Friday, September 12, 2008

U.S. Addictions: High-fructose corn syrup & other artificial sweeteners

Americans have a major sweet tooth. The US has a sugar addiction that is quite unlike most other countries in the world. Rather than using natural sources of sugar minimally, we have increased our consumption of sugar over 250% in the past two decades. An article published in US News & World Report stated "In 2003, each person consumed about 142 pounds of sugar per year. ...[compared to] a dismal 8.3 pounds of broccoli and just over 25 pounds of dark lettuces." Now, this is not in the form of honey, agave nectar, or raw sugar cane. No, most of this is often in the form of highly processed (refined), or artificial sweeteners. One of the most inexpensive and widespread commercially used sugars is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). 

HFCS is particularly toxic because of its pervasiveness in commercially available foods (ketchup, soup, cookies, crackers, cereal, yogurt, etc.), many of which would be considered "healthy" choices. Please, check your ingredient labels!! Whenever possible, chose an alternative that is made without sugar, or uses natural or minimally processed sugar.

Well, what is so bad about HFCS? ...good question, one I was recently asked...

High-fructose corn syrup has been shown to deplete the amount of chromium in the body. This is dangerous because chromium aids the glucose (sugar) molecules in passing from the bloodstream into the cells. A drop in chromium (like that caused by eating foods containing HFCS) can raise bad (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as interfere with immune system functioning. Therefore, not only does it heighten peoples' risk of chronic disease (i.e., heart disease and stroke), but also acute illness (i.e., cold or flu). There are also studies that suggest excess sugar consumption (with HFCS and just generally) may be linked with certain types of cancer.

My general thoughts: the less you consume HFCS in your diet, the better. 

For more information see Mark's blog on the subject.
UPDATE: A good friend reminded me that strong evidence of the impact of HFCS on human health (particularly its effects on overweight/obesity) is relatively scarce. The extent to which HFCS is harmful to one's health is highly controversial and well debated. Yet, I felt a need to address some of the recent advertising from the Corn Refiners Association.  In my opinion, any information equating (or even implying) consuming HFCS with eating actual corn is as silly as equating consuming vegetable oil with eating -actual- vegetables. The statement that there is NO evidence of the effects of consuming substantial quantities of HFCS on health and disease is misguided. Healthful living depends on limiting your intake of refined carbohydrates -- which really means sugar in any of its multiple forms, HFCS being just one of them. If I have a choice between a popsicle made of simple sugar versus HFCS I think I will continue to choose the one made with sugar, better yet, I may choose no popsicle at all!

BlogHer reviews several online sources that examine the role of HFCS on health and wellbeing. I urge those who are more interested in getting information from both sides of the HFCS debate to check it out and make your own -informed- decision!

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