Sugar addiction.

So the American sugar cartel is at it again, trying to get the government to prop up their industry, which should long since have either disappeared or shrunk into niche status. For those of you who don’t know, Americans pay three times the world market price for sugar because the government restricts sugar imports – true corporate welfare. NAFTA was supposed to put an end to this bullshit, but the sugar lobby is now trying to get Congress to do an end-run around the free trade agreement by forcing the government to buy Mexican sugar imports to keep them off of U.S. shelves.

That pisses me off to begin with, but here’s the thing that should bother everyone: This asinine, smoothawleyrific policy is exacerbating the rising rates of heart disease in the United States. Mass-market food manufacturers, notably the soft drink companies, use high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetener – even though anyone with a functioning tongue can tell you it doesn’t taste as good as sugar does – because it’s significantly cheaper than real sugar. This makes the corn lobby happy, but the problem for consumers is that fructose has a major downside: It reduces the levels of two enzymes critical to heart health,, leading to enlarged hearts and increasing the likelihood of heart disease. A diet high in fruits isn’t likely to cause this problem, but a diet high in high-fructose corn syrup – you know, corn syrup that is HIGH IN FRUCTOSE – is. What’s the better course of action: Using government money to keep Mexican sugar off the market, gouging American consumers while raising heart disease rates; or letting the market dictate prices and getting sugar back into soft drinks?


  1. High fructose corn syrup is everywhere. It’s a great strategy as it sweetens anything it touches, forcing us to want more and more sweet products. And it has helped ruin the family farm along with polluting the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico.

    Great product.

  2. Sadly, no matter how much progress is made in the area of free trade, agribusiness lags far behind.

    And unless we can find a way to contribute more money to PACs, lobbyists, etc. than Archer Daniels Midland does, nothing will change anytime soon. ADM is one of the most political conglomerates in existence.

    According to the Cato Institute, “ADM has cost the American economy billions of dollars since 1980 and has indirectly cost Americans tens of billions of dollars in higher prices and higher taxes over that same period. At least 43 percent of ADM’s annual profits are from products heavily subsidized or protected by the American government. Moreover, every $1 of profits earned by ADM’s corn sweetener operation costs consumers $10, and every $1 of profits earned by its ethanol operation costs taxpayers $30.” (See for more fun facts about ADM and how it screws…well, everybody but ADM.)

  3. So, the threat of Mexican sugar entering the US market should lead to lower sugar prices, at the same time corn syrup prices may be increasing (corn prices rising due to ethanol production), at the same time there are some public cries for allowing sugar imports for ethanol production?

    Yeah, I can see why the sugar barons have their panties in a bunch.

    You used to be able to get the imported Mexican Coca-Cola, made with real sugar, at some of the bodegas near where I live. Too bad I don’t see it anymore, It was glorious!

  4. I’ve been led to believe that corn syrup is also causing the demise of commercial beekeeping.

  5. Not to mention that HFCS is only as cheap as it is because of government corn subsidies.

  6. I know that HFCS is awful, causes obesity, heart disease, diabetes; but for the life of me I dont understand why it is so hard for consumers to avoid it.

    If you cook at home and eat at non-chain restaurants while avoiding mass produced snack food its pretty easy to avoid the stuff. Maybe it’s harder outside of the city.

  7. CAFTA restricts the amount of sugar the Central American countries involved can export to the US, further inflating the price of sugar here. So much for “free” trade…

  8. I make it a point, while grocery shopping, to look for HFCS in the ingredients. I don’t want my kids growing up virtually addicted to the stuff, and contracting any of the many health issues it can aggravate. Fortunately I have some very hip stores nearby, and unsweetened or organic products are readily available.

    But it’s a moderate pain in the ass.

  9. I’m a socialist and I usually never agree with Keith on public policy… but right on KLaw!

  10. Am I the only one who finds the Google Ad for Domino’s directly below this post to be hilariously ironic?

  11. The problem doesn’t lie with the person that has plenty of cash and choices, where HFCS does its worst work is with middle and low income families that have few choices. They get their food from big box stores. Try finding aloaf of bread without sweetner.

