Yesterday, I was very disturbed to see this new ad arguing for the relative safety of using high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a food additive:

Not enough research has been done to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that high consumption of HFCS significantly increases one’s risk of obesity (and thus diabetes, heart disease, etc.), But at least there is some compelling evidence that those who do suffer from these conditions very often have a diet rich in foods containing HFCS. That is, it is fairly well established that a diet of all or mostly what nutritionists call “processed foods” (containing HFCS and other synthesized additives) can lead to myriad health problems. But I find this commercial paid for by the Corn Refiners Association to be particularly unsettling because it portrays anyone opposed to consuming foods with HFCS as a reactionary dullard who can’t even explain his or her opposition.

Of course, we have seen this before with other products backed by a powerful lobby – most especially tobacco. And I’m not sure if anyone remembers the commercials in the ’80s asserting that aspartame (marketed under the brand name Nutra-Sweet) is safe because it’s formulated from chemicals that occur [separately] in nature, but once again we have an ad that argues for the safety of a product based on the same kind of specious reasoning. HFCS comes from corn, and you like corn, right?

The Mayo Clinic’s website has a brief but informative article on the subject. It basically says that while the correlation between HFCS consumption and health problems is much more obvious in studies with animals than with humans, cutting back on foods with HFCS has definite advantages, since those same foods are often unhealthy for other, more well-established reasons.

As one who enjoys cooking to the point that processed foods are virtually absent in my house, I don’t worry so much about HFCS, MSG, hydrolyzed oils, and the like. But as a taxpayer, the idea that purveyors of food products rich in these additives are directly or indirectly responsible for rising costs of health care makes me very uneasy. Yes, I wish more Americans were to take responsibility for their own health to the extent they avoided unhealthy diets. But for the busy family or individual with either no ability or interest in cooking from scratch as a rule, it is disappointing to see such an absence of healthy and attractive prepared foods for them to enjoy on a regular basis (between the occasional trip to a good ol’ greasy spoon…).