To the list of things that are unavoidable in this world, a name must be added: Death, taxes and high-fructose corn syrup.
Odds are, if you're reading this in America, it's likely that you've consumed high-fructose corn syrup today. According to one study, Americans consume an average of 70 pounds of HFCS every year. That's the equivalent of eating an average-size golden retriever, composed entirely of HFCS.
The sweet syrup's proliferation is due, in large part, to government subsidies that keep the price of domestically produced corn syrup very low, and tariffs that keep the price of cane sugar artificially high.
There has been much speculation as to the link between the burgeoning omnipresence of this synthetic sweetener and the rapidly rising rates of obesity in America over the past 20 years. The reality of its responsibility is still hotly debated, but recent studies suggest that HFCS may be converted into fat more quickly and readily than is sugar.
The question is: How the heck can anyone in the United States avoid HFCS? If you scan your local supermarket shelves, you will find it in places both obvious and baffling. It's no shock to see it listed on the side of a soda can or in jelly, cookies, popsicles or even Gatorade. But pickles? Really? Salad dressing, bread, crackers, ketchup and beef jerky? It is virtually everywhere you turn.
What follows are a few suggestions for locally available, HFCS-free alternatives to the mainstream mainstays.
To be perfectly frank, soda's not good for you in the first place. Replacing HFCS with "real cane sugar" isn't going to transform Coke into soy milk. However, there are many who swear by the better taste of soda flavored with sugar. Root beer purists, in particular, have a difficult time tracking down a good HFCS-free sarsaparilla. Even some of the top-shelf and microbrewed versions such as IBC and Sprecher, in their alluring dark brown bottles, are chock-full of corn syrup.
Hansen's, Blue Sky Soda and Virgil's both make fine root beers with real sugar, but Virgil's tastes a little too much like licorice. My favorite, Berghoff, sells its delicious Chicago Draft Style Root Beer in 32-ounce bottles, and it has a nice caramel flavor that isn't too sweet.
Unless you're going to drink diet soda, your fizzy "real sugar" shopping outside of root beer will be limited. Blue Sky and Hansen's are readily available, and Jones Soda is switching over to pure cane sugar. Coke manufactured in Mexico is still made with cane sugar, as opposed to HFCS, due to the abundance of cane sugar and a lack of tariffs on the stuff south of the border.
Jelly & Applesauce
With a name like Smucker's, it's got to be full of HFCS. And it is. Although Smucker's does have a "no sugar added" and other variations on a theme, the majority of Smucker's, Welch's and generic jams and jellies are high in HFCS. Instead, try locally made preserves, often available in grocery stores, or anything labeled "no sugar added" or definitively "100% organic." Jams and jellies imported from outside the U.S., such as Favorit Swiss Preserves (which makes delicious mixed-berry preserves) almost always use cane or beet sugar as their primary sweetener.
Applesauce doesn't seem like the sort of food that would need the extra sweetness; Mott's begs to differ. Regular Mott's, which dominates the shelves at most supermarkets, contains HFCS, but you can pick up a jar of the no-sugar-added Mott's and breathe more easily. Don't feel limited by the Mott'sopoly, though. Organics available at Willy St. Co-op, Trader Joe's and other fine purveyors of apple sauce can provide you with a product that's just apples, water and apple juice. Better yet, make it yourself. It's a matter of simmering apples. Make some time for the applesauce in your life.
Hot Dogs & Bratwurst
Although frankfurters aren't the first thing that leaps to mind when you consider sweeteners, it can be difficult to find a red hot that doesn't contain corn syrup or HFCS. Your best bet in hot dogs: Hebrew National. They're all beef, delicious, and don't contain a drop of the stuff.
Brats are a trickier find, though. A delicious, if slightly pricier, alternative is Boar's Head. For a cheddar brat, try the salty snap of the Nueske's Cheddar Bratwurst.
You can pretty much forget about Yoplait (and Yoplait Light) if you're looking to avoid HFCS, and Dannon is out of the question as well. Unless you're willing to stick with vanilla- or coffee-flavored Dannon, your best bet is the appropriately named Sugar River Dairy yogurt, made in Albany, Wis., and available locally. It has a nice combination of sweet fruit and just-tart yogurt. Stonyfield Farms and Cascade Fresh are also available without HFCS. Blue Bunny Light and Weight Watchers both make low-calorie, sugar-free yogurts with sucralose (the generic term for Splenda) as the primary sweetener, but what they lack in calories they don't make up for in flavor.
All-natural whole-wheat breads of most varieties in supermarkets will be free of HFCS, but there are exceptions, so it's worth reading the label.
If you're looking for white bread, abandon the prepackaged, big-brand variety. Butternut, Wonderbread, Village Hearth, Pepperidge Farm and all the heavy hitters in the bread world have HFCS in their white bread.
Go to the deli/bakery and pick up a loaf baked at the store. Most use sugar as the primary sweetener. Rudi's Organic Bakery and Kamm's Farm Bakery also provide corn-syrup-free white bread, and are readily available in the Madison area.
Like soda, cookies are never really going to be good for us, but the classic brand names that many of us grew up with are big trouble. Avoid Fig (and other) Newtons, Chips Ahoy, Oreos and Teddy Grahams.
If you're a Chips Ahoy fan and looking for an HFCS alternative, choose Famous Amos. Newman's Own has a tasty variety of chocolate sandwich cremes to serve as an excellent substitute for Oreos.
For cereal, you can always turn to the organic aisle and find yourself free of HFCS. Most General Mills cereals are made with sugar, but, Kellogg's has a surprising number of "adult" cereals that have HFCS, while a number of its "kid's" cereals are made with just sugar.
For instance, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Special K, All Bran, and Raisin Bran all contain HFCS. However, Kellogg's Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, and Frosted Mini-Wheats are free of the stuff. It highlights the fact that if you're really trying to avoid HFCS, it is safe to neither dismiss nor blindly accept a product without scanning the label yourself.