Children of the Corn
For a long time now I've been aware of corn syrup in our diet, but recently it's hit the media in a big way, particularly after the documentary film, Food Inc. This deadly stuff is infiltrating its way into our foods and the only way to try and stop its production is to read food labels and avoid the obvious foods that contain it. There is a huge campaign in the U.S. and now murmurings in the U.K. to ban it completely, and I'm sure it can be done (perhaps not this week, but give it a few years of public demand and small miracles can happen!)
We are told over and over again that fat is bad, fat makes people fat and butter should be banned. However it is sugar and refined foods that are one of the main causes of the obesity epidemic. What makes matters worse is that the corn (used to make the corn syrup) is subsidised by the U.S. government, so one could argue that they are causing the problem in the first place - how about that for getting your eyes open! Concentrating on exercise is all very well (and of course it is a vital component for shifting fat), but weight loss will only come if people stop eating addictive junk food. Those of you who saw Morgan Spurlock's documentary Supersize Me may also remember how, about halfway through the challenge, he started craving the food that was making him ill, and it seemed by that stage he had become addicted. Being ‘addicted' to food is a relatively new concept, but we now need to look at this seriously as one of the reasons why people eat too much of the wrong foods. What it is in the food that makes people continue to eat in this way? I call it the Hobnob theory. Why is it when you buy a packet of biscuits you have to eat the whole packet? What's going on here? Is it just greed or is there something more sinister going on?
WHAT IS CORN SYRUP?
In the U.K., corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup is also known as isoglucose, maize syrup, and glucose-fructose syrup. It includes any corn syrup groups that have undergone processing to convert glucose to fructose and then mixed with corn syrup (100% glucose) to produce sweetness.
In the U.S. foods and products containing HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup) are typically using it as a sugar substitute and it is found in processed foods and beverages, soft drinks, yogurt, bread, biscuits, soups, salad dressing, and soup. This HFCS has replaced table sugar thanks to the U.S. government's subsidy on corn and an import tariff on sugar from overseas. This has raised the price of sucrose so high that HFCS is extremely cost-efficient. Since the mid 1990s, the United States federal government has subsidized corn growers. The cheapness of the corn syrup is why you can get a large junk meal in the U.S. for 99 cents. It's so cheap that it makes poorer families so much more vulnerable. You can barely get a couple of sticks of broccoli for 99 cents. As you can see, this is a ludicrous way to run a country. Fruit and vegetables should be cheap - not junk food - it makes no sense whatsoever. It makes me mad and hopefully it makes you mad as well!
There is at present an internal argument going on - one side saying that this HFCS is contributing to obesity and the other side saying it's no more harmful than regular sugar. Studies by The American Medical Association suggest "it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose" but calls for further independent research on the subject. You will hear similar statements from the fizzy drinks industry (no surprise there then!), and remember if the U.S. government is subsidising HFCS - which essentially they are - how are they going to do the massive U-turn that is needed? The easiest way is not at all, just keep sending out statements that it doesn't effect health when they know it does.
Back to the Hobnob theory (or any other biscuit that contains HFCS...) Purposefully buy a product with glucose fructose syrup in - e.g. a packet of biscuits and eat a couple. Not everyone, but most people, will either have a steep rise in blood sugar (8 mmo/l or higher) or will have that ‘I need to eat the whole packet' scenario. If you have either of those - welcome to the world of addictive corn syrup! Start your day with cornflakes and feel how starving you are three hours later (yes...cornflakes contain HFCS).
Those who oppose HFCS call it as addictive as crack cocaine and heroin, and unless you checked labels you wouldn't really notice it entering the food system. Unless you researched it yourself I suspect you wouldn't even know what it was. In the UK, it is now being widely used instead of beet and cane sugar (sucrose), as it's cheaper to produce and easier to blend into foodstuffs. It contains around the same number of calories as sugar, but it is thought that the body does not metabolise the syrup in the same way as sugar and that this can lead to weight gain.
