I am not sure how well I recently answered this question about my concerns about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I don’t want to imply that I’m knocking anyone else’s choices, but I also feel pretty strongly that our bodies and our planet would both be healthier and happier if we gave this substance the boot. To explain why, I’ll elaborate on my recent post on food choices.
There are lots of concerns I have about HFCS. There are more complete explanations elsewhere, like at this Huffington Post article by Joseph Mercola (who will be in town in October at the ICPA Freedom for Family Wellness summit) and this piece by Linda Forristal and this piece by Bill Sanda on the Weston A. Price Foundation website. If you’re a Wikipedia fan, here’s the entry on HFCS. But here’s how I see it. (Why aren’t my bullet points working?)
- * HFCS is not real food. Plain and simple, this is not something you find in nature. HFCS is not simply the sweet juice of the corn squeezed out
and concentrated. It is not a product you can make in your kitchen and jar yourself (well, unless you use some scary chemicals like the guys in the documentary King Corn). It is an industrial product that is made in a factory.
- *To elaborate, HFCS is not something that’s been around forever. Contrary to what the head of the Corn Refiners Association said in a recent NPR interview (about the group’s attempts to change the name to “corn sugar”), this substance as we now know it has not been in the kitchens of our “grandma and great-grandma.” I don’t recall Little Industrial
Food Processing Plant on the Prairie. The process to create the HFCS that is pervasive in our food system now was perfected in the 1970s, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that its use skyrocketed. So no, we have not been eating this forever and certainly not in the quantities that we are now. The argument “I grew up on it and I turned out fine” can’t hold water if you were born before, say 1985. (And really, are you fine? No allergies, skin problems, weight problems, mood problems or other health issues? Justbecause you don’t break out in a rash in the shape of a factory doesn’t mean you’re not feeling the effects of processed food in your body.)
- *It’s hardon the liver.Other sugars are used elsewhere in the body while fructose is metabolized only in the liver. And then it leaves fatty acid deposits. Ouch and ouch.
- *There’s nothing good about it. Sugar in any form should be eaten sparingly to avoid inflammation, but, unlike HFCS, at least molasses, maple syrup (especially grade B) and maple sugar, date sugar, and honey all have some vitamins or minerals that our bodies can use and fiber that makes them less of a shock to our system.
- *All non-organic corn produced in the U.S. is genetically modified. If something does not exist in nature, I don’t want it in my body. So HFCS is an industrial product made from an already engineered “food.”
- *Foods with HFCS are cheap because of cornsubsidies that make it more economical to fill up on junk food than on real food. Although there are lots of ways to make healthy food affordable, it takes effort and time that a lot of folks might not have. I counter that being healthy frees you from the time and expense of doctor visits and medication, but not everyone has the luxury of weighing that future savings when they are hungry in the moment. It is notfair that there is a disparity between who has access to what, and I hope I can get more involved in this issue. For now, though, I reject the notion that buying real food is an elitist choice. If I can afford to have a higher grocery bill because I choose to eat organic foods and to support local farmers who use sustainable methods, that’s one more dollar the corn industry and other industrial food giants are not getting.
As someone who does most of her grocery shopping (food that I don’t get directly from a farm or from my garden) in stores where they just don’t carry items with HFCS, I admit that this is not an issue I face every day like it is for most other people. It comes up when I go to a shop that makes its own ice cream and leave after just getting a taste because they check the ingredients in the back and return to say, “Yes, we use corn syrup.” Or it’s when my son sees some item another child has and I explain (tactfully in the moment or maybe with more explanation later) that we just don’t eat that (or, as I wrote the other day, we lie and says it has gluten since he’s accepted that he can’t eat gluten).
We haven’t entered public school yet, so he’s not at risk of getting HFCS there. And again, the gluten thing keeps us from all those bread and cookie products loaded with HFCS. But I wish I didn’t need a celiac disease bubble or a private school bubble around my kid to keep his body free of junk. And those things don’t help when he gets a smoothie or ice cream somewhere when a parent forgets to ask the teenager behind the counter for the ingredients. We don’t do a lot of going out for treats, but it happens. I can handle a little sugary ick, but I wish I didn’t have to worry about HFCS (or artificial color, or whatever it was that made my kid flip out last time after a day with Daddy).
I know plenty of moms who are just as concerned as I am. But I also know plenty who complain that moms like me need to just calm down and not be so uptight. (Or even worse, that I am judging them because I have an opinion of my own and I stick to it).
No, really, being a healthy family is a lot easier than not. There’s no guarantee that eating a diet low in processed foods is going to keep us from any illness, but having experienced such a profound change in my own health through a change in diet, I do firmly believe that nutrition is our most powerful tool for health and well-being. Food is medicine.