with a control group of mice fed non-GM potatoes. The abnormalities were more marked in the Bt toxin-fed group. This study shows not only that the GM Bt potatoes caused mild damage to the intestines but also that Bt toxin protein is not harmlessly broken down in digestion, as GM proponents claim, but survives in a functionally active form in the small intestine and can cause damage to that organ. 21

    Rats fed GM rice for 90 days had a higher water intake as compared with the control group fed the non-GM isogenic (from same genetic background but without the genetic modification) rice. The GM-fed rats showed differences in blood biochemistry, immune response, and gut bacteria. Organ weights of female rats fed GM rice were different from those fed non-GM rice. The authors claimed that none of the differences were “adverse”, but they did not define “adverse”. Even if they had defined it, the only way to know if such changes are adverse is to extend the length of the study, which was not done. 22

    Rats fed GM Bt rice developed significant differences as compared with rats fed the non-GM isogenic line of rice. These included differences in the populations of gut bacteria – the GM-fed group had 23% higher levels of coliform bacteria. There were differences in organ weights between the two groups. The authors concluded that the findings were likely to be due to “unintended changes introduced in the GM rice and not from toxicity of Bt toxin” in its natural, non-GM form. 23

    A study on rats fed GM Bt rice found a Bt-specific immune response in the non-GM-fed control group as well as the GM-fed groups. The researchers concluded that the immune response in the control animals was due to their inhaling particles of the powdered Bt toxin-containing feed consumed by the GM-fed group. The researchers recommended that for future tests involving Bt crops, GM-fed and control groups should be kept separate. 24 This indicates that animals can be sensitive to very small amounts of GM proteins, so even low levels of contamination of non-GM crops with GMOs could be harmful to health.
    In these studies, a GM food was fed to one group of animals and its non-GM counterpart was fed to a control group. The studies found that the GM foods were more toxic or allergenic than their non-GM counterparts.
    Study findings such as those described above have made it increasingly difficult for GM proponents to claim that there are no differences between the effects of GM foods and their non-GM counterparts – clearly, there are.
    To sidestep this problem, GM proponents often claim that statistically significant effects, such as those found in the above studies, are not “biologically relevant”.

    But this is not scientifically justified. In order to determine whether changes seen in these short- to medium-term studies are biologically relevant, the researchers would have to:

    Define in advance what “biological relevance” means in the context of the particular crop and test animal

    Extend the current study design from a medium-term to a long-term period to see how changes seen in the short-term experiments develop – whether they disappear or develop into disease or premature death. 11

    This is not generally done.
    Myth: EU research shows GM foods are safe
    Truth: EU research shows evidence of harm from GM foods
    A report published in 2010 by the European Commission called A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research (2001–2010)25 is often claimed to show that GM foods are safe. But this is untrue: some of studies included in the project, summarised below, show risks.

    A feeding trial on rats fed GM rice found significant differences in the GM-fed group as compared with the control group fed the non-GM parent line of rice. These included a higher water intake by the GM-fed group, as well as differences in blood biochemistry, immune response, and gut bacteria. Organ weights of female rats fed GM rice were different from those fed non-GM rice. Commenting on the differences, the authors said, “None of them were considered to be adverse”. But they added that this 90-day study “did not enable us to conclude on the safety of the GM food.” 22 In reality, a 90-day study is too short to show whether any changes found are “adverse” (giving rise to identifiable illness).

    A study on rats fed GM Bt rice found significant differences in the GM-fed group of rats as compared with the group fed the non-GM isogenic (of a genetically similar background but without the genetic modification) line of rice. These included differences in the distribution of gut bacterial species – the GM-fed group had 23% higher levels of coliform bacteria. There were also differences in organ weights between the two groups, namely in the adrenals, testis and uterus. The authors concluded that the “possible toxicological findings” in their study “most likely will derive from unintended changes introduced in the GM rice and not from toxicity of Bt toxin” in its natural, non-GM form. 23

    A study on rats fed GM Bt rice found a Bt-specific immune response in the non-GM-fed control group as well as the GM-fed groups. This unexpected finding led the researchers to conclude that the immune response in the control animals must have been due to their inhaling particles of the powdered Bt toxin-containing feed consumed by the GM-fed group. The researchers recommended that for future tests on Bt crops, GM-fed and control groups should be kept in separate rooms or with separate air handling systems. 24

    Myth: GM foods have been proven safe for human consumption
    Truth: The few studies that have been conducted on humans show problems
    GM foods are not properly tested for human safety before they are released for sale.26 19 The only published studies that have directly tested the safety of GM foods for human consumption found potential problems but were not followed up.

    In a study on human volunteers fed a single GM soybean meal, GM DNA survived processing and was detected in the digestive tract. There was evidence of horizontal gene transfer to gut bacteria. 27 28 Horizontal gene transfer is a process by which DNA is transferred from one organism to another through mechanisms other than reproductive mechanisms.

    In a study on humans, one of the experimental subjects showed an immune response to GM soy but not to non-GM soy. GM soy was found to contain a protein that was different from the protein in non-GM soy. This suggests that GM foods could cause new allergies. 29

    A GM soy variety modified with a gene from Brazil nuts was found to react with antibodies present in blood serum taken from people known to be allergic to Brazil nuts. This indicates that this soy variety would produce an allergic reaction in people allergic to Brazil nuts. 30

    A study conducted in Canada detected significant levels of the insecticidal protein, Cry1Ab, which is present in GM Bt crops, circulating in the blood of pregnant women and in the blood supply of their foetuses, as well as in the blood of non-pregnant women.31 How the Bt toxin protein got into the blood is unclear and the detection method used has been disputed. Nevertheless, this study raises questions as to why GM Bt crops are being commercialised when research raises serious concerns about their safety and no systematic effort is under way to replicate and assess the validity of that research.

    These studies should be followed up with controlled long-term studies and GM foods and crops should not be commercialised in the absence of such testing.
    Myth: No one has ever been made ill by a GM food
    Truth: There is no scientific evidence to support this claim
    GM proponents claim that people have been eating GM foods in the United States for 16 years without ill effects. But this is an anecdotal, scientifically untenable assertion, as no epidemiological studies to look at GM food effects on the general population have ever been conducted.
    Furthermore, there are signs that all is not well with the US food supply. Reports show that food-related illnesses increased two- to ten-fold in the years between 1994 (just before GM food was commercialized) and 1999.32 33 No one knows if there is a link with GM foods because they are not labelled in the US and consumers are not monitored for health effects.

    References

    All references are to peer-reviewed studies with the exception of nos. 2, 18 (FDA documents); 3 (scientist’s testimony to New Zealand government); 25 (EU Commission report).

