Surprising HFCS product of the week

>> Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's time to cruise the grocery store shelves and discover another surprising HFCS-containing product. This time it's not a food, which might make it even more surprising (or less if you're cynical) - liquid cough syrup! I guess it shouldn't be surprising since the medicine is floating in a thick, sweet, gloppy syrup, but maybe I expected more from my medicine.

I was surprised to find that all of the liquid Robitussin cough and cold products contain HFCS. I rarely use cough suppressant, but I will turn to an expectorant for congestion, and liquid is nice because it will coat your throat and provide a little relief from coughing that way. Take a look at the inactive ingredients for Robitussin Chest Congestion: anhydrous citric acid, artificial flavor, caramel, FD&C red no. 40, glycerin, high fructose corn syrup, liquid glucose, menthol, propylene glycol, purified water, saccharin sodium, sodium benzoate. Ugh.

There are alternatives. Not all cough and cold medicines have HFCS in them. Tylenol Chest Congestion, for example, is HFCS free. (It also has acetaminophen in it, though. Always check the active ingredients so you don't accidentally double up!) For kicks, let's just take a gander at Tylenol Chest Congestion Cool Burst Liquid's ingredient list: carboxymethylcellulose sodium, citric acid, FD&C blue #1, flavors, polyethylene glycol, propylene glycol, purified water, sodium benzoate, sorbitol, sucralose, sucrose.

Now I'm not banning all foods with food coloring or artificial sweeteners in our household (though we are naturally consuming less of both), but I do wonder what business they have in medicine. I would rather have a gross brown medicine free of artificial colors - especially if I'm going to give it to my child - than one loaded with it, especially as it seems that some people can be affected in negative ways by artificial colors. I'm sure that we could argue against some of the other ingredients too, but the artificial colors and sweeteners are the ones that really jump out at me, and both are ubiquitous in over-the-counter medicines.

So the moral of this story? Read those ingredients! All brands are not created equal. If you don't like the inactive ingredients in one brand, you might have better luck with another. Or you might find that you have to consume an ingredient you normally wouldn't in order to get the medicine your body needs.


beanjeepin January 7, 2009 at 5:32 PM  

When my oldest was very small (2003ish) I wrote to Tylenol about their use of artificial colors in their infant suspension. They told me that without the colorings there would be color variations that would cause alarm to parents and said to use motrin if I had a problem with dyes (at that time there was a lot of press on bad things with Motrin and tiny babies!). Basically that it was impossible for them to do infant tylenol without colorings. And just last year Tylenol came out with dye-free. Go figure. So write these companies and tell them why you're unhappy!!

Hanlie January 7, 2009 at 10:32 PM  

Just one more reason I don't use medicines! It's shocking what they put in there!

J in VA January 8, 2009 at 5:38 AM  

Propylene glycol is amoung other things an Antifreeze. Last time I checked, antifreeze ingestion was a way to kill small animals.

I have also seen this ingredient in some of the fat-free ice creams.


J in VA

laura January 8, 2009 at 6:51 AM  

Really interesting, Cathy. Kind of makes me wonder what it would taste like without all the other stuff (I am not a fan of cough syrup flavors).

Super Healthy Kids January 8, 2009 at 7:24 AM  

Surprising once again! thanks for doing the research for me. I've always looked at the "active ingredients" so I can get similar products cheaper, but I've never looked at the rest of the list.

James Hubbard M.D. M.P.H. January 8, 2009 at 7:53 AM  

Honey is good alternative cough med. for children over 1 year old and adults. It has been study proven.
2 teaspoons for adults, by itself or mixed in beverage. Less for children (dosage on my website)

DrV January 8, 2009 at 12:09 PM  

Somehow I feel like I should know this but I don't!

Lori January 8, 2009 at 7:11 PM  

I guess at this point I should stop being surprised. :) Your HFCS is certainly helping all of us open our eyes more.

It was always honey, but with whiskey and lemon for my husband growing up.

Sagan January 9, 2009 at 1:28 PM  

I love that you're scouting out random products with HFCS! Reading ingredients is one of my favorite pasttimes:)

I once found a bottle of cinnamon with hydrogenated oil in the ingredients list. Can you believe that? I was shocked and horrified. That's just totally unnecessary.

Hil January 10, 2009 at 10:03 AM  

yuck! I've heard about HFCS in medicines!

fatfighter January 12, 2009 at 8:09 AM  

That is weird and seems so unnecessary. Why? Why? Why?

Laura January 18, 2013 at 9:11 AM  

My daughter has fructose malabsorption. Does anyone know of a cold medicine without sorbitol, high fructose corn syrup or and sugar alcohols? She can't have these ingredients, nor can she have honey.

Tay Marie September 22, 2015 at 9:59 AM  

My 11 yr old daughter cannot tolerate sorbitol, xylitol, manitol, honey, and high fructose corn syrup. What can I administer to her that is safe?

Anonymous May 6, 2016 at 10:05 PM  

sorbitol, xylitol, and manitol are all usually made from corn so you may have a more widespread corn sensitivity

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