The Sweet (and Sour) of Manufactured Sugar, Part Two: 7 ways to avoid-and-replace high fructose corn syrup.

by Miles on 04/17/2010

In part one of this article we discussed why you might want to reduce your consumption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). If you’re still intersted in learning more about HFCS, consider checking out the More Hip than Hippie podcast for more.

So now that you know why you should avoid it, let’s discuss how. After all, I would be remiss (that’s coach-speak for doing a poor job) if I threw all that information at you and didn’t provide potential solutions!

Lifehack: 7 ways to avoid-and-replace high fructose corn syrup (aka glucose-fructose).

Detailed below is a list of 7 ways I’ve been successful in this venture.  If you have other suggestions, I welcome them in the comments section.

1. Buy 100% USDA organic

You're looking for this!

Buying organic is a likely safe bet in avoiding HFCS. Since the process of making HFCS involves chemicals that remove it from the organic qualification (see WikiHow). I try to shop as much as possible in the organic section in my grocery stores.  A word of caution: don’t be fooled by words like “natural” or “green“.  These are uncontrolled terms and there are virtually no restrictions on how products can claim to qualify for these feel-good concepts.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of a Canadian equivalent to this label.  If anyone knows, please comment share in the comments.

2. Read your labels, play the “put-back game”.

If the ingredients say the “magic words”, put it back on the shelf. As you do this, you’ll likely find that avoiding HFCS changes the way you shop (and it just might change the way you look and feel in the process).  You can move away from HFCS by using a change game I frequently employ.  Here we’ll call it the “put-back game”. Each time you shop, find one item that you could replace with a healthier option.  This way replacing items happens gradually. You make progress without getting overwhelmed! I like starting with the things I use most, but others might want to work their way up from less frequently used items.  It reduces the decisions you have to make and takes away the pressure to change everything all at once! Before you  know it your pantry will start to look very different and you will hardly have noticed!

3. Buy local and buy fresh.

Image from D Sharon Pruitt

Not surprisingly, local foods have been processed less and are less likely to contain HFCS. Looking for a place to buy local?  Go here if you’re American and here if you’re Canadian. I’ve had great success in the past with shopping at farmer’s markets.

I’m in the process of finding a produce box program that I can subscribe to in Toronto.  A produce box, if you didn’t know, is a method of subscribing to locally grown produce.  Each week you get a selection of fresh food that you can either have delivered or arrange to pick up from a predetermined location (each program differs slightly). I highly recommend you try this out.  It can be a little more costly, but you end up wasting less, and for your money you can’t ask for better flavour than local!

4. Make your own drinks; stop drinking from a vending machine

Pretty much all vending machine beverages have sweeteners added to them that you don’t need. For residents in the States, it seems that these are being removed and replaced with diet drinks (uh.. sweetened with other chemicals that are hazardous for your health… really?!). Instead of purchasing drinks, why not pack your own? That way, you know what is in the drink and (here’s the real bonus) it’s way cheaper!

Don’t know what to take? Try using a re-usable thermos (they keep things cold too!) and flavouring water with your favourite fruit (tip: when flavouring water with fruit, leave it overnight in the fridge). It can be anything but strawberries, blueberries, lemon, lime and cucumber are my favourites.

Another method I use is to save my leftover tea when I brew a pot. I do this all the time! I chill the leftovers and then serve it sweetened with with stevia. Looseleaf tea is especially good for this (rooibos, cherry green tea, lychee black tea). You’d be surprised at how many of your hot favourites stand out when served cold!

Oh, and to be clear on the cheaper claim? Let’s suppose you purchase only one vending machine beverage a day. If you were to stop, that’s $60 a month back into your pocket a month.  If you were to just drink lemon water as a substitute, (supposing 500mL can be flavoured with a half lemon, which on average is about $.69 x 15 lemons = $10.35).  Would you like $50 more in your budget? I know I would!

Finally, if soda is your bag and you simply can’t live without it, try reading labels and finding sodas that don’t contain HFCS.  I’m told Jones Soda for example is sweetened with cane sugar rather than HFCS. Remember, sometimes it’s about replacement more than elimination.

5. Make your own granola bars and snacks.

I make my own snacks with mixed nuts and dried fruit that I buy in bulk. Then I just grab a handful of each and put it in a tupperware container to go; it’s that easy! Visit a bulk store and have fun picking out a supply to work from. Just try to remember to buy raw and unsalted nuts and seeds. I use pecans, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, naturally sweetened craisins, dried apricots and I’m good to go!

If you’re not into just nuts and fruit, you could make your own granola bars at home (note: the comments have great suggestions on how to cut the fat and sugar using natural ingredients). These recipes take all of about 5 minutes to make and the smells that fill up your home will make your head spin!

6. Change the way you eat… one major meal.

A little glob of heaven in the morning

I know, this is a big one.  But if you can change the way you eat breakfast, you seriously cut back on your intake of HFCS (and sugar in general!).  As I’ve said before, it’s easiest if you break it down into little challenges (as do most things!).

Before I share that I want to share about a friend of mine.  She stopped eating boxed cereals for breakfast by starting to eat something called overnight oats for breakfast.  Every day is a breakfast-themed adventure as I’m sure you’ll find when you start making the overnight oats, there are a hundred different varieties to make (all on Kath Eat’s foodblog). It’s easy and, from what I hear, an addictive addition to your morning (and as a special bonus you prepare it before you go to bed!).

True story: my friend got so excited about her overnight oats that she found and mailed me cinnamon vanilla sunflower butter — a fantastic new addition to her breakfasts — because she was having so much fun with her breakfast routine.  I’m telling you, if you can get that excited about the flavour bonanza you have access to in the morning, why on earth would you want to eat mini-wheats?

All you need to do to start is read up on what ingredients you need as the base.  Thereafter, you can use a multitude of items that you likely have on hand anyway.  You just need to resolve to eat a better breakfast. This is just one option quick, easy, and delicious solution!

Of course if you prefer regular granola, here’s an alternate solution in video form on how to make your own raw granola (including how to make almond milk!)

7. Stop eating fast food!

Everyone seems to hate this one, but it’s true! By stopping eating fast food your consumption of HFCS will fall. There are plenty of restaurant alternatives available to you and your family that don’t sell “family meals”, all you need to do is look around a little.  Having trouble finding a strong motivator to leave fast food?  Ask yourself this: Does the company I am purchasing food from use ingredients that promote my family’s health?  If the answer is no, why would you promote them by handing them your money?

With the variety of restaurants you can easily opt for real-food alternatives that provide you with sustainable and healthy energy while at the same time reducing your exposure to HFCS.  By making a choice to eat real food instead of processed food can reduce  your exposure to the sugars (and fats) that over time can cause significant damage to your body.  Remove that from the equation and you’ll be surprised at how you feel.

And so concludes the list.  I hope you’re successful in incorporating some of these into your routine.  Remember every little step you take is a step in the right direction! Oh, and if you have other helpful tips or thoughts, please share them in the comments section.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin July 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm

The Canadian Organic label can be found at:

Miles July 28, 2010 at 2:11 am

Thanks for the quick link for a Canadian source of information, Justin!

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