Thursday, June 30, 2011

“Sweet, Delicious, Tricky and Unfortunate”

-Article one of three-

Corn subsidization is something that we as Americans can’t escape a couple of months without hearing at least one rant or praise about. It is a hot topic, a buzz word, the talk around town. If you are reading this thinking “wow this girl is crazy, where is she pulling this nonsense from?” maybe you would think differently if I change gears slightly. Does the buzz word/ term “High Fructose Corn Syrup” sound familiar? If not, that’s ok, just keep reading. Believe it or not, corn is among the most highly subsidized crops in the United States; the results of which seem to be the cause of a span of controversy and debate. There are many aspects of the corn subsidization debate. Arguments for and against the subsidization of corn cover many areas. Examples include its affects on foreign relations, civil rights, environmental sustainability, and overall national health. Although all are topics worthy of exploration, to fairly look at each topic would take more time than, I am sure, you the reader have time for. For this reason and because of the mere fact that this is health and wellness gym blog, the focus of this article is on the detriment to nutrition.
Perhaps you have seen, in the past few years, food network television advertisements for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). If not, here is a visual. It is a warm summer day in the park. A man is lying next to his girlfriend who offers him a popsicle. Offended, the man asks something to the affect of “why are you giving me that nasty high fructose corn syrup laden popsicle? Don’t you know what it can do to my perfect health? “. The girlfriend smiles and giggles and responds with a tactful rebuttal. It goes something to the affect of “Oh, but honey, high fructose corn syrup is made from corn and it is fine in moderation”. The mood is lightened and the corn refiners association seal flashes across the screen. Now, that was only an “off the cuff” rendition of that commercial which I see vividly in my memory. It is not verbatim and by far more exhilarating when seen in person. I apologize. As a nutrition major, I was a little bit annoyed when I first saw this commercial. This may have been my superior, almighty knowledge of all things nutrition and my utter disgust for the glorification of lowly high fructose corn syrup. No, that’s not it. To be honest, my thoughts on the matter are that, for years, I had heard nothing about high fructose corn syrup other than how bad it was for you.”Sure it’s ok for you in moderation”, I thought, “but so is a cup full of lard. You don’t see that being advertised in popsicle form”. After pondering a little further, I came to the realization that what made me so annoyed with this commercial was that it was a side that I was never used to. It opened for me the debate on high fructose corn syrup. I am not annoyed now. Everyone has their opinion on the matter. I however am obviously opposed to the widespread use of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). If you read on, you will find out why.
High fructose corn syrup comes from corn. It is a combination of about 40 percent glucose and 60 percent fructose (types of sugar). Sucrose (table sugar) in contrast has a lower proportion of fructose, the sweeter of the two. High fructose corn syrup can be found as a replacement in anything from American TV dinners to ice cream. It seems today that it is in everything. Why is this? Could it be that the United States government just pays farmers to grow a lot of corn and sell it cheap? We do have a lot of corn and it is cheaper than cane (sugar). Why does high fructose corn syrup have a bad rap? It is sweet and delicious. What isn’t to love? Perhaps, what isn’t so lovable about it is that this sweet delicious sweetener may be causing health disparity. Over the years, many speculations have been made about the connection between high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and a decrease in health sustained by the average American. “Health” is an epic buzz word when it comes to the discussion of high fructose corn syrup and its worthiness within American society. High fructose corn syrup has in many studies been connected to the following: American obesity rate, obesity related diseases such as diabetes and, of course, increases in cholesterol. In research done at Princeton University, rats fed high fructose corn syrup became obese whereas rats fed a sugar solution did so far slower.(1)
It is no surprise that this study was refuted by the corn refiners association in a press release in March 2010. The press release offered to the public a claim that this study done by Princeton lacked legitimacy. They suggested this on the grounds that the study “grossly exaggerated intake levels in rats and incorrectly suggested that such results could have significant meaning for humans”. The Corn Refiners Association’s president Audrae Erickson further argued that using rats to assess detriment to human beings is ineffective I suppose he has a point. A rat, after all, is not a human being.(2)
Similar studies, of which there are many, have found links between the consumption of high fructose corn syrup and weight gain, diabetes type 2 as well as bad cholesterol elevation.
All of these studies coming out of reputable Universities have been published in reputable journals such as The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.(3)(4)Given this information, presented as widely as it is, it is clearly a realistic to see HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) as a health threat that should be avoided if possible. The legitimacy and proof that HFCS is harmful lies in the fact that numerous studies agree with each other and refute what the corn refiners association, with an interest in maintaining sales, say is not true.
If the general public were to in fact know about the negative affects of HFCS, wouldn’t one expect the average American to attempt abstaining from this sweetener? The real question is, “Is it possible?"In 1970 high fructose corn syrup was in about 1 percent of products found in grocery stores. By 2000, high fructose corn syrup was the sweetener of choice found in about 62 percent of sweetened products for consumption in the US.(5)Not only will you find it in desserts and soft drinks, but also things like condiments and even bread. Choosing foods without it has become a chore. Even the most careful shopper who reads the label of every product in his or her cart may not be able to escape it entirely. One thing that is for sure is that finding HFCS free products certainly is not easy.
In a world where we are bombarded with products containing the sweeter in question, here are a few tips to avoid excess consumption of HFCS: 1) Avoid fast food since it tends to be higher in HFCS. 2) Make an effort to cook at home with whole (unprocessed) foods. There are plenty of recipes for popular condiments such as ketchup that can be made in the home without high fructose corn syrup. 3) Avoid bottled soft drinks such as sodas, sweetened iced teas, and sports drinks since not only are they bad for you in general, in the US most are sweetened with HFCS. If you want to go to extremes, buy foreign (canadian) bottled beverages. 5) Look for the label ” 100 % organic. 6) Practice the ancient art of “wrist supination”( wrist twisting). Look at your breads, cans, packages,etc. Although findings may be far and few in between, on occasion you will get lucky, hitting the “HFCS free” jackpot.

Kate Lynch

(1)Parker, Hilary. “A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain.”,22 Mar.2010.Web.4 Apr.2010.
(2)Corn Refiner’s Association. “Gross Errors in Princeton Animal study on Obesity and High Fructose Corn Syrup:Resarch in Humans Discredits Princeton Study”.Online Posting.22 12 Apr.2010.
(3) Stanhope, Kimber, and Peter J Haval. “Endocrine and metablolic effects of consuming beverages sweetened with fructose, glucose, sucrose, or high fructose corn syrup”. American Journal of Clinical Nutriton 88(2008):1733S-1737S.Print.
(4) Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: The Penguin group,2009.Print.
(5) Bray, George,Samara Joy Neilsen,and Barry M Popkin. “Consumption of high fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. ”American Journal of clinical Nutrition 79(2004): 537-543.Print.

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