3.25.2010

Sugar vs. "Sugar"

I have been leery of High Fructose Corn Syrup pretty much since the days when I followed the Atkins diet for the better part of 3 years. In addition to cutting white flour and white sugar out of my diet I ate pretty much 0 HFCS for several years. I felt like a million bucks, had stable blood sugar and no reactive hypoglycemia symptoms for the first time in my life, ate a ton of veggies and salad (yeah, Atkins is not about bacon and cheese, contrary to popular myth--though one can eat these things without guilt, which is beautiful).

So what happened when I got lazy and fell off the Atkins wagon? Yeah, I started eating the same crap that made me fat in the first place (on Atkins I lost 60#s). In short order I had regained 20#s. The same 20#s I have been battling for about 5 years now.

And what is back in my diet...HFCS. Yep. Not in soda (if I drink soda it's one can and always diet)...but in so many other things...flavored "low-fat" yogurt, low-fat salad dressings, low-fat cereal bars, breads, canned tomato soup...a whole shit-tonne (European spelling, the way my hubby likes it) of processed foods.

HFCS have been vilified off-and-on for a few years, then studies sponsored by the corn producers (with their massive government subsidies) say "oh, pish posh...HFCS is no different than sugar."

Oh, really?! Remember when the government also had us convinced that transfat-laden margarine was so much better for us than natural fats in butter? How's that working, now? Or when eggs were the Devil...then it was found that eating eggs had little to no bearing on a person's cholesterol #s.

The smart people at Princeton have been doing research on HFCS and how lab rats metabolize it differently from sugar. What they found is not shocking, but it has me pretty fired-up.

The first line of the article really says it all:
A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

Susan Powter was wrong...it isn't fat that's making us fat...it's crap added to a ridiculous amount of food. Crap that allows the "food" to be made inexpensively, because corn and corn by-products are all subsidized in massive dollars by the government. Money that could be spent to make meat and produce and unprocessed foods cheap.
This creates a fascinating puzzle. The rats in the Princeton study became obese by drinking high-fructose corn syrup, but not by drinking sucrose. The critical differences in appetite, metabolism and gene expression that underlie this phenomenon are yet to be discovered, but may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.

One study I recall reading back in my low-carbing days found something that has stuck with me ever since. They compared the weight loss of individuals on a low-fat diet vs. the results for those eating the same number of calories with controlled carbs. Very clearly those low-carbing individuals lost more weight, which showed that the old "a calorie is a calorie" wasn't really true. Why did this study not garner more media attention? Perhaps due to pressure from the strong corn lobby...?

Hopefully this bit near the end of the article gets people thinking. It took consumers pushing for the removal of transfats from products to change the way many foods were produced. It's going to take that sort of change in buying habits to get the HFCS out of so many foods, too.
In the 40 years since the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup as a cost-effective sweetener in the American diet, rates of obesity in the U.S. have skyrocketed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1970, around 15 percent of the U.S. population met the definition for obesity; today, roughly one-third of the American adults are considered obese, the CDC reported. High-fructose corn syrup is found in a wide range of foods and beverages, including fruit juice, soda, cereal, bread, yogurt, ketchup and mayonnaise. On average, Americans consume 60 pounds of the sweetener per person every year.

In the meantime we're going back to label-reading and avoiding all the over-processed stuff in the stores. So many of these "food" items have healthier substitutes. Plain yogurt is cheap (we've made our own in the past and it's yummy) and can be flavored with all sorts of natural things...including real sugar. I've found an organic ready-to-serve tomato soup that is tastier than Campbell's (though much pricier...because it's not full of cheap, subsidized ingredients...HFCS is the SECOND ingredient in Campbell's Tomato Soup), and those "healthy" fruit-and-grain bars are gross, anyhow. Time to start looking for homemade granola bar recipes with our choice of ingredients. Coming up with new combinations sounds like a fun way to get our 9 year old son involved in the kitchen, too.

I will be interested to see if weight loss is a pleasant side-effect of removing this single ingredient from our diets. I think it's high time we found a copy of King Corn, too. I haven't seen it, but a good friend said after watching it she viewed everything in the grocery store with new eyes.

3 comments:

  1. I don't like how HFCS is almost inescapable. It's in EVERYTHING. Hence why I make all my meals at home, from scratch, using whole ingredients.

    I agree with everything you have already said. I'm going to be so bold as to say the HFCS is the devil. It's no good for anyone.

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  2. It really is in everything...even things that don't "taste" sweet. It's crazy. I don't even like corn, except for popcorn and the occasional cornbread or corn muffin. We have our kid trained to say "corn is not a vegetable, it's a grain." It's not even a particularly healthy grain, at that.

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  3. I love real corn. Pretty sure I'll never give that up. But... the HFCS is scary.

    I'm definitely going to have to start paying more attention to this.

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