  12. Mark- I honestly don’t check the ingredients on my bread because of the three* bakeries I shop at in my neighborhood none include ingredients. However most of the bread recipes I am familiar with contain little or no sugar.

    I don’t understand why there are so few bakeries in most U.S. towns. Basic breads are no more expensive from a bakery then they are from the super market. Laziness is the only explanation I can see.

    *There are actually 5 bakeries between me and the subway 5 blocks away however 1 of them is pretty mediocre and the other only does pastries.

  13. Mark is totally right – when you’re shopping for budget, not quality, it’s very hard to find stuff without HFCS in it. If I had any $$ to speak of I would be shopping at Whole Paycheck all the time…but I don’t really have a choice but to go to the cheapest store in town. (Though at least they treat their workers well, unlike all the crappy ‘discount’ yellow-dog grocery stores in the South).

    One of the other issues is time – a trip to the grocery store alone usually takes about an hour and a half, which pretty much kills my evening if it’s a weekday. I’d love to get quality bread but going to a for-real bakery takes extra time (90% of grocery store bakeries are jokes). If I wanted to pick up some better stuff (bread, deli stuff, etc) I’d have to hit up 3 different stores, which is just a pain…plus I by necessity do most of my shopping in the evening, when most bakeries are closed anyway.

  14. High Fructose Corn Syrup and Sodium are the co-captains of the processed foods team that continues to beat the living hell out of the American health team.

  15. Jeff, I know that Whole Foods can get expensive if you go for specialty or organic products, but when they sell a product that’s also available at Stop and Shop, their prices are usually the same or below S&S’s, at least around here.

    But the bottom line for me in avoiding HFCS and food additives is to make my own. I started cooking during grad school for financial reasons, but now I love the control I have over what my family consumes.

  16. In terms of value/pricing, I find that Trader Joe’s products are almost always cheaper than their supermarket counterparts. In addition, they’re also usually healthier, and less likely to contain the number/quantity of additives found in larger brand name goods.

  17. Thanks for the advice Keith!

    Aside from the cost, we’ve always shied away from Whole Foods and especially Trader Joe’s due to the impression that they just don’t have that much stuff. That said, I can’t, off the top of my head, think of what stuff I’ve had problems getting at the nicer stores…I’m going to find some of my recent grocery lists and really rethink why I shop where I shop. The only thing I can come up with is that frozen chicken breasts (our dinner staple) is craaazy cheap at our regular store.

    Do you reccomend a good place to find recipes etc? I have a bunch of basic cookbooks (like Joy of Cooking) but always seem to head to the interwebs when I want to try something new.

  18. Side note: Baking basic breads is one of the easiest things in the world to do. Doe can be made weeks ahead of time and frozen. In other words, if you keep it simple baking your own bread is cheaper and easier then going to the store.

  19. Alton Brown’s a great resource – everything’s on, but if you just google something like “Alton Brown potatoes” you’ll get the recipes more quickly.

    I love making bread, but to get good sponge breads, you have to start about 36 hours ahead of baking, and there’s a lot of work involved in getting the loaves into the oven – and, of course, they’re stale two days later. So you kind of need to eat a lot of bread to make it worth the effort. I’ll make sponge breads for holidays, but for everyday use, I’ll pony up the $2.29 for an Italian loaf at Whole Foods.

    And yeah, Trader Joes is the best. No idea how I’d survive without them.

  20. Hey, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give a quick bread recipe for a loaf I usually make when I’m cooking Italian. It’s fast, cheap, easy and doesn’t contain HFCS. It’s actually adapted from my pizza recipe, so it gets a really nice crust to it.


