Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Not so sweet

High Fructose Corn Syrup: I'm not a big fan and I try to avoid all foods that contain it. Back when I started taking a different look at the food we ate, it was one of those ingredients I started noticing in everything. Even though I hadn't done much research yet, it was one of those things that just seemed like it was bad - like feeding your kids spaghetti after they've had a bath or going to Walmart on payday. The commercials trying to promote that its "just like sugar" made HFCS seem even more sketchy to me.

In January of 2009, a research study was published revealing various levels of Mercury in HFCS. Mercury is a neurotoxic heavy metal not good for anyone to be exposed to but is especially dangerous to young children and unborn infants whose nervous system is still developing. Numerous articles have mentioned that traces of Mercury are present in all different forms in our environment. But the concern in it being present in HFCS (it is actually in something called caustic soda used to separate the corn in the process of making the HFCS) is because this sweetener is used in such a vast array of foods, both as a sweetener and for its ability to prolong shelf-life. It is estimated that in the US, the average daily consumption of HFCS is 50 grams (Dufault et al., 2009).  

In 2010, a study conducted by a Princeton University research team looked at the effects of HFCS on obesity. It was a two part study in which the first showed that rats given HFCS gained more weight than rats given equal amounts of table sugar (sucrose). The second part of the study was a more long-term study and it showed that the HFCS rats not only had gained weight, but they also had higher triglycerides, abdominal fat, and other characteristics that in humans,  are known risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and high blood pressure. This study was so interesting to me (probably because I am a nurse and a nerd who loves pathophysiology stuff) because it talked about how even though HFCS and table sugar have similar properties of fructose and glucose, our bodies process it completely different because of how the one fructose is made. I don't know...maybe, perhaps, this might have something to do with the fact that God made regular sugar AND our bodies? Just a thought...

The other big concern I have with HFCS, is the issue of GMO corn. This is a whole different issue in and of itself. Basically, GMO's are genetically modified organisms - their DNA has been changed or altered. The advantage of this for crops is to make produce that is resistant to diseases and such, and to produce/grow faster. Its very sketchy sounding because some things aren't regulated and there is no requirement to label foods as being from GMO sources. Several articles have stated that it is like one big science experience because GMO's are relatively new (introduced in the 90's I believe?) so no one really knows what affects it will have on us. Great! Anyway, because corn is a major GMO product, anything made from non-organic corn or corn by-product could potentially be a GMO. 

If you haven't completely zoned out or fallen asleep by all of this, here is just a quick list of a few, somewhat unexpected, foods with HFCS:
~Soft drinks, juice, chocolate/flavored milk, Poweraide
~Crackers, cereals, fruit and granola bars
~Yogurt, ice cream, Popsicles
~Applesauce, some fruit cups and "fruit" products
~Ketchup, salad dressing, barbecue sauce
~Canned beans and soups

You get the gist: it can be in everything! Don't get me wrong, plain sugar sure isn't a wonder food or considered healthy by any means. This is of course an example of how important it is to keep things in moderation. I don't think people realize how much HFCS is present in our foods (I couldn't believe it was in the "healthy" applesauce! Seriously people?!). I have to mention that the dear folks at Sweet Surprise refuted the Mercury study and have supplied a thorough fact sheet on the harmlessness of HFCS. They are the Corn Refiner's Association so I find it a bit biased but that might just be me. Since 2009, they very well could have changed the manufacturing of HFCS to a method that does not use the mercury method which hopefully is the case.

So whether you eliminate all HFCS from your diet or keep it in moderation, I hope this was a little bit informative or even just adds to your food awareness!

References and other information:
Dufault, R., LeBlanc, B., Schnoll, R., Cornett, C., Scweitzer, L., Wallinga, D., Hightower, J., Patrick, L., & Lukiw, W.J. (2009). Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: Measured concentrations in food product sugar. Environmental Health. (8)2. Retrieved from  http://www.ehjournal.net/content/8/1/2

Parker, H. (2010). A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high fructose corn syrup prompts considerable weight gain. Princeton University. Retrieved from http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/


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