18 September 2008

Sweet... Surprise?

Recently there have been a slew of commercials on TV paid for by the Corn Refiner’s Association, “the national trade association representing the corn refining (wet milling) industry of the United States” (http://www.corn.org/). These ads are meant to disprove the ever-growing rumors that high fructose corn syrup (hfcs) is responsible for the spate of obesity and health problems plaguing our country. They fail to mention that the flux of hfcs into the market was immediately followed by the flux of cases of obesity… insisting instead that hfcs is all natural and healthy, with the caveat that it is consumed in moderation.

That’s all well and good. I’m a big proponent of moderation. Personally, I probably consume about a cup of sugar (200 grams)… about once a month. That’s mostly used for baking cupcakes. But then again, I’ve been aware of the problems of sugar consumption for some years now, ever since a waiter friend came home and told me he’d had a customer who was on a no-sugar diet. Intrigued, like the health nut I am, I started looking into the issues surrounding the consumption of sugars. Here are the basics:

Many foods, particularly fruits, naturally contain sugar known as fructose. Others, such as vegetables and grains, contain varying degrees of other, typically more complex sugars, including glucose, sucrose, and starch. Sugar, as in the crystallized stuff from the store, is typically derived from sugar cane or sugar beets, which are boiled, after which the liquid evaporates, leaving behind sucrose, which crystallizes. What I would call natural sucrose is lumpy and kind of brownish; what the FDA calls natural sucrose is bleached (usually with phosphoric acid or calcium hydroxide) and processed with charcoal, usually from ground animal bone, to make the superfine sugar you’re used to seeing from Domino.

High fructose corn syrup, and this I’m getting directly from the Corn Refiner’s Association, is made from corn, which is first soaked in sulfur dioxide, then processed into fructose and glucose using a variety of mysterious sounding ingredients and processes (check it out). Now, the FDA may call this natural, but by definition arsenic is also natural. I personally wouldn’t go about eating that. I say anything that is processed beyond recognition should at least be subject to a few raised eyebrows.

It’s quite possible that hfcs actually is ok for you, if, as the commercials say, you consume in moderation. However, one soda can contain over 13 grams of the stuff. And that’s presuming you only have the one soda. Hfcs is also found in ketchup, yogurt, bread, candy, peanut butter, processed baked goods, crackers, most beverages… well, try finding something packaged in the grocery store that doesn’t have it. Go ahead. I wish you luck.

In addition to sneakily finding its way into most processed foods, high fructose corn syrup is also harder for us to digest. Different studies suggest different things, but keep in mind that many of these studies are paid for by ye ole Corn Refiner’s Association. The truth is, sucrose, ie sugar, breaks down in acidic environments, like your stomach, making it fairly easy to digest. Hfcs is designed not to break down in acids, hence its use in salad dressing. I’m going to let you put two and two together here.

Most people like to be very wary where these health things are concerned, and wait for about nine million studies to be conducted before they conclude one thing or another. Therefore, no one has conclusively linked hfcs to obesity, and it could be that indeed, in moderation, whatever that is, it won’t hurt you. I, however, prefer to figure people got along perfectly well for millions of years without eating highly refined foods, and what’s good enough for them is good enough for me. The suspicious sounding ingredients involved in the processing of corn into yellowish goo are enough to keep me away.

Do the research, and decide for yourself.

Sugar Coated (from the San Francisco Chronicle)
Sweet Surprise.com
Corn Refiner's Association
Wiki on High Fructose Corn Syrup
Wiki on Sugar

1 comment:

Issa Waters said...

Thanks for this info!