The American Sweetener Addiction: High Fructose Corn Syrup
As a true foodie, I consider myself pretty well read on most things food related - and this includes the many books and articles written about the state of the US food industry and its links to US health. Though each arrives at the point in a different way, there seems to be one common theme among them - both food industry and the health of our citizens are deeply flawed and imbalanced.
Specifically, though I've done my best to keep an open mind as I read both sides of the argument, the more I read, the more I am convinced that sugar is probably the biggest part of the problem.
The US Food Industry
One great read for those interested is “The Omnivore's Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. In it, he describes just how dramatically the agricultural landscape of the US has changed over the last 50 decades and how because of economical, biological and political factors, the human cultivation of corn has come to dominate the American diet.
To illustrate, in the 1950s, a sky view of the midwest landscape looked like a patchwork quilt with farms raising a diverse balance of livestock and plants. If you look at it today, it is almost exclusively corn. In 2000 alone, US farmers planted over 79 million acres of corn. With this change in agriculture, our diet too has become extremely unbalanced. Now, the grand majority of foods we eat are being made with at least one corn bi-product - one of the most common of which is high fructose corn syrup.
What IS High Fructose Corn Syrup?
In a word, it's sugar. Some say it's processed no different than cane sugar in our body. Others disagree, and point of the connection numerous studies have made between HFCS and disease like obesity and diabetes. Either way though, we are getting too much of it.
High fructose corn syrup has invaded the US food system and can be found in almost every food product on the shelves at your local grocery store. The most common products containing HFCS are soft drinks, sauces, salad dressings, breads, breakfast cereals and snacks of all kinds - it's even in things you wouldn't typically think of as sweet - ketchup and frozen dinners for example. It's so prevalent, you could say it’s almost unavoidable.
Sugar Is Toxic to Humans:
You may raise an eyebrow at this statement, but according to Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, sugar IS, absolutely, toxic to humans and we are slowly killing ourselves with it.
He points out that his generation will be the first to live a shorter life than the previous generation - a change he believes, is due to a diet much higher in sugar. The average American now eats an astounding 41.5 lbs of high fructose corn syrup per year.
He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) are cornerstones of the obesity, heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. As seen on you tube, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” he supports his findings with valid statistics and research.
The arguments against sugar and HFCS in particular, are compelling, but then again, changing habits can be difficult. Much like quitting smoking or other bad habits, quitting sugar isn’t easy! Especially when it’s so available, but think of it another way.
How To Quit Sugar - Think of it as Drano.
Pretend that you are knowingly eating and drinking Drano each time you consume high fructose corn syrup. You wouldn’t knowingly drink Drano no matter how good it tastes because you know it could kill you. But that's exactly what you're doing when you consume a diet heavy in sugar!
Avoid HFCS wherever you can because there will always be those circumstances where you can’t or don’t even know it’s there.
- Avoid Soft Drinks: Carbonated beverages account for the top three food products in the Self Nutrition Data website's list of foods high in fructose. For a listing of other HFCS products check this link: Self Nutrition Data: Foods Highest in Fructose
- Avoid Fast Food: Most fast foods contain high levels of HFCS because of its low cost and high profitability. Check this site for a list of popular fast food restaurants and the products that contain high levels of HFCS.
- Read Labels: Reading labels is the best way to know whether you are actually eating HFCS. There are many products out there that are high in HFCS, but don’t actually taste sweet - breads, processed meats and pastas for example.
- Buy Fresh: HFCS is a refined and processed product. Fresh ingredients are never refined or processed. All the sugars found in whole fresh foods are natural and contain no HFCS.
- Learn to Cook: By learning to cook you control what goes into your foods. Prepared foods in the grocery store or restaurants are being controlled by large profit making corporations. They have no problem using the least costly ingredients to make their foods taste good.
HFCS- Free Recipes
Cooking foods without HFCS is easy because you are starting from scratch and using ingredients that do not contain HFCS. The following recipes are simple, easy and delicious and contain NO HFCS!
- Self Nutrition Data: Foods Highest in Fructose
- The Omnivores Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
- Sugar: The Bitter Truth, by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology