This country consumes more sweetener made from corn than from sugarcane or beets, gulping it down in soft drinks and juice, as well as in packaged foods and baked goods. Popular items like bread, spaghetti sauce, breakfast cereal, ketchup, pickles and barbecue sauce are laced with high-fructose corn syrup, the most common added sweetener today.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we consumed almost 63 pounds per person, per year of high-fructose corn syrup in 2001, and today that number has shockingly risen to 129 pounds per year.
It’s made by milling corn to produce corn starch, then processing the starch to yield corn syrup, which is almost entirely glucose. Enzymes are then added that convert some of the glucose to fructose. Almost all nutritionists identify high-fructose corn syrup consumption as a major culprit in the nation’s obesity crisis. So why are we using so much of it?
It’s incredibly cheap! Sugar is twice as expensive as high-fructose corn syrup. The inexpensive sweetener flooded the American food supply in the early 1980s, just about the time the nation’s obesity rate started its unprecedented climb. What a coincidence!
Given how ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup has become, and the misleading television commercials funded by its producers that may have fooled some of us, some people are becoming aware and concerned about possible adverse health effects.
Researchers at Princeton University found that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain. A study 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.
In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say this work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States. The steady increase of high-fructose corn syrup into our diets has effected our perception of flavor and is contributing to our overall intake of empty calories, and sugar addiction.
Other health concerns lie in the quality of the corn being used to produce the finished product. Usually high-fructose corn syrup is made from genetically modified corn that has been exposed to pesticides, which come with their own well-documented side-effects and health concerns. Yuck!
Recently, I made it my personal goal to avoid eating foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup. This plan proved much harder than I thought. Reading labels was enlightening. I found that nearly everything on the shelves of the grocery store contains some form of hfcfs, including some items labeled as “natural foods.” You’ll find it on the labels of everything from salad dressings to protein bars, even most fat-free coffee creamers have it! Eating less processed foods is an easy way to avoid it. I buy the product with the least number of ingredients and eat as much fresh, unprocessed meals as possible. Pick up the book The Whole Truth Eating and Recipe Guide by Top Chef and nutritionist Andrea Beaman.
I am challenging you to try this for a week. If you don’t decide to boycott high-fructose corn syrup completely, at least become aware of how prevalent it is and how much better off you could look and feel without it. This is one more step towards living well!