The United States is the world’s largest corn grower, and as a result, corn is cheap in the United States. Sugar, on the other hand, needs to be imported into the United States, which along with government trade restrictions, raises its price. Not surprisingly, many food and beverage manufacturers have opted for the less expensive sweetener, corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup also has the advantage of keeping foods fresh, moist and chewy for longer periods of time.
While high-fructose corn syrup is easy on the wallet, it takes a large toll on health. For some time, the jury was still out on whether consuming large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup could lead to weight gain and obesity, or whether it was just that diets high in the sweetener also tended to be high in fat and calories. The Princeton study, however, demonstrated that rats fed high-fructose corn syrup gained a considerable amount more weight than rats fed table sugar, even though both groups of rats consumed the same amount of calories overall. In the past, samples of brand-name foods and beverages with the sweetener have tested positive for mercury, which itself is toxic.
The production of corn isn’t healthy on the environment, either. While all crops require energy and water to grow and then transport, the huge amounts of corn grown in the country make corn’s footprint especially large. Corn also uses more pesticides and fertilizers and causes more soil erosion than other crops. Many of these problems would be considerably reduced with organic growing practices, but most corn in the United States is non-organic.
Cutting back on sweeteners of all types is best for human and environmental health. Sugar, while better than corn syrup, has health risks and also negative environmental effects, especially since it needs to be transported long distances from tropical climates in which it grows. Organic, too, is better than non-organic in the case of sugar. Agave grows in deserts, so it also needs to travel a bit before it reaches store shelves for most of us, though it does travel shorter distances than sugar. If you do need a little sweetener, the most eco-friendly options are locally produced organic honey and real maple syrup from the northeastern United States.
How do we get the especially dangerous high-fructose corn syrup out of what we eat and drink? Read food labels. Scale back on the amount of processed foods you eat. Choose products that don’t use high-fructose corn syrup over products that use it. If we buy less foods and drinks that contain the sweetener, manufacturers will have no choice but to nix corn syrup from their products.