    1. Dona A, Arvanitoyannis IS. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49(2): 164–175.
    2. Hines FA. Memorandum to Linda Kahl on the Flavr Savr tomato (Pathology Review PR–152; FDA Number FMF–000526): Pathology Branch’s evaluation of rats with stomach lesions from three four-week oral (gavage) toxicity studies (IRDC Study Nos. 677–002, 677–004, and 677–005) and an Expert Panel’s report. US Department of Health & Human Services. 16 June 1993. http://www.biointegrity.org/FDAdocs/17/view1.html
    3. Pusztai A. Witness Brief – Flavr Savr tomato study in Final Report (IIT Research Institute, Chicago, IL 60616 USA) cited by Dr Arpad Pusztai before the New Zealand Royal Commission on Genetic Modification: New Zealand Royal Commission on Genetic Modification; 2000.
    4. Prescott VE, Campbell PM, Moore A, et al. Transgenic expression of bean alpha-amylase inhibitor in peas results in altered structure and immunogenicity. J Agric Food Chem. 16 Nov 2005; 53(23): 9023–9030. Excerpt/summary from: GMO Myths & Truths (2012) http://bit.ly/O0IAQS
    5. Malatesta M, Biggiogera M, Manuali E, Rocchi MBL, Baldelli B, Gazzanelli G. Fine structural analyses of pancreatic acinar cell nuclei from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. European Journal of Histochemistry. Oct-Dec 2003; 47: 385–388.
    6. Malatesta M, Caporaloni C, Gavaudan S, et al. Ultrastructural morphometrical and immunocytochemical analyses of hepatocyte nuclei from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Cell Struct Funct. Aug 2002; 27(4): 173–180.
    7. Vecchio L, Cisterna B, Malatesta M, Martin TE, Biggiogera M. Ultrastructural analysis of testes from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Eur J Histochem. Oct-Dec 2004; 48(4): 448-454.
    8. Malatesta M, et al. A long-term study on female mice fed on a genetically modified soybean: effects on liver ageing. Histochem Cell Biol. 2008; 130: 967–977.
    9. Tudisco R, Lombardi P, Bovera F, et al. Genetically modified soya bean in rabbit feeding: Detection of DNA fragments and evaluation of metabolic effects by enzymatic analysis. Animal Science. 2006; 82: 193–199.
    10. Brasil FB, Soares LL, Faria TS, Boaventura GT, Sampaio FJ, Ramos CF. The impact of dietary organic and transgenic soy on the reproductive system of female adult rat. Anat Rec (Hoboken). Apr 2009; 292(4): 587–594.
    11. Séralini GE, Mesnage R, Clair E, Gress S, de Vendômois JS, Cellier D. Genetically modified crops safety assessments: Present limits and possible improvements. Environmental Sciences Europe. 2011; 23(10).
    12. Séralini GE, Cellier D, Spiroux de Vendomois J. New analysis of a rat feeding study with a genetically modified maize reveals signs of hepatorenal toxicity. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. May 2007; 52(4): 596–602.
    13. Kilic A, Akay MT. A three generation study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats: Biochemical and histopathological investigation. Food Chem Toxicol. Mar 2008; 46(3): 1164–1170.
    14. de Vendomois JS, Roullier F, Cellier D, Séralini GE. A comparison of the effects of three GM corn varieties on mammalian health. Int J Biol Sci. 2009; 5(7): 706–726.
    15. Finamore A, Roselli M, Britti S, et al. Intestinal and peripheral immune response to MON810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice. J Agric Food Chem. Dec 10 2008; 56: 11533–11539.
    16. Trabalza-Marinucci M, Brandi G, Rondini C, et al. A three-year longitudinal study on the effects of a diet containing genetically modified Bt176 maize on the health status and performance of sheep. Livestock Science. 2008; 113(2): 178–190.
    17. Duggan PS, Chambers PA, Heritage J, Michael Forbes J. Fate of genetically modified maize DNA in the oral cavity and rumen of sheep. Br J Nutr. Feb 2003; 89(2): 159–166.
    18. US Food and Drug Administration. Biotechnology consultation note to the file BNF No 00077. Office of Food Additive Safety, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. 4 September 2002. http://www.fda.gov/Food/Biotechnology/Submissions/ucm155759.htm
    19. Pusztai A, Bardocz S. GMO in animal nutrition: Potential benefits and risks. In: Mosenthin R, Zentek J, Zebrowska T, eds. Biology of Nutrition in Growing Animals. Vol 4: Elsevier Limited; 2006:513–540.
    20. Ewen SW, Pusztai A. Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine. Lancet. Oct 16 1999; 354(9187): 1353-1354.
    21. Fares NH, El-Sayed AK. Fine structural changes in the ileum of mice fed on delta-endotoxin-treated potatoes and transgenic potatoes. Nat Toxins. 1998; 6(6): 219-233.
    22. Poulsen M, Kroghsbo S, Schroder M, et al. A 90-day safety study in Wistar rats fed genetically modified rice expressing snowdrop lectin Galanthus nivalis (GNA). Food Chem Toxicol. Mar 2007; 45(3): 350-363.
    23. Schrøder M, Poulsen M, Wilcks A, et al. A 90-day safety study of genetically modified rice expressing Cry1Ab protein (Bacillus thuringiensis toxin) in Wistar rats. Food Chem Toxicol. Mar 2007; 45(3): 339-349.
    24. Kroghsbo S, Madsen C, Poulsen M, et al. Immunotoxicological studies of genetically modified rice expressing PHA-E lectin or Bt toxin in Wistar rats. Toxicology. Mar 12 2008; 245(1-2): 24-34.
    25. European Commission. A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001–2010). 2010.
    26. Freese W, Schubert D. Safety testing and regulation of genetically engineered foods. Biotechnol Genet Eng Rev. 2004: 299-324.
    27. Netherwood T, Martin-Orue SM, O’Donnell AG, et al. Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract. Nat Biotechnol. Feb 2004; 22(2): 204–209.
    28. Heritage J. The fate of transgenes in the human gut. Nat Biotechnol. Feb 2004; 22(2): 170-172.
    29. Yum HY, Lee SY, Lee KE, Sohn MH, Kim KE. Genetically modified and wild soybeans: an immunologic comparison. Allergy Asthma Proc. May-Jun 2005; 26(3): 210-216.
    30. Nordlee JA, Taylor SL, Townsend JA, Thomas LA, Bush RK. Identification of a Brazil-nut allergen in transgenic soybeans. N Engl J Med. Mar 14 1996; 334(11): 688-692.
    31. Aris A, Leblanc S. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in EasternTownships of Quebec, Canada. ReproductiveToxicology. 2011; 31(4).
    32. Mead PS, Slutsker L, Dietz V, et al. Food-related illness and death in the United States. Emerg Infect Dis. Sep-Oct 1999; 5(5): 607-625.
    33. Foegeding PM, Roberts T, Bennet J, et al. Foodborne pathogens: Risks and consequences. Ames, Iowa. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. 1994.

    Excerpt/summary from: GMO Myths & Truths (2012) http://bit.ly/O0IAQS

  37. The Dave says:

    Stanmrak:

    Did you individually verify all those sources and the claimed conclusions yourself, or (more likely) did you simply copy and paste from an (obviously) biased source? My wager is on the latter. Try doing some of the work yourself and actually read the studies.

  38. The Dave says:

    By the way, stanmrak, listing Joseph Mercola as one of your expert “mentors” reveals all we need to know about you.

  39. DugganSC says:

    While I’ve yet to see any good evidence that GM food is harmful, I do agree that there is some risk if it becomes the predominant brand simply because it can take some time to discover lasting harm, whereupon the original source may have disappeared. Farming is a business with a thin margin, and I could readily see the majority of farmers wholly turning to the latest wonder product, leading to years of recovery in re-seeding and removing said wonder product if it turns out there are harmful effects.

    Admittedly, my fears are less on the science (most of the scientists are trying their best to discover all of the side effects as quickly as possible with all proper rigor) and more to do with psychology (how often do people pick up a few fad and rapidly displace the original species with the invasive newcomer?).

  40. DugganSC says:

    As regards sugars themselves, my position is that I avoid artificial sweeteners because I feel that sugar is not a problem when consumed in moderation, or even when consumed in more typical quantities whereas most artificial sweeteners I run into cause issues for me in typical quantities (I’m sure that there are some which are perfectly fine, but I feel better consuming sugar, which I know to be safe, rather than try the latest chemical cocktail which claims to taste just as good as the real stuff).

  41. Calli Arcale says:

    DugganSC: my philosophy tends to lean in much the same direction. The real threat from groups like Monsanto isn’t the concept of genetic modification but their monopolistic business practices, which have the potential to greatly exacerbate our problem of single-strain cultivation. While roundup-ready corn is much cheaper to produce, easing food shortage problems, if that became 90% of the crop we’d be in for a major problem if (or, more likely, when) a huge vulnerability to that crop appears. With climates changing, that concern becomes even more pressing; we don’t want to paint ourselves into a genetic corner, so to speak.

  42. estockly says:

    Dr. Novella, your claim seems to be that the “fear” of HFCS is based on the false belief that HFCS is worse than sugar.

    That is a straw man argument that misses the point about HFCS. I think it’s a straw man because you’re picking the weak and false argument from popular culture, rather than the serious and valid arguments from a reliable source.

    For example, Dr. Lustig, the most prominent critic of HFCS, makes it clear that it’s basically the same as sucrose from cane or beet.

    The reason HFCS is singled out is that during the last 30 years it has become ubiquitous in the modern diet.

    Because it is so cheap, compared to cane sugar, it has replaced cane sugar in most products that used can sugar. But that’s not the whole story. It is also now used in many foods that never had added sugar (ketchup; bread) and, if you look at the ingredient lists for foods, you’ll find HFCS near the top in nearly every processed food available. Especially the “low-fat” foods.

