Are you sure you don’t want to supersize your order?

C&EN had an interesting article yesterday about research that was conducted to determine the amount of corn found in fast food products, specifically french fries, chicken, and beef. The research covered McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s and approximately 500 servings of chicken, burgers, and french fries were analyzed. A. Hope Jahren examined the foods’ compositions by looking for different isotopes of corn. At the same time, she also tested for nitrogen content which is linked to the use (and consumption) of fertilizers.

They found that 100% of the chicken and 93% of the beef had been fed exclusively a corn-based diet. And the nitrogen analyses indicate that the livestock had been dining on heavily fertilized feed.

I suppose this probably won’t come as much of a surprise to many people, but I found this article particularly interesting because this research is the first to show scientifically that our nation is becoming heavily dependent on corn.

Corn agriculture in the U.S. has been criticized as being environmentally unsustainable, requiring disproportionate amounts of fertilizer and fossil fuels.

I can’t stand the fast food industry. It’s causing serious health problems in our country. I understand that from an economic standpoint this industry is fantastic for us, raking in about $100 billion a year, but really it’s just disgusting and I don’t understand how anyone can eat this food (especially after seeing Fast Food Nation). Cows and chickens are not supposed to eat corn – they’re supposed to graze and eat grass. We’re changing their diets, causing them to get sick, and in turn we’re eating their illness stricken muscles. I’m appalled by the fact that people continue to eat fast food not knowing what exactly is in it, and that the companies are allowed to continue selling these products without ever having to reveal what they’re actually serving.It’s also important to recognize the fact that these cows and chickens in the fast food industry are also coming from the same source that supplies our grocery stores.

If any of you are fast food fans, please enlighten me.

Comments (7) Add yours ↓
  1. awood

    The lab that I worked in over the summer analyzed isotopes using an isotope ratio mass spectrometer. They used this mostly to determine the sources of nitrogen and carbon in river systems. Just for fun though, they also tested hair samples from some scientists in the lab. Compared to the isotope ratios of known sources like marine fish, farm raised animals, and free range animals, we could see exactly what the diet of each person consisted of, whether they were a vegan, vegetarian, vegetarian who ate some fish, or normal eater. So basically, we are what we eat, and your body is telling the true story.

    I’m not surprised at all that this study has shown that we are consuming mostly corn (and not just from fast food either). I read this great book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan that explains the science behind isotope tracing (which is actually really interesting). In the book, he says that a biologist from Berkeley, Todd Dawson, compared the isotope ratios of Americans (the so-called wheat people) to those of Mexicans (people of corn) and what he found was rather shocking. Americans have more traces of corn than a people who consider it their staple food source. How can that be when most of us can’t remember the last time we ate corn in the vegetable form? We are eating corn in disguise, in the form of corn-fed animals and especially high fructose corn syrup (which is in everything nowadays-even bread!). At the end of the day, you have to be very thoughtful about what you are putting into your own body because there is not anyone else protecting you.

    13 November 2008
  2. pokane

    While it is very cool that they are able to use isotopic analysis to see what you eat, I don’t really get what the controversy is over corn and high fructose corn syrup. In terms of your diet, high fructose corn syrup is not any better or worse for you than sugar. It is not the source of the sucrose which is dangerous but rather the amount that you consume. So a diet high in sugar will lead to negative health consequences, regardless of whether the sugar comes from corn, sugar cane, or any other source. So what if bread is made with high fructose corn syrup, it is just a replacement for the cane sugar that would have been used anyway, except that in most cases the corn syrup is cheaper and easier to transport.

    14 November 2008
  3. awood

    I have a lot of problems with the increase and dependence that we have developed on both corn and HFCS. The first thing is that factory raised animals which are forced to eat corn simply because it’s cheap and in supply, but not included in their natural diet by any means, causes them to become sick and in turn has some serious negative consequences for our health. For example, forcing cows to eat corn has altered the pH of their stomachs which means that their E. Coli now have no problem getting through our acidic stomachs and making us sick. Did you know that they are currently trying to figure out how to raise salmon on an all corn diet? Talk about unnatural.

