Moderately sweet natural corn syrup contains glucose, but high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) undergoes further processing to turn some of that sugar into fructose. A 2004 Louisiana State University study showed a 1,000 percent increase in children's HFCS consumption between 1970 and 2000. Knowing how frequently manufacturers add HFCS to foods will help you monitor your child's sugar intake not only from sodas and sweets, but from other foods as well.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup Safety
Studies disagree about how HFCS reacts in the human body. A 2007 study from the University of Maryland produced inconclusive results, while a 2010 study at Princeton University found that rats fed a diet of HFCS became obese at a greater rate than rats that ate a similar quantity of table sugar. Kids can burn off some extra calories through play, but because fructose is metabolized differently from table sugar, hidden fructose can add up to weight gain even for active children.
The phrase "lightly sweetened" typically refers not to added table sugar in a box of prepared cereal, but to high-fructose corn syrup. Manufacturers must print nutritional information about the sugar content of the cereal, but if you're monitoring your child's intake of all varieties of sugar, streamline the process. Instead of choosing presweetened cereals, look for unsweetened cereals and add fruit or sweetening agents yourself. It's easier to track a teaspoon of sugar than to work out the math from the back of the cereal box.
Condiments and Sauces
Ketchup, one of the staples of the kiddie table, traditionally contains sugar. The ingredient acts as a preservative and adds a touch of sweetness that tones down the sharpness of the vinegar. Prepared tartar sauce, barbecue sauce, sandwich spread and many creamy dressings also traditionally use a hint of real sugar as part of their distinctive flavor blend. Because HFCS is cheaper than sugar, many manufacturers use it instead. Premium brands are more likely to use sugar than to substitute HFCS. Read labels to see which is which.
Chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry flavorings can make a glass of milk more kid-friendly, but these sweet milk mixes can contain high-fructose corn syrup. If your little one looks askance at a glass of plain white milk, try flavoring without sweetening with a drop or two of alcohol-free flavor extracts. A drop of food coloring to turn the milk a pretty color will also help it go down better. If you're cutting down on HFCS, but not on sucrose, look for HFCS-free versions of your child's favorite flavors.
Fruit packed in heavy syrup bears a label that lets you know at a glance what the can contains. However, canned heat-and-eat savory dishes such as ravioli in tomato sauce, Sloppy Joes, and pasta sauces in jars often contain unexpected high-fructose corn syrup. These convenience foods may make up a significant part of a child's diet, especially in families with picky eaters and busy parents. Cut down on the HFCS with a quick scan of the ingredient list of these convenient items.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Consumption of HFCS in Beverages May Play a Role in the Epidemic of Obesity; George A. Bray et al; Apr. 2004
- University of Maryland; UM Study - Not Enough Evidence to Indict HFCS in Obesity; July 2007
- News at Princeton; A Sweet Problem: Researchers Find that HFCS Prompts Considerably More Weight Gain; Hilary Parker; Mar. 2010
- "Consumer Reports"; The Whole Truth about High-Fructose Corn Syrup; Kevin McCarthy; Oct. 2008
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images