    HFCS has become a staple of the modern diet, and that directly coresponds with the obesity epidemic.

    It is virtually the same, chemically, as sucrose. But it is used in far more products than sucrose.

    ES

  43. estockly says:

    @BKseaon

    >>Reading through the comments, it seems that HFCS and particulalry HFCS-42 are some of the best options if you want to make fructose into the bogeyman. Maybe they should change the name to “low fructose corn syrup.”

    They already have a name for that, it’s called “corn syrup.” In the US the most familiar brand name is Kayro Syrup. It is mostly glucose with very little fructose.

    Fructose is what makes sugar sweet, glucose is what raises blood sugar.

    Fructose, especially in large doses, is stressful on the liver. Glucose leads to increased insulin production, increased fat storage and obesity.

    Both fructose and glucose, in the large amounts consumed in the typical American diet are “bogeymen.”

    ES

  44. mousethatroared says:

    Calli Arcale – sorry I kinda forgot I had made the rat food comment, so I didn’t check back for a response. Also sorry on the broken link.

    Thanks for the looking into it. I am sort of bemused by rodent care. I have a house mouse that I rescued from our cat as a pup, but boy is it hard to find reliable sources for rodent care online. Generally I do not get pets that don’t live 10+ years. So I don’t have much experience in the area…aside from various childhood mouse/hamster tragedies.

    It seems most of the sources I did find recommended a variety of seeds or the processed balanced diet rat pellets plus small quantities of fruits and veggies (depending upon the species of mouse). I’ve read various recommendations to avoid too much corn, peanuts and sunflower seeds (which can cause obesity). I won’t try to track down the links. I have no idea how much of that is guesswork, true or untrue.

    By the way, wonderful summary of concerns with farming business practices from you and DugganSC. You both put it much better than I could.

  45. Narad says:

    It is also now used in many foods that never had added sugar (ketchup; bread)

    [Gets out 1896 Czech cookbook.]

    Yup, there’s sugar in the recipe for tomato ketchup.

  46. Calli Arcale says:

    Bread’s also always had added sugar. Well, most commercial yeast breads, anyway. You can make bread without sugar, but it depends on how it’s leavened. Most traditional yeast breads call for sugar to feed the yeast so it makes lots of gas to puff up the bread. Doesn’t matter if the sugar comes from table sugar, corn syrup, HFCS, honey, molasses, or whatnot; the yeast isn’t picky. You *can* make bread without adding yeast, but it takes a lot longer to rise since you’ll have to wait for the yeast to start fermenting the starches in the flour. It will also taste different. (Sourdough is this sort of a bread.) This has obvious implications for a bakery, of course; if people want lots of cheap bread and they want it now, you’re going to want to add sugar so the yeast can start bubbling right away.

    Hmmm…. A thought just occurred to me. I wonder how much of that sugar (in breads where sugar is only added right at the beginning, when dissolving the yeast) is actually still present in the finished product. Surely the yeast is consuming some of it.

  47. estockly says:

    @ Naradon

    >>Yup, there’s sugar in the recipe for tomato ketchup.

    That’s interesting, how much sugar per serving? The comment on ketchup was based on the ingredients used in the commercial products made before the introduction of HFCS. I’ll see if I can document it.

    Meantime, this gave me a laugh:

    http://www.instructables.com/id/Ketchup-Catsup-Recipe/

    “With the ongoing battle against high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), people are beginning to realize just how ubiquitous it is – and recently the focus is on ketchup. Kids (and adults) can eat a lot of ketchup! And with that comes a surprising amount of HFCS. It’s time to take action. This recipe kicks all corn syrup to the curb!”

    2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
    1/2 cup white vinegar
    4 tablespoons brown sugar — Sucrose!
    1 tablespoon garlic powder
    1 tablespoon onion powder
    1/4 teaspoon allspice
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon molasses –Sucrose!
    1 teaspoon agave nectar — Fructose!
    2 1/2 cups water

    This recipe may be worse than store bought.

    ES

  48. Scott says:

    @ estockly:

    You laugh about how common it is for people to advocate replacing HFCS with other forms of sugar, yet still characterize Dr. Novella’s post as a strawman for refuting the contention that HFCS is somehow uniquely bad? That’s quite the disconnect here.

  49. Narad says:

    That’s interesting, how much sugar per serving?

    I can’t actually read Czech, but it looks to be a pound of sugar to half a bushel of tomatoes. A related 1949 volume printed in English reduces this to half a cup for half a bushel.

  50. Narad says:

    Anyway, a pound per half-bushel jibes with the recipe 15 years later from The Boston Cooking-School Magazine. So, about half a pound of sugar per gallon of finished ketchup.

  51. Chris says:

    I am drowning in pears. The Orcas just beg to be eaten in all sorts of way. Plus I have the gallon zip-lock bag of pears I froze last January (Bosc and Comice, this year’s crop is still on the tree). I have used pears in salad (very good with goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette), on pizza, pears roasted with carrots and sweet onion, and then steamed broccoli tossed with fried pear.

    I just made a barbecue sauce using tomato sauce and half the zip-lock bag of frozen pears, that was cooked down. It needs no sugar because those pears have plenty. I have added onion, spices, a touch of apple cider vinegar and it is cooking away. It is spicy sweet. All because of pear fructose.

    Soon I’ll be drowning in apple. They will get made into unsweetened applesauce that is cooked until it is very thick. I use it in baked goods like muffins to substitute some egg, oil and sugar. I also cook some down to an apple butter that is put on cheese biscuits with ham.

  52. Narad says:

    Just to run this down a bit further:

    The comment on ketchup was based on the ingredients used in the commercial products made before the introduction of HFCS.

    As it happens, I have handy a reprint of USDA Handbook No. 8 from 1956. They specify 25.4 g of total carbohydrate per 100 g of bottled ketchup. I also have a bottle of regular Heinz ketchup: 5 g total carbohydrate per 17 g serving, or 29.4 g per 100 g ketchup. The great post-HFCS increase isn’t really leaping out at me. One might further consider that the USDA number for straight tomato paste is 18.6 g total carbohydrate per 100 g, so that’s not all added sugar. In the homemade recipe, we have half a pound per finished gallon, which is 0.9 g per tablespoon.

  53. mousethatroared says:

    Regarding corn syrup versus sugar (in our area primarily beet) in recipes.

    I despise cooking or baking with corn syrup. It is a gooey mess. The only recipe that is worth the effort is pecan pie. Sugar and brown sugar is just easier to measure and mix.

    Aside from pecan pie, I often cut back on sugar amounts. I just don’t like things that sweet. IMO that is the problem with many commercial foods. Doesn’t matter what sugar they use, it’s just often TOO much sugar.

    I wish we could buy less sweetened convenience foods.

    Chris, you are killing me with your gourmet narrative. Very few local apples this year due to our strange spring.

    Narad – weird aside. Your recipe book reminded me of a story I heard in Kazakhstan. During the shortages, toward the end of the USSR, many things were rationed. It became a sort of customary joke to ask guests for dinner if they would like to wash before dinner or have sugar in their tea after dinner. “Would you like sugar or soap?” I know, Czech and Kazakhstan, not really related…

  54. estockly says:

    >>>Regarding corn syrup versus sugar (in our area primarily beet) in recipes.
    >>>I despise cooking or baking with corn syrup. It is a gooey mess. The only recipe that is worth the effort is pecan pie. Sugar and brown sugar is just easier to measure and mix.

    The corn syrup you cook with is most likely not HFCS. Corn syrup used in cooking is mostly glucose and has a very different flavor. It’s not nearly as sweet because it has little fructose and is mostly glucose.

    >>>Aside from pecan pie, I often cut back on sugar amounts. I just don’t like things that sweet. IMO that is the problem with many commercial foods. Doesn’t matter what sugar they use, it’s just often TOO much sugar.

    That’s right. But they just happen to be using HFCS because it’s much less expensive. (There may be other reasons, like different caramelization temperatures, but price is the main reason.)

    >>>I wish we could buy less sweetened convenience foods.

    Until that happens, just cook whole foods yourself.