Returning to the Hobnob theory, HFCS may trick the brain into thinking you need more food. Why so often is it hard to stop eating just one biscuit, how does a spoon of ice cream become a whole tub? So often I read that getting fat is down to personal responsibility and it is greed that makes people fat. What if that wasn't necessarily always true - what if people were actually addicted to the very food that was making them ill? How do people get to be 40 stone?
HFCS has been labelled ‘the Devil's Candy' and may trigger the growth of fat cells around the liver, heart and other vital organs and even cause diabetes and heart disease. The fructose part may be to blame for artificially boosting appetite and sending confused messages to our brains regarding our satiety. As you may be aware, when you eat sugar your body produces insulin, which tells the brain that we've had enough to eat and high insulin levels dampen appetite. However, fructose does not trigger as much insulin as regular sugar so the brain will get the message that you are not full up and want to keep on eating. Certainly previous studies have linked fructose with high blood levels of triglycerides (a fat which, in excess, can increase the risk of heart disease).
A study at Colorado University in the U.S. looked at more than 4,500 people with no history of hypertension, and found that those who ate or drank more than 74 grams a day of fructose (the same as two-and-a-half sugary drinks) increased their risk of high blood pressure by up to 87 per cent.
I'm confused? Does this mean we shouldn't eat fruit?
In moderation fruit is fine, particularly low GI fruits - but perhaps avoid huge bunches of grapes, and high amounts of bananas and dates etc. Also be careful not to drink too much fruit juice - it's a concentrated form of fructose and can contain quite a few calories - dilute it half and half with water. Fruit sugar per se is not bad, it's how it is changed and combined that is the problem.
HFCS is cheap and also keeps foods moist, which boosts a product's shelf life. It also helps to provide texture to food such as cereal bars and biscuits, making them chewy, and thickens up ice cream and yoghurt drinks. It's not just used in obviously sweet foods - glucose fructose syrup is also found in lots of products you wouldn't necessarily imagine contain it, such as cereal and batteries. Often it appears in product ingredients lists as ‘glucose-fructose syrup', ‘high fructose corn syrup', or ‘HFCS', which is the name used by some manufacturers.
Has it been proven to affect our metabolism?
Scientists have indeed proved that HFCS can damage human metabolism and may well be fuelling the obesity crisis. Fructose, a sweetener derived from corn, can cause dangerous growths of fat cells around vital organs and is able to trigger the early stages of diabetes and heart disease. Fructose bypasses the digestive process that breaks down other forms of sugar. It arrives intact in the liver where it causes a variety of abnormal reactions, including the disruption of mechanisms that instruct the body whether to burn or store fat. Kimber Stanhope, a molecular biologist who led the study, says "This is the first evidence we have that fructose increases diabetes and heart disease independently from causing simple weight gain." "We didn't see any of these changes in the people eating glucose."
High-fructose corn syrup, or glucose-fructose syrup, is listed as an ingredient in many food and drink products in Britain, although it is virtually impossible for consumers to know the quantity and ratio of fructose used. Barry Popkin, professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina, and a US government adviser on health policy, said: "Historically, we never consumed much sugar. We're not built to process it." The Food and Drink Federation, a UK industry trade group, have said: "It makes no sense to highlight one single ingredient as a cause of obesity."
What foods contain high fructose corn syrup?
Here are some products that contain HFCS or, as its called in the UK, glucose fructose syrup:
Kellogg's All Bran
Kellogg's Rice Crispies
Ocean Spray cranberry juice (a real shocker as so many women buy this to help with cystitis)
Mullerice apple & Mullerice caramel
Yoplait Petits Filous (marketed at children)
McVities Jaffa Cakes
Carte D'Or ice cream
Weightwatchers vanilla and fruit fromage frais (this is worrying as this is so called ‘diet' food)
Mr Kipling Bakewell slices
Yop yoghurt strawberry
Going round the supermarket the number of products with this has risen greatly, and sadly there are just too many to list.