    The fact that everything we are eating comes from corn has some serious implications for the environment as well. The natural diversity of plants and animals maintains a balance of nutrients. Corn requires more nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium application than any of the other cash crops. So planting solely corn on the same patch of land year after year (which some farmers are forced to do because they get government money for it) depletes the soil in ways that are irreparable. This means that the farmers have to apply more and more fertilizer each year and let’s not even talk about the issues with over-fertilizing.

    I think it’s more than a little bit scary that we depend so heavily on a single crop for so much of our food source. What happens if there is a disease that wipes it all out? Reminds me of the potato famine. I like a little diversity for stability.

    In terms of HFCS, I don’t think there has been nearly enough research to contend that it is exactly the same as any other sugar source. In fact, there are some compelling arguments to the contrary. An article ( on WebMD reports “fructose syrup made from corn and ordinary fructose sugar found in fruit are not the same. They do not have the same nature. In technical science terms, fructose syrup is capable of disrupting leptin signals from fat cells, and also capable of altering the function of a protein receptor on the fat cell nucleus called PPAR-alpha.” Basically, there are specific links between HFCS and the obesity epidemic and also fat formation on the liver.

    I don’t like to find HFCS hiding in foods where I never would have thought to look for it. If all I’m going to eat for the rest of my life is a little bit of corn with my corn, at least I want to know that that’s what I’m doing. It’s easy enough to avoid soda, but now I have to check the label of everything that I buy in the grocery store.

    14 November 2008
  4. pokane

    First off, I am not denying that an all corn diet is bad for cows. All I am saying is that HFCS and table sugar have essentially the same composition and function in your body. That link you posted is to a single study in which rats were fed enough HFCS to exceed their daily caloric needs. This is one study done on rats not humans, and they were fed ridiculous amounts of HFCS. Even the person who wrote the article agrees that there is not enough evidence to definitively say that HFCS is any better or worse for you than sugar. In fact, the American Medical Association has found no significant evidence to suggest that the use of HFCS should be restricted due to negative health effects.

    20 November 2008
  5. pokane

    While relying so heavily on corn may not be the best thing, in the end it comes down to cost. The government pays farmers to produce corn and not other crops. Because of this we have huge supplies of cheap corn and this makes HFCS cheaper than sugar. Those with disposable income may choose to avoid corn base products but the majority of Americans just want cheap food. Some people complain about the corn industry but I’m willing to bet that many more people would complain if the price of food was increased in order to get rid of corn products.

    As for the cows, with the amount of beef we consume as a country it is hard to imagine that it is even economically feasible to grass feed all those animals.

    20 November 2008
  6. skassel

    What about the metabolism of HFCS vs that of table sugar (sucrose)?

    21 November 2008
  7. pokane

    HFCS is similar to honey in it’s ratio of glucose to sucrose. My argument is not that our reliance on corn is okay. All i am saying is that there is not definitely evidence to show that HFCS is any worse for you than other sweeteners.

    After doing some more research, I think that the real problem is not the use of corn but the use of one kind of corn. There is no biodiversity in US corn, the vast majority of it is one kind of corn bred to be cheap and high in starch content. It is not necessarily corn that is inherently bad, it is just that we have bred all the beneficial aspects out of it.

    What really bothered me was when I discovered that companies could patent plants. Think about it, owning a patent on a living organism. Companies genetically engineer corn, wheat, soy, and canolla and then they own the patent on that seed. If a farm buying the genetically engineered crop is located next to a farm which uses it’s own seed, and the plants are cross pollenated then the farmer now owes the genetics company a fee for using it’s plant. The supreme court has ruled that the burden is on the farmer to keep the specific genetic mutation out of his crop.

    To me, this is much scarier than HFCS being in lots of food.

    22 November 2008

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