    @scott
    >>>You laugh about how common it is for people to advocate replacing HFCS with other forms of sugar, yet still characterize Dr. Novella’s post as a strawman for refuting the contention that HFCS is somehow uniquely bad? >>That’s quite the disconnect here.

    Yes. It’s funny, no?

    My point is that replacing HFCS with three kinds of sugars that are just as bad is absurd.

    Sure, the idea is out there, there are people who believe it in ernest, but it’s an easy target. A straw man.

    A more serious and interesting discussion would confront the real issues of HFCS raised by Lustig and others.

    I’ve found several ketchup recipes with sugar and several without. The recipes without sugar specify very ripe fresh tomatoes, which may account for the difference. If a fruit ripens on the vine it has a better flavor than a fruit that ripens on the shelf. Maybe ketchup and bread weren’t the most clear examples for the additional sugar in foods… still, it’s HFCS is in an awful lot of food.

    ES

  55. Narad says:

    I know, Czech and Kazakhstan, not really related…

    These are both actually books that were produced for the market of Czech immigrants to the U.S. (they were my grandmother’s), and I did wonder whether the reduction of sugar in the later one was related to assembly of the manuscript at least partly during WWII, but that’s utter speculation.

  56. Narad says:

    I’ve found several ketchup recipes with sugar and several without. The recipes without sugar specify very ripe fresh tomatoes, which may account for the difference.

    Right, but you have already stated that “the comment on ketchup was based on the ingredients used in the commercial products made before the introduction of HFCS.” That comment was that ketchup is a food “that never had added sugar.” It’s not a bad example, it’s a non-example that isn’t improving with contradiction.

  57. mousethatroared says:

    estockly – Until that happens, just cook whole foods yourself…

    Just? They’re not really “convenience foods” if they’re not convenient. :)

  58. mousethatroared says:

    also estockly – thanks for the correction on the HFCS versus regular old corn syrup. I always forget that.

  59. estockly says:

    @mousethatroared

    >>Until that happens, just cook whole foods yourself…
    >>Just? They’re not really “convenience foods” if they’re not convenient.

    Keep in mind that the reason they add so much sugar (HFCS) to those foods is not necessarily to make them sweet.

    The sweet taste masks a lot of other flavors that are not pleasant. The best example I can think of is the way chocolate goes from bitter to smooth with the right amount of sugar.

    Food processing, which makes foods convenient, makes it taste like crap. Added sugar makes it sweet.

    The choice isn’t between too sweet and just right it’s often between too sweet and bitter-sour-inedible.

    ES

  60. Chris says:

    estockly:

    The best example I can think of is the way chocolate goes from bitter to smooth with the right amount of sugar.

    Um, yeah. There is also adding other fats like butter, cream (ganache) or shortening (blech!). And never letting in any water. You can make bitter chocolate smooth if it is properly tempered. Temper, temper, temper. That is a pun.

    And I have yet to get Dutch processed cocoa “smooth.” Though I have made some decent cakes and hot cocoa with it.

    Food processing, which makes foods convenient, makes it taste like crap. Added sugar makes it sweet.

    Many of the processes that have been used for centuries are to keep food past harvest. Some of it does not taste like crap. For instance many cheeses, pickles and dried food. Sauerkraut and kimchi keep lots longer than cabbages. Some do contain sugar to retard mold growth. Though, as noted before, that sugar is often from the foods themselves.

  61. Narad says:

    The best example I can think of is the way chocolate goes from bitter to smooth with the right amount of sugar.

    “Bitter” and “smooth” are not points that I would name on a single chocolate continuum. And what does this have to do with anything? Let’s look at this latest entry:

    1. HFCS is not added to make things sweet, but…

    2. …to mask unpleasant flavors.

    3. Despite point #1, added sugar makes crap-taste processed food sweet.

    4. But not “too sweet.”

    5. HFCS!!!

  62. mousethatroared says:

    Narad – don’t blame estockly for veering OT – clearly that is my fault.

  63. estockly says:

    >>>“Bitter” and “smooth” are not points that I would name on a single chocolate continuum.

    These may be imprecise terms, but if you taste unsweetened chocolate it’s bitter and harsh. As you add sugar it becomes less bitter and the chocolates “smoothness” comes out before it becomes noticeably sweet.

    What words would you use to describe the change?

    >>>And what does this have to do with anything?

    The topic is HFCS. The point is that it’s a problem not because it’s worse than sugar, but because it’s in so many foods.

    >>1. HFCS is not added to make things sweet, but …to mask unpleasant flavors.

    To mask the unpleasant flavors of processed foods. This is happening when more people are eating highly processed foods than ever before.

    Not sure what the point you’re trying to make is.

    Are you saying that HFCS has not replaced sucrose in many foods or that it’s not being added in high concentration to many foods that had little or no sugar before?

    ES

  64. Narad says:

    What words would you use to describe the change?

    “Sweet” and “bitter” spring to mind, as opposed to “smooth” and “grainy” in the realm of chocolate confectionery.

    The topic is HFCS.

    Actually, I’m getting the impression that it’s tossing out names of foodstuffs and declaring “HFCS!” at the end, regardless of the validity of the intermediate assumptions.

    To mask the unpleasant flavors of processed foods.

    Um, yes, I think I summarized this assertion correctly. Now, perhaps you’d like to identify a particular “unpleasant flavor” that can be “masked” by sugar, leaving aside that this has bugger all to do with sucrose vs. HFCS.

    Are you saying that HFCS has not replaced sucrose in many foods or that it’s not being added in high concentration to many foods that had little or no sugar before?

    Did you miss the ketchup bit? It’s not my fault that your go-to bogeyman didn’t pan out.

  65. Narad says:

    Having done a bit of poking around, I see that estockly’s ketchup claim is simply parroting Lustig. It appears at least in this credulous WNYC interview. (And, really, somebody gave Alec Baldwin a public radio show?) Upon scanning the transcript, it appears that Lustig has a pretty free-wheeling approach to whomping up explanations of the content of food. Consider this:

    So why do I call it the Coca-Cola conspiracy? Well, what’s in Coke? Caffeine, good, good. So what’s caffeine? It’s a mild stimulant, right? It’s also a diuretic. It makes you pee free water. What else is in Coke? We’ll get to the sugar in a minute. What else? Salt, 55 milligrams of sodium per can, it’s like drinking a pizza. So what happens if you take on sodium and lose free water, you get? Thirstier, right. So why is there so much sugar in Coke? To hide the salt.

    Think about this for a moment. For some reason, in order to play “hide the salt,” all 45 mg (not 55 mg on the current 12 oz. label) or less, we’re going to add 39 grams of sugar. Yup, makes perfect sense. That’s what it’s doing there.

  66. fledarmus1 says:

    @estockly – “Are you saying that HFCS has not replaced sucrose in many foods or that it’s not being added in high concentration to many foods that had little or no sugar before?”

    The clues here are “in high concentration” and “had little or no sugar before” – and the answer is a resounding “Yes, that’s exactly what they’re saying”. For every example given in this thread of a foodstuff that is supposedly being made extra-calorie-dense by the addition of HFCS, the evidence appears to be that the total carbohydrates have not been changed, and that those foods you are claiming had “little or no sugar before” in fact have very nearly the same amount of sugar now as they ever had. Specifically, ketchup recipes were always sweetened, and bread recipes were always sweetened. I believe you can make a case that we eat more sugar of all sorts now than previously, but you will have to do it through claims of changes of diet rather than changes of recipes – in other words “we eat more ketchup and bread in place of foods which contained less sugar” rather than “our ketchup and bread now contains more sugar than ever before”.

    The first part of your statement, “Are you saying that HFCS has not replaced sucrose in many foods…” – I don’t see that claim anywhere in the article or in the subsequent claims. Instead, the response seems to be that the substitution of HFCS for other sugars on a per calorie basis is health neutral, that most of the vilification of HFCS is related to an erroneous perception of the effects of fructose, and that many of the proposed and actual substitutions for HFCS in fact contain more fructose than HFCS does. And you have said yourself that your argument is not based on HFCS being worse than sugar, so I fail to see it’s relevance in this sentence.

    I think an argument based on the negative health effects of over-consumption of sugar is valid, but I don’t believe you have supported a villain’s role for any use of HFCS in contributing to the problem.

  67. DugganSC says:

    @Narad:
    And, of course, they’ve also shown that caffeine is not, in fact, a diuretic (TL;DR: it makes you urinate more frequently but with the same total volume as an identical quantity of water), so that chips things even further away.

  68. Narad says:

    Specifically, ketchup recipes were always sweetened, and bread recipes were always sweetened.

    I think one can get to bottled ketchup having nearly twice as much sugar as the popular recipe for home canning. I’ve avoided dealing with bread so far, as the amount of sugar used to get the yeast going really isn’t much for your average white loaf. However, given that Lustig singles out “hamburger buns” as the breadstuff in question, let’s have a go.

    The hamburger bun was apparently invented by Walter Anderson of White Castle fame in 1921. This is, effectively, a soft dinner roll. Taking offhand a 1928 recipe, one finds 60 grams of added sugar (including the malt), yielding 24 buns at 70 g each, or 2.5 grams added sugar per bun. The hamburger buns I have in the fridge contain 5 g sugars per 64 g bun. (As a sanity check, the current White Castle “traditional bun” is listed at miscellaneous online nutritional-info sites as having 1 g sugars per 25 g bun, right in line with the dinner roll.) Once again, a rough doubling from scratch to packaged, but not really supporting the claim that it was never there before the toppling of Batista, which seems to be part of Lustig’s routine.

  69. estockly says:

    >>>I think one can get to bottled ketchup having nearly twice as much sugar as the popular recipe for home canning.

    We might be comparing apples and oranges here. The real comparison should be bottled ketchup from the 1970s, before HFCS was used and bottled ketchup today. (Home recipes using fresh, ripe tomatoes may need less sugar.)

    >>>Once again, a rough doubling from scratch to packaged…

    And again, the comparison should be more direct. Pre-HFCS, 1970′s bread recipes to modern recipes. I’m looking for those comparisons.

    >>>…but not really supporting the claim that it was never there before the toppling of Batista, which seems to be part of Lustig’s routine.

    I think Lustig’s broad and general claim is that in many foods HFCS is now the first or second ingredient listed. The order of ingredients is based on the how much is in the product, where as before sugar was not as high and in some products was not used.

    >>>Actually, I’m getting the impression that it’s tossing out names of foodstuffs and declaring “HFCS!” at the end, regardless of the validity of the intermediate assumptions.

    Look at the food labels. Most processed foods. HFCS isn’t at the end, it’s more often near the top.

    >>>To mask the unpleasant flavors of processed foods.

    Now, perhaps you’d like to identify a particular “unpleasant flavor” that can be “masked” by sugar

    Bitter (see the example of chocolate). Sour. Salty.

    >>>leaving aside that this has bugger all to do with sucrose vs. HFCS.

    Right… my point is that is an irrelevant straw man. Sucrose is virtually the same as HFCS.

    My claim is HFCS is much cheaper and has become ubiquitous in the modern American diet. More so than sugar was.

    Do you dispute that?

    >>>Are you saying that HFCS has not replaced sucrose in many foods or that it’s not being added in high concentration to many foods that had little or no sugar before?

    >>Did you miss the ketchup bit?

    Didn’t miss it. Turns out it was not the clearest example, as I pointed out.

    >>>Having done a bit of poking around, I see that estockly’s ketchup claim is simply parroting Lustig.

    Guilty.

    >>>Think about this for a moment. For some reason, in order to play “hide the salt,” all 45 mg (not 55 mg on the current 12 oz. label) or less, we’re going to add 39 grams of sugar. Yup, makes perfect sense. That’s what it’s doing there.

    What’s your point? Are you saying the sweetener doesn’t mask the saltiness? Are you saying they both happen to be in the recipe and have no relation to each other? Are you saying the sweet taste does not mask other flavors?

    (In Coke, I think it also masks the bitterness of caffiene.)

    @fledarmus1

    >>The clues here are “in high concentration” and “had little or no sugar before” – and the answer is a resounding “Yes, that’s exactly what they’re saying”.

    There’s a different between arguing that the examples in my comment don’t prove the point and that the point, that HFCS is in more foods now than sucrose was, and that in many foods that had sugar, they now have more HFCS, is false.

    >>>Specifically, ketchup recipes were always sweetened, and bread recipes were always sweetened.

    Some ketchup recipes were some were not. Bread often has more HFCS now than it had in sugar before, I believe.

    >>>I believe you can make a case that we eat more sugar of all sorts now than previously

    The data I’ve seen shows we consume about the same amount of cane and beat sugar as before and much more HFCS.

    >>>Instead, the response seems to be that the substitution of HFCS for other sugars on a per calorie basis is health neutral…

    Agreed…

    >>> that most of the vilification of HFCS is related to an erroneous perception of the effects of fructose…

    Fructose is toxic when it hits the liver in a large dose, as it does when once consumes, for example a big-gulp coca cola. The glucose in that same soda also spikes blood sugar/insulin, which leads to excess fat storage.

    Lustig’s point (and I agree) is that sugar is toxic, whether it’s sucrose or HFCS and that it’s become ubiquitous in our diet.

    That’s where the real debate should be.

    >>>and that many of the proposed and actual substitutions for HFCS in fact contain more fructose than HFCS does.

    I can think of only one (Agave) and that’s not that significant.

    >>>I think an argument based on the negative health effects of over-consumption of sugar is valid, but I don’t believe you have supported a villain’s role for any use of HFCS in contributing to the problem.

    I agree I have done a poor job supporting my position. It should be easy enough to find good data.

    ES

  70. Narad says:

    We might be comparing apples and oranges here. The real comparison should be bottled ketchup from the 1970s, before HFCS was used and bottled ketchup today.

    I’ve already done this.

    And again, the comparison should be more direct. Pre-HFCS, 1970′s bread recipes to modern recipes. I’m looking for those comparisons.

    I’ve already also done this.

  71. Narad says:

    Now, perhaps you’d like to identify a particular “unpleasant flavor” that can be “masked” by sugar

    Bitter (see the example of chocolate). Sour. Salty.

    You haven’t identified flavors, you’ve identified taste receptors. If one puts too much salt in a sauce, adding sugar does not mask it, it makes things worse.

    My claim is HFCS is much cheaper and has become ubiquitous in the modern American diet. More so than sugar was.

    Do you dispute that?

    I dispute that HFCS represents a notable caloric addition over the earlier use of sugar for any of the examples that you have provided.

    What’s your point? Are you saying the sweetener doesn’t mask the saltiness?

    I’m saying that trying to explain the amount of sugar in Coca-Cola as having something to do with “masking saltiness” is absurd. There’s 3 orders of magnitude more sugar than sodium.

    Are you saying they both happen to be in the recipe and have no relation to each other?

    To tell you the truth, I have no idea what the source of the sodium in U.S.-labeled Coca-Cola is. For all I know, it’s a result of possibly having to buffer the mix and not “in the recipe.” In any event, if I were preparing a recipe, why would I add something with the intention of having to “mask” it later?

  72. stanmrak says:

    Unfortunately, no independent group is testing GMOs sufficiently to discover if they’re truly safe. The ‘trials’ are being done on YOU. You are the guinea pigs, and without proper labeling, you probably aren’t even aware of this.

    The FDA conducts no independent testing of GMOs, but instead claims that they are “not substantially different” from non-GMO foods. (The government agencies policing this are full of former Monsanto executives and lobbyists, so they’re hardly unbiased) The biotech industry is not required to conduct long-term safety studies on GMOs, either, and it actually PREVENTS independent researchers from conducting those tests by claiming the right to protect its patented seeds and technologies.

    In addition, Big Agra uses its influence and resources to control and censor all research on GMOs.
    http://www.anh-usa.org/big-food-trying-to-control-universities/

    The companies who want you to believe GMOs are safe are the same ones who lied to you about Agent Orange and DDT. They’re using the same PR firms that Big Tobacco used to obfuscate the truth. They’re spending millions of dollars to defeat mandatory labeling of GMOs because they don’t want you to know that you’re eating them. They also can’t be liable for any health effects either, since you won’t know that your allergies or your fertility problems (for example) may have come from years of eating GM corn and soy. They don’t want you to know that all the promises they’ve made about the benefits of GMOs are, one by one, being exposed as lies. Yields are not greater in the long run, pesticide and herbicide use is skyrocketing, new superweeds have developed a resistance to RoundUp, and soil and water is being contaminated with toxic chemicals. This is anything but sustainable.

