Monday, April 30, 2007
Super Size Me - Remix
Is it just me or are people getting bigger? I think so, especially our people. Part of the reason why (though hotly disputed) may be the prevalent use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in so many of the things that we eat and drink. I recently ran across an old article from 2004 about HFCS that brought a lot of information to light for me. For example, it's prevalence in our food supply. Why does that matter? Well for one:
The body processes the fructose in high fructose corn syrup differently than it does old-fashioned cane or beet sugar, which in turn alters the way metabolic-regulating hormones function. It also forces the liver to kick more fat out into the bloodstream. The end result is that our bodies are essentially tricked into wanting to eat more and at the same time, we are storing more fat.
...In this manner, HFCS contributes to weight gain since it stops our brain from getting the signal that we are full. More on that here.
In 1966, the average American consumed approximately zero pounds of HFCS annually. Today, that number is up to more than 60 pounds per person with no corresponding reduction in our intake of other sugars. The USDA recommends 10-12 teaspoons of sugar a day, but our average intake in 2000 was up to 31 teaspoons daily. It's probably more now. The food processing industry basically switched from sugar to corn-based sweetners in the mid-1980's, corresponding with America's obesity crisis. a single can of soda now contains the equivalent of as much as 13 teaspoons of sugar in HFCS form.
The food processing and corn refiners industry have a different take of course, disputing the HFCS/obesity link;
...the authors of "Highs and Lows of High Fructose Corn Syrup," conclude, "Currently, there is no convincing evidence to support a link between HFCS consumption and overweight/obesity... The escalating rate of overweight/obesity coincides with many more credible explanations than increased HFCS consumption."
And touting its benefits.
HFCS is used in foods and beverages because of the many benefits it offers. In addition to providing sweetness at a level equivalent to table sugar (1), HFCS makes foods such as bread and breakfast cereal "brown" better when baked, and gives chewy cookies and snack bars their soft texture. It also protects freshness. HFCS actually inhibits microbial spoilage by reducing water activity and extends shelf life through superior moisture control.
More on corn refining (a fascinating industry and worthy of its own post) later. The obesity crisis is hitting the Black community particularly hard, with the resultant health related issues. And with HFCS so prevalent in products aimed at our children the results are visible for all to see.
"The bodies of the children I see today are mush," observed a concerned chiropractor recently. The culprit is the modern diet, high in fructose and low in copper-containing foods, resulting in inadequate formation of elastin and collagen--the sinews that hold the body together.
My wife put the family, kicking and screaming, on a diet last year; eliminating sodas, fast food, nonorganic vegetables, and most other processed foods unless absolutely unavoidable. By definition, that eliminated a lot of HFCS from our diet. Coming from a line of long-lived Black folks on both sides of the family who ate all of the things that are supposedly so bad for us now, this took some adjustment. Since that point however, we've all felt in much better shape, with more energy, and a lot less weight fluctuation. Overall while I'm not sure if HFCS is the sole reason for the obesity crisis in this country, I feel that reducing the intake has been beneficial for my family. Additionally we're learning to cook what we like while being much more aware of the content of our food. In that respect, I feel it's past time to look not at what we eat, but how what we eat is produced.