I’m not a beer drinker. But if I was, the Super Bowl commercial that would have tempted me to try their brand was definitely Stella Artois. At an upscale restaurant, waiters collide and drop trays as Carrie Bradshaw and The Dude forgo their traditional Cosmopolitan and White Russian for a Stella or “Stella Ar-toes” as The Dude called it. During the scene where a glass of Stella is drawn from the tap and the head leveled off with a knife, I could almost taste and smell the beer.
Fast forward to another beer commercial, this time from Bud Light. Instead of touting their product for its taste, quality and fun they chose to resort to the newest marketing tool of the food and beverage industry, fear. In a medieval scene, Bud Light brewers mistakenly receive a barrel of corn syrup for their beer. So they harness up their horses to pull the corn syrup barrel first to Miller Lite brewers, who say they’ve already received their corn syrup delivery, and then to the Coors Light brewery that is happy to claim it. The last line of the ad assures us that Bud Lite is “brewed with no corn syrup.”
Does this really make any difference? Let’s review “Beermaking 101.”
The beer brewing process starts with grains, usually barley but also rye, corn, oats or wheat. What these all have in common is they are primarily composed of starch, a complex carbohydrate. Starch is made up of hundreds of glucose (a simple sugar) molecules bound together. After being heated and dried, the grains are immersed in hot water where the enzymes in the grains release the glucose from the starch and create a sugar syrup, which is the basic ingredient for making beer. Whether its barley syrup, rye syrup, corn syrup, oat syrup or wheat syrup, chemically it’s all the same – glucose (sugar) mixed with water. The body cannot tell the difference between glucose from any food or beverage source. It is identical. The only difference is each grain imparts a different flavor to the beer.
So why does the Bud Light commercial portray beer made with corn syrup in a negative light? It is most likely to play on consumers’ misplaced fears about high fructose corn syrup and/or GMO corn. As I mentioned earlier, corn syrup used in making beer is 100% glucose. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a product created from corn syrup by converting some of the glucose into fructose so that it has about 50% each, the same as white sugar and honey. Created in the 1970’s, it replaced sugar as an ingredient in many foods and beverages because its sweetness was nearly identical to sugar but it was easier to use, more stable and functioned better in products.
But furor ensued in the 2000’s when some scientists suggested that the increase in HFCS intake might be the reason obesity in the U.S. was on the rise. There is no scientific evidence to support this and numerous studies have found no difference in the body’s use of sugar vs. HFCS nor any increased risk of negative health effects. And according to two different government surveys the intake of all sugars, including HFCS, has gone down since 1999 while obesity has continued to rise.
In addition, GMO corn is safe. There is no difference in nutrition, health or safety between GMO and non-GMO corn. GMOs are not “in your food.” Agricultural biotechnology, commonly called GMO, is a method of growing crops like organic or conventional farming. A single genetic trait from another plant is inserted in the DNA of the crop seed so it can resist a certain insect or weed killer, tolerate drought so it can grow with less water or increase the amount of a vitamin or other nutrient in a food. And if there is any slight genetic difference in the corn itself, it would not show up in corn syrup. That’s because DNA is always combined with protein and there is no protein in corn syrup. It is 100% carbohydrate in the form of sugar.
So what’s the bottom line when it comes to choosing beer? Make your decision as you would with any food or beverage on taste, cost, quality and enjoyment. Or support your local brewery like Coors if you live in Colorado or Shiner if you’re in Texas. Don’t base it on negative marketing and misleading claims of fear.