  73. Narad says:

    They also can’t be liable for any health effects either, since you won’t know that your allergies or your fertility problems (for example) may have come from years of eating GM corn and soy.

    Stan, what would you claim to be the difference between fructose and glucose from GMO and non-GMO sources?

  74. Harriet Hall says:

    Genetically modified is bad? Maybe we should go back to teosinte.

  75. The Dave says:

    stanmrak:

    Just won’t give up on the gmo’s, will you? And to throw in some invalid logic with regards to Agent Orange, et. al.

    Maybe you could try these:

    http://skeptoid.com/blog/2012/02/09/agent-orange-and-gmo-non-sequitur-of-the-day/

    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4112

    Enjoy.

  76. estockly says:

    Here are some links to actual data.

    Overall it looks like we increased our consumption of caloric sweeteners about 8 pounds per year, following the introduction of HFCS.

    Consumption of HFCS peaked in 1999, and has dropped off somewhat. But, it’s clear there has not only been a shift from sucrose to HFCS, but an increase in total consumption.

    ES

    File:Usda sweeteners.svg – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Usda_sweeteners.svg

    USDA ERS – Sugar and Sweeteners Yearbook Tables
    http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/sugar-and-sweeteners-yearbook-tables.aspx#25512

    USDA ERS – Sugar and Sweeteners Yearbook Tables
    http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/sugar-and-sweeteners-yearbook-tables.aspx#25456
    (Tables 49, 51, 52 and 53)

  77. stanmrak says:

    Why anyone would trust Monsanto is beyond comprehension. Just look at their track record. No science is necessary. The real scary thing about GM agriculture is that it’s a Pandora’s box. Once GM crops invade and contaminate other crops, after all the bees and bats are gone from overexposure to RoundUp and crops can’t get pollinated, it’ll be too late to go back. Our food supply will be destroyed.

    you have been warned…

  78. The Dave says:

    Thanks for the warning. Now go away.

  79. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Stan, the goal of Monsanto is not to kill all humans. The goal of Monsanto is to make money. Part of that process is the creation of products that people want. Food is one of those products. Corporations are greedy, not evil. Even at their most diabolical and selfish, Monsanto is still dedicated to producing food and increasing the food supply – not killing all humans.

    Also, evolution is not static, Round-up is highly unlikely to kill all plants or animals. If it becomes ubiquitous in the environment, eventually life will evolve to compensate for this. Even if it is chronically toxic, it is not acutely so bar drowning. It is not a poison and even in the kingdom it is designed to kill, plants, there will be at worst a population bottleneck that results in the massive explosion of plants able to resist its effects. The absolute worst-case scenario here is the death of all humans, not the end of the universe. And I wouldn’t be surprised if many opponents of Monsanto would think this a good thing, no matter the fact that the world and universe would be materially less interesting for it. Without humans, there is no other way we are aware of in which the universe can think about itself.

    None of this means we should take Monsanto at its word, trust them or assume they can do only good. Far from it. It just means caution and study is necessary, as are government-mandated restraints and safety reviews on products. Because of Monsanto and similar corporations, more people have food to eat, food is cheaper, and fewer people starve or die of malnutrition. That’s good. But it doesn’t make Monsanto a universal benefit any more than their ethically dubious conduct and vexatious litigation makes the company a universal detriment. Absolutism and pretending it comes down to a simple matter of good people and evil corporations helps nobody. A return to a corporation-free world would result in mass starvation.

    That being said, Monsanto as an entity is more than a bit of an asshole.

  80. Calli Arcale says:

    Regarding sugar being added to Coca-Cola to mask the salt…..

    Now, that’s just plain ridiculous. There is no salt in Coca-Cola. Salt is generally not a desirable ingredient in beverages. (There’s a reason why sailors are warned never to give into the temptation to drink seawater, even if water supplies are low.) There is *sodium*, but sodium isn’t salt. Sodium is a component of table salt, sodium chloride, but it is also found in a lot of other compounds. Traditional carbonated beverages actually contained sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda or bicarbonate of soda, hence the word “soda” to describe carbonated beverages) to create the fizz. This is usually also the source of the fizz in naturally sparkling mineral water. Soda water. Water with bicarbonate of soda. This isn’t often found in commercial carbonated beverages today, because it tends to have a flavor that folks don’t like very much — and yes, there is a bit of a vaguely salty aspect to it. (Having suffered acid reflux disease all my life, I have eaten baking soda straight. Not terrible. Not great. But it gives relief when I suddenly discover I’ve run out of Tums.) Instead, they are carbonated — carbon dioxide is dissolved into the water, which is then stored under pressure. When the pressure is relieved, the carbon dioxide starts precipitating out of the water, making bubbles.

    So where does the sodium come from, if not sodium bicarbonate or sodium chloride? Sodium benzoate and sodium citrate are the major sources in commercial soft drinks. Chemically speaking, they are salts of the sodium ion, but they are not what the average person would call salt. (Sodium citrate, in fact, tastes a bit lemony and only slightly salty.) Both are used as preservatives. Sodium benzoate has been the source of some controversy, and is part of the claim that food colorings might be causing hyperactivity in children. It’s claimed to be a reaction between the sodium benzoate and the food colorings that creates a hazardous product. The evidence is mixed right now, but Coca-cola is reportedly phasing out the use of sodium benzoate in pursuit of a more “natural” product. Hopefully, they are not replacing it with another sodium salt; it would be nice if they would seize this opportunity to lower the sodium content of their drinks.

    Anyway. The sugar in these drinks isn’t added to mask the sodium salts (not sodium chloride). It’s added because sweet drinks are yummy, which is easily demonstrated by seeing how much sugar is in other drinks — LOTS. Sugar tastes good; they’re just trying to appeal to our taste buds, and we’re going merrily along with it. I don’t blame the beverage companies for this. It’s not like they’re making us drink it.

    BTW, I’ve heard it claimed that the reason why HFCS is popular in sodas isn’t actually just because it’s cheap (which in turn is because of corn subsidies more than anything else). It’s because it comes in a syrup. Adding sugar usually means first making a syrup in order to get it to blend easily and well. With HFCS, that’s already done — instead of working to dissolve the sugar into your drink, you’re basically diluting the sugar syrup with your drink. This doesn’t explain why it is preferred elsewhere, of course, where this effect makes little difference to the process. There, I’m sure it’s just a matter of price.

  81. Calli,

    That was honestly one of the most informative and interesting comments I’ve ever read. I did not know any of that, and I honestly thought it was just table salt in Coke. What you wrote makes perfect sense. It just never occured to me that sodium in food wasn’t just salt. I assume this applies to all food labels, right? That while it’s still a sodium ion that can cause fluid retention and exacerbate hypertension, etc, it’s not necessarily a molecule of sodium chloride.

    Here’s a digestion question I don’t know much about. When does salt dissociate? As soon as it hits the mouth? In the stomach? And does that have any effect on taste? I ask about this, because it leads into the topic of MSG, which is just a sodium + glutatmate. I wondered when MSG dissociates, because I wondered, in the mouth, what the biochemical difference would be between MSG and (free?) glutamate that exists naturally in food that gives the umami taste.

  82. estockly says:

    @Calli

    So, coke has sodium, in various forms, which are salts, but not table salt.

    Does the sodium act the same way as table salt, in making people thirsty and does it have an salty or other strong, unpleasant flavor, that the needs sugar to mask? If so, then Lustig’s claim is not “plain ridiculous.”

    Since the recipe for coke is secret we really don’t know how much of what kind of sodium is in coke. We don’t even know for sure if there is or isn’t any table salt, right?

    Here’s a link to the video where Lustig makes his case against HFCS (and sugar).

    http://youtu.be/dBnniua6-oM

    He makes it very clear that HFCS and sugar are just as bad as each other. That’s not the issue.

    ES

  83. Narad says:

    So where does the sodium come from, if not sodium bicarbonate or sodium chloride? Sodium benzoate and sodium citrate are the major sources in commercial soft drinks.

