First, I want to apologize for my absence – I’ve been dealing with a family issue away from home and haven’t had the time or mental energy to post. I am happy to be back and gratefully anticipate your forgiveness (please?).
I spent last week following the Ashkenazi diet for the eight day celebration of Passover, the finer points of which were perfectly summed up by Sharon here. Each year for eight days, I eliminate any and all corn products from my diet and vow to carry this no-corn policy into the rest of the year’s eating. But eliminating corn-based additives is not as straightforward as skimming the ingredients list for the word corn. Many of these additives have names that do not give away their origins. Of course, unwanted corn primarily enters the diet through food processing, so the best and easiest course of action is to eliminate all processed foods. But in instances where processed food is unavoidable, a next best defense is familiarity with aliases for corn. And so, without further ado, several common , non-obvious corn-based additives to look out for:
The Vitamin C used to fortify foods is almost always non-naturally occurring. Instead, it is synthesized from corn.
We have all seen this vague ingredient. It makes me think of biology class, but it makes the Corn Refiner’s Association think of money!
A preservative used in baking powder, cheeses, chewing gum, antacids, cut fruit.
Emulsifier used in manufactured bread products such as bread loaves and tortillas
Preservative used in soft drinks and candies for the sour taste.
A type of high fructose corn derivative found in artificially sweetened products.
Dextrin or Dextrose
A basic sugar with food preservation properties, dextrose is found in jams, candy and other sweetened foods. Additionally, it is the basis for fermentation of many antibiotics such as penicillin.
This chemical compound smells of caramel and is thus used as an artificial flavor and fragrance that is used in food and beauty products, which means it is also absorbed into your body through your skin as perfume, lotion and soap.
Fumaric or Lactic acid
A preservative in sweets that sometimes offers a tart flavor, but can also be tasteless.
Commercially produced glucose is made from cornstarch, making it a processed processed food. (Processed²?)
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
HVP is a fermented corn biproduct that contains the more maligned acronymed ingredient, MSG (monosodium glutamate – a type of HVP). MSG has been implicated in migraines, among other maladies. HVP is used as a “flavor enhancer,” possibly in other flavored-down, corned-up processed items. (Processed³?)
Malt, Maltodextrin, Maltose or Maltol
The Malt-series food additives are absorbed by the human body at a rate parallel to glucose, which is to say rapidly. This rapid absorption leads to a rise and fall of glucose levels, which leads to increased hunger, which leads to eating more corn products. Yay!
A sweetener used for diabetic-friendly sweets, mannitol is also a common ingredient in chewing gum and breath mints (it provides that “cool” feeling). In higher doses, mannitol is used in children’s laxatives. (Needed in the first place, of course, because of a non-diversified diet of corn-based, refined carbohydrates.)
If your favorite cereal proclaims “Now With More Fiber!” on the box, it is probably thanks to this synthetic, soluble-fiber compound.
An emulsifier in foods, pharmaceuticals and beauty products.
Often added as an antioxidant, this compound is commonly used as a sodium supplement.
Propylene glycol monostearate
An emulsifier that is used in food, pharmaceuticals and beauty products. Oh, and also in industrial solvents, anti-freeze coolants, plasticizers and pretty much any other carcinogen you can think of.
A synthetic Vitamin E, it is often sold as a supplement on its own although testing has demonstrated that humans do not absorb it as efficiently as naturally derived Vitamin E.
A very common thickening agent, xanthan gum is found in pretty much anything that requires emulsification such as salad dressing, ice cream, pasta sauce and bottled smoothies.
So, to tally this up, corn takes the place of our sugars, our salts, our starches, our fats, our remedies and our beauty treatments. While there is nothing intrinsically toxic about corn derivatives and their products, there is nothing nutritious about them either, despite health claims to the contrary. The pervasiveness of corn in the American diet promotes a homogeneous and environmentally hostile agriculture industry by relying on large-scale unicrop farms.
When we eat this much corn, we not only discourage genetic diversity among crops, we also bankrupt our bodies of the nutrients we require. But, more sinister than this, these synthetic foods trick our bodies into thinking that we are getting the nutrients from foods that they mimic. When we drink a lime soda, our body expects Vitamin C because of the tart taste and asorbic acid, but we also cannot process this synthetic asorbic acid (“Vitamin C”) with the efficiency of that found in say, a lime. Our brain asks us to continue drinking the soda, waiting for the nutrient. Instead, we get several hundred calories from corn-based sugars and no fiber with which to absorb the sugar as we would if we ate the lime. It is a deeply cynical business model that renders basically all industrial food companies into corn pushers.
Note: A reader brought up a concern about the factual accuracy of referring to chemical compounds that are made from corn as “corn-based.” From a scientific standpoint, he is right. Let’s call it “corn-derived,” shall we?
To be fair, the reader’s discomfort with the terminology points to a conflation I made that I should correct: there are both health concerns and political concerns with eating compounds made from corn. The health concerns do not relate to corn, the plant, but instead to the prevalence of synthetically-derived nutrients and homogeneous eating (any scientist knows the value of diversity for overall health…), while the political (and environmental) concerns relate to corn, specifically – or, more accurately, the corn industrial complex.
A few of the nutrients listed above are essential to human survival, but their presence as supplements in all of our groceries is not essential to human survival. Please do not avoid amino acids, just ponder why they are additives in your breakfast cereal. It is a falsehood that all nutrients – those from a lab and those from nature – are created equal. Any scientific claim that a synthetic or unnaturally isolated nutrient is as valuable as the same nutrient in the context of a whole food is woefully theoretical. Nutritional studies consistently show that subjects who eat nutrients in the context of whole food enjoy better health than those who eat isolated and synthetic nutrients. For more on this subject, a good source is Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food.