Thursday, September 16, 2010

How sweet it isn't...

"A sugar is a sugar whether it comes from cane, corn or beets."--Corn Refiner's Association

Is a sugar really a sugar? If that is the case, why are we trying so hard to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2008 Americans consumed 37.8 pounds of HFCS per capita. It is found in obvious things like sodas and fruit drinks, and not so obvious items like ketchup and the majority of breads at the supermarket. To see how it enhances the stability and shelf-life of different products, click here. After reading this list, I wanted to avoid this ingredient even more and this is the website that is supposed to convince me how safe it is!

Although produced from corn, a healthy vegetable, HFCS bears no resemblance to it's original form. It is highly-refined into a cheap sweetener that is created from a crop highly subsidized by the U.S. government. As a sweetener, it is chemically different than sugar and not metabolized the same way. Table sugar is composed of sucrose which is not broken down and used by the body the same way as fructose. In animal studies, fructose produced insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, high insulin levels, high triglycerides and high blood pressure. HFCS is also the prime suspect in the obesity epidemic that is plaguing America. Mice fed fructose experienced higher weight gain than mice that were fed the same amount of sucrose.

So why I am I bringing this up? With all the attention on the dangers of HFCS, it's consumption has seen a 21% decrease compared to 10 years ago. Prominent brands such as Hunt's Ketchup and some Sara Lee breads have removed it entirely and advertise this fact on their labels. This revolution has hit the Corn Refiner's Association in their pocket book and they are scrambling to recoup their losses. If you visit the Sweet Surprise website, you will almost be convinced that there is no difference between HFCS and other sweeteners. They are even lobbying for permission to rename HFCS to "corn sugar" on the labels of foods. Corn sugar? Really? For those that aren't avid label readers, this is not a big deal, but for the rest of us it is an insult. It is on the news, do you think we aren't going to figure it out? A highly-processed sweetener by any other name will be just as sweet--and unhealthy!

There was a time when I read labels to avoid sugar but now I am excited to find labels boasting my snowy-white, granulated friend. Today, while buying a barbecue sauce, only one brand (not in the organic aisle) did not have HFCS as an ingredient. For all the others it was listed first or second. Buying organic products is another way to eliminate or reduce your HFCS consumption. This may sound corny, but the only sweet surprise I see is that food manufacturers are listening and removing this ingredient from their products. Keep up the good work American shoppers!

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