    I suppose one could toss municipal water treatment of the supply to the bottling plant into the mix as well, since the total budget is only an upper limit of 107 mg/l. Chicago water comes in at about 5 mg/l, but apparently the different softening schemes can jack this through the roof (LaGrange, IL mean concentration 1972–1978: 405 mg/l). East Hartford, CT, where there’s a bottling plant, looks to have a soft water supply.

  84. Narad says:

    Does the sodium act the same way as table salt, in making people thirsty and does it have an salty or other strong, unpleasant flavor, that the needs sugar to mask? If so, then Lustig’s claim is not “plain ridiculous.”

    You seem to be missing the part where it requires some sort of weird conspiracy to add salt in order to get people to drink more, which devious additive then implausibly is suggested to account for the sugar payload.

  85. estockly says:

    >>>You seem to be missing the part where it requires some sort of weird conspiracy to add salt in order to get people to drink more, which devious additive then implausibly is suggested to account for the sugar payload.

    The “smoking gun” in this case is the recipe for New Coke. More sodium and more HFCS.

    No conspiracy required, by the way. They’re making a product that they want people to consume in large quantities repeatedly and they developed a recipe that meets those goals. Just like every other beverage maker.

    Now, if they were to try to put cocaine back into their recipe, that would be a conspiracy, not because it’s addictive, because it’s illegal.

    ES

  86. Narad says:

    They’re making a product that they want people to consume in large quantities repeatedly and they developed a recipe that meets those goals.

    And you’re asserting, apparently because you cannot admit into consciousness the possibility that Lustig might have just said something dumb, that this is accomplished with salty, which is an unpleasant flavor that has to be masked and sugar is a masking agent but not a very good one, because it takes 1000 times as much to hide the unpleasant salt that makes you thirsty for more because you’re drinking a pizza.

  87. Calli Arcale says:

    estockly:

    Does the sodium act the same way as table salt, in making people thirsty and does it have an salty or other strong, unpleasant flavor, that the needs sugar to mask? If so, then Lustig’s claim is not “plain ridiculous.”

    Yes and no. The sodium salts used in beverages obviously won’t have identical chemical properties to table salt, and they don’t taste as salty. (Sodium citrate, for instance, tastes kind of vaguely salty, but mostly tastes sour. LOTS of soft drinks have it for this reason This combination of salty and sour is actually very useful as a flavoring, since people generally like such combinations. Salty and sweet is the genius behind chocolate-covered pretzels, for instance, and of course sweet and sour is the basis of things like ketchup and the terribly naughty but awesomely delicious General Tso’s Chicken.) They are usually very effective as preservatives, though, without tasting as salty as, well, salt.

    They do have similar health concerns to table salt; people on sodium-restricted diets do need to be mindful of them as well as sodium chloride. (Note: potassium chloride, which tastes just like sodium chloride, does not have the same effects on blood pressure and such, which is why people on sodium-restricted diets use it as a salt substitute. It’s also why sea salt is fashionable right now, although the potassium chloride content is really so low it isn’t really noticeably better for you.)

    If you want to know what it tastes like without salt, get some club soda. Usually, this is nothing more than water, carbon dioxide, and some kind of mineral salt dissolved in it to give it a flavor like sparkling mineral water. Often, it’s sodium citrate. Since club soda is unsweetened, this should give you an idea of what unsweetened soda tastes like. (Just an idea, mind you. There are other flavors in soda besides sugar and the mineral salts. Coca-cola’s most famous flavoring is an extract of coca leaves which imparts a characteristically bitter flavor. Again, it’s all about combinations — not so much masking as pairing. Bitter and sweet is a popular combination, as millions of cappuccino drinkers can attest.)

    Since the recipe for coke is secret we really don’t know how much of what kind of sodium is in coke. We don’t even know for sure if there is or isn’t any table salt, right?

    One minor niggle: a big to-do is made about Coca-Cola’s recipe being secret, and they encourage that since it gives them a cachet of specialness that is useful for marketing, but in fact nearly all of these recipes are considered trade secrets. It’s not really for concealing anything from the public, but for maintaining their closely guarded ability to distinguish themselves from their competitors. In other words, it’s really more about not being the other guy. Makes sense only from a marketing standpoint.

    We don’t know exactly how much of each ingredient is put in, but they are legally obligated to disclose the nutritional facts, and that can at least get us into the ballpark. We don’t know exactly how much of each sodium compound is present, but we do know the total amount of sodium, from which we can do a bit of algebra to work out a range within which the quantities must fall. So we don’t know exactly (at least not without a chemical assay), but we do know the part that matters, which is the total sodium content.

  88. Calli Arcale says:

    Arg; typo! Above, I said ‘”If you want to know what it tastes like without salt, get some club soda.” That should, of course, be “If you want to know what it tastes like without sugar, get some club soda.”

  89. mousethatroared says:

    Calli Arcale – Really enjoying your thoughts on sodium and foods. I thought you were a software engineer (although I don’t know how I got that impression). If you don’t mind my asking, how do you know so much about food components?

  90. estockly says:

    >>>Calli Arcale – Really enjoying your thoughts on sodium and foods.

    Same here!

    >>>This combination of salty and sour is actually very useful as a flavoring, since people generally like such combinations. Salty and sweet is the genius behind chocolate-covered pretzels, for instance, and of course sweet and sour is the basis of things like ketchup and the terribly naughty but awesomely delicious General Tso’s Chicken.)

    So it’s possible they’re not masking the sodium flavor with sugar, but balancing the flavor with sweet. That is an interesting distinction.

    >>>If you want to know what it tastes like without salt, get some club soda.

    Hmm, I happen to have a can of club soda right here (it’s the only carbonated beverage I drink) and it has 35mg of sodium per can compared to coca cola, which has 30 mg.

    I see other brands of club soda have more (as much as 75 to 100 mg) or less (25mg) per can.

    Of course, much depends on how much which sodiums (salts) are used in the recipes.

    ES

  91. Narad says:

    Here’s a digestion question I don’t know much about. When does salt dissociate? As soon as it hits the mouth? In the stomach?

    I’m going with the mouth. (This also provides citations regarding an increased detection threshold for saltiness in the presence of sweet, which does
    give estockly something to cling to, but not to the tune of 39 grams.)

  92. Narad says:

    Oh, no, I’ve fallen into the pit. A nice little review of the tasteworks here.

  93. Calli Arcale says:

    Mousethatroared: I was a chemistry major before I fell in love with computers; that has a lot to do with it. ;-) That, and I love to cook. Other than that, it’s just dweebishness; I like factoids and sort of collect them like other people collect coupons or stamps.

    estockly — from a labeling perspective, I don’t think it matters which sodium salt is there; they’ll count it all. But you’re right that it definitely has an affect on the taste. I’ve made homemade soda with sodium bicarbonate; it was pretty vile. :-D Not sure how much is the baking soda and how much is that it’s just not something I have much experience with — maybe I put in too much? I dunno. The baking soda stuff didn’t really taste salty though. Kind of sort of salty. Maybe. Actually, it made me think of really bad cake.

  94. estockly says:

    @Narad

    >>This also provides citations regarding an increased detection threshold for saltiness in the presence of sweet, which does give estockly something to cling to, but not to the tune of 39 grams.

    Interesting links, thanks! Although I wasn’t really looking for anything to “cling to.”

    If you doubt that sugar can mask other flavors try this: Melt a cup of unsweetened bakers chocolate. Try a teaspoon and see how it tastes. Then ad a tablespoon of sugar and taste again, repeat until it’s not bitter.

    That said, it doesn’t really matter why they add so much HFCS to coke. Masking salt, or balancing sweet and sour, or just cause they (or their customers in taste tests) like the flavor. The point is it’s there. It’s there in Dr. Pepper and Pepsi, etc. etc.

    HFCS is just as bad, no better no worse, than sugar, and if sugar were in the same number of products in the same concentrations, the only difference is that prices for some products would probably be higher.

    And we’d still have an obesity epidemic.

    ES

  95. Narad says:

    If you doubt that sugar can mask other flavors try this: Melt a cup of unsweetened bakers chocolate. Try a teaspoon and see how it tastes. Then ad a tablespoon of sugar and taste again, repeat until it’s not bitter.

