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The Blame Game

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In another round of we-can’t-control-our-vices-so-let’s-blame-someone-else, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has become the new trans fat—or, as I like to put it, obesity culprit du jour.

The term may not be familiar to those of you who don’t scour the labels on all your grocery purchases, but it should be. HFCS is in virtually everything you eat that is not fresh off the farm, or made in your own kitchen or by your favorite chef (provided your chef isn’t Ronald McDonald or the Colonel).

The appeal? HFCS is a reliable flavor-enhancer, particularly when paired with fruit and spices. It is also a trusted preservative, extending shelf life, and retains moisture in cereals and breakfast bars. Plus, it’s a cheaper way for manufacturers to sweeten their products, which is why it’s in so many kid-targeted products like soft drinks, popsicles, juices, yogurts, cereals, crackers, chips, fruit snacks, breakfast bars and many other sweet, processed foods. HFCS typically contains about half fructose and half glucose, and is made through a complex process that transforms cornstarch into a thick, clear liquid.

Although HFCS comes from a natural, farm-grown product, and is equal to table sugar in terms of calories and sweetness, its reincarnation as a processed food additive—and possible cause of obesity, particularly in children—has long made it a target for nutritionists.

Now, thanks to an ad campaign by the Corn Refiners Association, this highly refined artificial product is once again in the hot seat. Check it out:

youtube.com/watch?v=EEbRxTOyGf0
youtube.com/watch?v=KVsgXPt564Q

The commercials seem innocent—in a Leave It to Beaver kind of way—but is the Corn Refiners Association telling the whole story? Or are lobbyists using our plates—and palates—as a pulpit?

Gretchen La Londe, a certified holistic health counselor with Nakisbendi and Associates in Ardmore doesn’t claim to be an expert on HFCS. However, she isn’t a fan of artificial sweeteners.

“The mere fact that it is processed makes it less appealing as a sweetener than table sugar, and I do know that it is absorbed by and affects the body differently,” La Londe says.

Like most people who’ve gotten onboard the anti-HFCS bandwagon, La Londe sees a lot of confusing information out there. But the biggest question she thinks people should be asking is why they’re consuming so much processed food.    

“There are much healthier alternatives, such as agave nectar, brown rice syrup, barley malt, bananas and maple syrup. But you’re not going to find them in processed or prepared foods. And not many people know how to incorporate them into cooking at home,” she says.

La Londe does have a few suggestions, though:

Buy these books:

Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair
(Moon Smile Press, 1997)
It has a section in the back that discusses how to use alternative sweeteners.

Get the Sugar Out: 501 Simple Ways to Cut the Sugar Out of Any Diet by Ann Louise Gittleman
(Three Rivers Press, 1996)

Watch this movie: kingcorn.net

Eat more: Fruits and vegetables. And if you don’t have time to cook, try to buy healthier prepared foods. (One of her favorite places to “shop” is at HomeCooked in Paoli, homecooked.net.)

Look at your overall diet: “People like to blame one ingredient or food as being the culprit for weight issues, but it’s more complex than that. We’re more sedentary, and sugar is more prevalent. If you want to control your weight, don’t consume sweets on a regular basis. Dilute your juices with water or buy unsweetened ones, and when you have a craving, instead of reaching for a Tastykake, have a slice of pie from a quality bakery,” La Londe says.

Obviously, we all need to be more conscious of what we are fueling our bodies with. Fortunately, I do not currently have a weight issue, and my kids and I don’t consume an abundance of processed foods. However, I could be more insistent about getting my kids off their favorite junk: soda, juice, chocolate milk, Frosted Flakes, Fruit Roll-Ups, ice pops, fake (read “less expensive”) maple syrup … you know the menu.

Moderation is a great stance on many parts of life, but the more I read about HFCS, the more I am starting to become convinced that it’s not really as “healthy” of a food as the Corn Refiners Association would like me to believe. I’m curious to learn more and to hear your perspective, so drop me a line at dwarden@mainlinetoday.com.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this well-said comment by James M. Rippe, M.D., posted on parentdish.com on Sept. 19: “The danger in demonizing HFCS with mischaracterizations is that it prevents us from focusing on the real causes of such problems as obesity, which is the over-consumption of calories and the inadequate levels of physical activity. It’s good to pay attention to nutrition, but let’s get the facts straight!”

For the whole post, click here.

Some of the information for this post was culled from noweightgaincookbooks.com, parentdish.com and hfcsfacts.com.