    1/3 block active yeast (or 1 whole packet dry)
    200 ml warm (not hot) water
    450 ml all purpose flour
    3 tablespoons salt
    1 tablespoon sugar
    10-15 sliced or chopped black olives
    10-15 shaved leaves pecorino romano
    1 tablespoon olive oil

    First in a medium bowl combine yeat and warm water until all yeast dissolves and water turns milky brown. Then in a separate bowl combine flour salt and sugar. Once these are combined slowly add the dry ingredients to the water and yeast mixture removing all lumps. Once all dough is combined it should have the consistency of silly puddy or slightly firmer and have a light dusting of flour all over. Place the bowl with dough into a sink or wash basin with standing very warm water and cover with a clean dish towel for 30 minutes so dough can rise.
    While dough is rising preheat the oven to 485 degrees fahrenheit (250 celsius).
    Then prepare a cookie sheet with baking parchment and a half tablespoon of EVOO on the parchment.
    Once dough has risen shape it into a loaf shape on the parchment on the baking sheet. The dough should be about an inch to an inch and a half thick. Once this is done top the dough with the olives and the pecorino. Then, drizzle with remaining half tablespoon of olive oil.
    Place this in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Take the bread out and remove it to a wire rack for about ten minutes. The whole process should take about fifty minutes, and the bread lasts about three days.

  21. NAFTA was supposed to put an end to this bullshit, but the sugar lobby is now trying to get Congress to do an end-run around the free trade agreement by forcing the government to buy Mexican sugar imports to keep them off of U.S. shelves.

    Gotta love “free trade agreements” and corporatism, two ingredients that make America, America!

    Amd judging from the comments, a lot of Americans have to be against corn and grain subsidies, right? Yet, until we change our primary system I doubt that we will ever hear a candidate stump in Iowa, “No more corn subsidies!”

  22. In a remarkable bit of synchronicity, comments on today’s Posnanski blog mention the tastiness of Texas Dr. Pepper, which they say is due to its containing sugar instead of HFCS. Hmmm….

  23. [i]Gotta love “free trade agreements”[/i]

    Exactly. The ideas are the right ones, but in practice, for America, “free trade” is all about having our cake and eating it too. We want it for cheap when it suits us, but if there’s a vote to be had, our politicians “fight for every job” (words from a guy trying to run as a conservative…this week at least).

    I took an international political economy course in college, and one of the most interesting discussions we had was about the effects of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (and similar American protectionism) on Africa and poor countries around the world. Until then I had always thought of free trade in terms of how it effected my bottom line, but there really is a moral component as well.

    Of course, when the effects of protectionist policies feed back into world affairs, they end up costing us even more money. We send billions in aid to prop up failing nations, and when there are conflicts we go in and play the role of police.

  24. PhillR,

    While most bread recipes don’t contain any sugar, unless making a sweet bread, commercially made breads often contain HFCS for brown crusts. As do rolls.

    Trader Joe’s is a good substitute but they don’t carry everything and are a tiny chain with most stores in Califorina and the northeast. Many families are left with big box markets or worse, they have only smaller convenience stores. And HFCS is everywhere in those markets.

  25. Trader Joe’s has over 300 stores in 20+ states, and they’re expanding all the time. Whole Foods’ CEO has specifically said that they consider TJ’s the biggest constraint on their pricing. We buy nearly all of our dry goods there, and at WF we buy meat, produce, fish, and some specialty goods (e.g., they carry a specific line of yogurt that I like).

    The key to avoiding HFCS is to make things yourself. That option is available to everyone, and most often, it’s cheaper as well.

  26. 300 stores in 20 states is small – tiny was hyperbole – and many people, especially those in suburbia and exurbia don’t have one nearby. People on a budget aren’t likely to drive past dozens of supermarkets to go to TJs or WF.

    I agree that making foods yourself is one of the keys but most people work full time and have children. Their time is taxed.

    I’m not arguing against your logic here but with people getting poorer and having less free time, the HFCS products will continue to do well.

  27. One of the few packaged products we buy at a regular grocery store is Stop & Shop brand animal crackers for my daughter. There’s HFCS in there, but it’s fourth on the list, after flour, sugar, and vegetable oil. That’s acceptable to me, and it’s evidence that reading labels is also key to keeping your HFCS intake low.

  28. HFCS also causes gout.

    So if you ever want to re-live the afflictions suffered by characters in old English novels, do indulge in another Dr Pepper.