    Oh, great, it’s time to circle back to another “unpleasant flavor.” I know what unsweetened chocolate tastes like, thanks; I refer to this taste as “chocolate.” One might note that this “unpleasantness,” which is supposed to serve some sort of explanatory purpose, flies in the face of thousands of years of unsweetened consumption. If you want to “mask” the taste of chocolate, I highly recommend destroying the mouthfeel with cheap vegetable fat. Overroasting the beans works a treat, as well, and no amount of sugar is going to fix it.

    That said, it doesn’t really matter why they add so much HFCS to coke.

    The two Lustig examples provided of foods that purportedly never had added sugar have failed: The original hamburger bun appears to have no more sugar now than it ever did, and bottled ketchups do not have particularly more sugar now than in the pre-HFCS era. The Coca-Cola “masking” rationale has fallen on its face. Therefore, Lustig’s right. Got it.

  96. Narad says:

    And one more question for estockly: Just because HFCS is cheaper than cane or beet sugar, how does this explain introducing a cost to “something that never had it” in the first place? Is this the purpose that the “masking” routine is actually supposed to serve? Let’s glance at a little data. One is looking at a pretty even caloric swap until the early 1990s, a trend that starts to reverse about a decade later. What else might have been going on in this time frame? Low-fat marketing craze, perhaps?

  97. estockly says:

    >>>I know what unsweetened chocolate tastes like, thanks; I refer to this taste as “chocolate.”

    Bitter chocolate, to be precise.

    >>> If you want to “mask” the taste of chocolate, I highly recommend destroying the mouthfeel with cheap vegetable fat.

    That’s seems to be something you agree with Lustig on. He points out that when you remove fat from food, it tastes lousy and sugar helps.

    >>>Overroasting the beans works a treat, as well, and no amount of sugar is going to fix it.

    I really don’t understand what point you’re making here. Isn’t most chocolate consumed these days sweetened with HFCS?

    >>>The two Lustig examples provided of foods that purportedly never had added sugar have failed: The original hamburger bun appears to have no more sugar now than it ever did, and bottled ketchups do not have particularly more sugar now than in the pre-HFCS era.

    You say you’ve shown that, but I look through the comments and you haven’t. Not in either case. Yes bread had sugar, but now it has more HFCS. Yes some ketchup recipes in the past had sugar, some didn’t.

    I’m also noticing you’re ignoring the fact that consumption of caloric sweeteners has significantly increased since the advent of HFCS.

    >>> The Coca-Cola “masking” rationale has fallen on its face.

    Masking or balance, what’s the difference?

    >>>Therefore, Lustig’s right. Got it.

    Why the fixation on Lustig? The issue is HFCS and sugar. Not Lustig.

    >>>And one more question for estockly: Just because HFCS is cheaper than cane or beet sugar, how does this explain introducing a cost to “something that never had it” in the first place?

    I have no idea what you’re asking here. But a couple things. HFCS is not only cheaper, it’s also a more stable price, and since it’s introduction the price of sugar, which previously fluctuated drastically has also stabilized.

    >>>Is this the purpose that the “masking” routine is actually supposed to serve?

    Again, I have no idea what you’re asking.

    >>> Let’s glance at a little data. One is looking at a pretty even caloric swap until the early 1990s, a trend that starts to reverse about a decade later. What else might have been going on in this time frame? Low-fat marketing craze, perhaps?

    Yes. Removing fat from foods is one of the reasons they add HFCS to foods. Now you’re parrotting Lustig.

    ES

  98. Narad says:

    Bitter chocolate, to be precise.

    There is no “precision” whatever in this remark. Unsweetened is unsweetened. “Bitter” is a perception.

    >>> If you want to “mask” the taste of chocolate, I highly recommend destroying the mouthfeel with cheap vegetable fat.

    That’s seems to be something you agree with Lustig on. He points out that when you remove fat from food, it tastes lousy and sugar helps.

    No, it has nothing to do with Lustig, and I’m talking about adding fat, not removing it.

    >>>Overroasting the beans works a treat, as well, and no amount of sugar is going to fix it.

    I really don’t understand what point you’re making here. Isn’t most chocolate consumed these days sweetened with HFCS?

    This is a non sequitur.

    You say you’ve shown that, but I look through the comments and you haven’t. Not in either case. Yes bread had sugar, but now it has more HFCS. Yes some ketchup recipes in the past had sugar, some didn’t.

    You are not reading very carefully. Remember, I gave you before it occurred to you to back into the notion, and before you tried to take a left turn into unspecified, unsweetened recipes for homemade ketchup, the figure for pre-HFCS bottled ketchup. The increase to the present day is modest and, without a time series, unassignable to HFCS.

    I’m also noticing you’re ignoring the fact that consumption of caloric sweeteners has significantly increased since the advent of HFCS.

    “Ignoring”? Did I not just provide you with a graph of just that item from USDA data?

    >>> The Coca-Cola “masking” rationale has fallen on its face.

    Masking or balance, what’s the difference?

    One is a sinister rationale, the other is a recipe that you have adduced no evidence whatever for having changed in sugar content.

    Why the fixation on Lustig? The issue is HFCS and sugar. Not Lustig.

    Your very first comment dropped the name. You parroted him without citation for the ketchup and bread claims and have been tediously trying to preserve his Coca-Cola claims. You’re right, there’s no telling why he would have anything to do with anything.

    >>>And one more question for estockly: Just because HFCS is cheaper than cane or beet sugar, how does this explain introducing a cost to “something that never had it” in the first place?

    I have no idea what you’re asking here. But a couple things. HFCS is not only cheaper, it’s also a more stable price, and since it’s introduction the price of sugar, which previously fluctuated drastically has also stabilized.

    Your contention is that HFCS has appeared in places where it never existed before. It’s suddenly ubiquitous, remember? Now, what is the reason to add a cost to a marketable product just for the hell of it?

    >>>Is this the purpose that the “masking” routine is actually supposed to serve?

    Again, I have no idea what you’re asking.

    These are not complicated prose assemblies.

    Yes. Removing fat from foods is one of the reasons they add HFCS to foods. Now you’re parrotting Lustig.

    No, I’m pointing out that simple parsimony suggests that an increase that has already trended down, and has a pretty clear target for further investigation painted on it, in total sugar consumption isn’t going to explain an obesity epidemic.

  99. Narad says:

    One blockquote missed in the foregoing, sorry.

  100. estockly says:

    >>>“Ignoring”? Did I not just provide you with a graph of just that item from USDA data?

    But ignoring the implications… se below.

    >>> Masking or balance, what’s the difference?
    >>One is a sinister rationale, the other is a recipe that you have adduced no evidence whatever for having changed in sugar content.

    I see no difference. Neither is sinister.

    As to evidence for the recipe simply compare the ingredients for new coke and coke.

    >>Why the fixation on Lustig? The issue is HFCS and sugar. Not Lustig.
    >>Your very first comment dropped the name. You parroted him without citation for the ketchup and bread claims and have been tediously trying to preserve his Coca-Cola claims.

    So your fixation with Lustig is my fault.

    >>>And one more question for estockly: Just because HFCS is cheaper than cane or beet sugar, how does this explain introducing a cost to “something that never had it” in the first place?

    >>>Now, what is the reason to add a cost to a marketable product just for the hell of it?

    Several. First, when you remove fat from food it tastes worse. Adding sugar makes it taste better. Sweet stimulates the appetite and induces cravings causing customers to purchase more material. Processing foods impacts the flavor. Food with additional sugar can be more highly processed.

    >>>Again, I have no idea what you’re asking.
    >>These are not complicated prose assemblies.

    They lack clarity.

    >>>…in total sugar consumption isn’t going to explain an obesity epidemic.

    Really? We both agree that per capita sugar consumption increased as much as 11 lbs annually, since the advent of HFCS and is now about 8 lbs above what it was before.

    There are about 1733 calories in a pound of sugar so we’re at 13864 additional calories per year. It takes about 3500 dietary calories to add one pound of fat, so that’s about 4 additional pounds per year. If you added 4 pounds a year for the last 20 years you would have added 80 extra pounds, which is enough to make almost anyone obese.

    ES

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