Posted by The Vigilant Mom on July 27, 2011
Unless you’ve been doing your best to ignore the news, you know that childhood obesity is quickly becoming an enormous health concern in America. There are many possible culprits, including Angry Birds, Wii and endless Apps that dazzle and ding and let kids play games about jumping and running instead of actually jumping and running. There are wide-screen, high-definition TVs to watch and iPods to plug into. And, of course, there are snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. Snacks are becoming a bigger issue in my house lately, partly because my kids are getting bigger and hungrier, and partly because the older one has been to elementary school and she has seen the Promised Land: The land beyond fruit and organic grain-based snack bars and non-rBGH cheese sticks.
She knows that I’ve been holding out on them and has sewn the seeds of dissent among her siblings. Now a rebellion of sorts is under way: A few weeks ago, with great relish, my children reported to me that they had sampled their first Cokes.
First, I am not a sugar Nazi. I love to bake and am generous with the bowl-licking. But I have always been a little bit of a high fructose corn syrup Nazi and for that I remain unrepentant. Even though calorie-wise HFCS and sugar might be the same, there seems to be ample proof that our bodies do not metabolize them in the same way. The manufacturers of HFCS would have you believe that it is natural. They show sweeping photographs of dazzling cornfields, wholesome farms, salt-of-the-Earth farmers. But the problem is that the path from simple corn to corn syrup involves a lot of processing, and this is where the big difference between HFCS and sugar seems to emerge.
In a recent study at Princeton, lab animals fed HFCS gained significantly more weight than those fed just plain sugar. Researchers feel that the processing involved is the reason HFCS seems to lead to more weight gain. Simply put, both HFCS and natural sugar contain fructose, but the fructose in HFCS is “free” and unbound to another molecule, making it much easier to absorb into the system. Fructose in natural sugar is bound to glucose molecules, and so in order to be absorbed into the body, it has to go through extra metabolic steps. In other words, your body has to work a bit harder to absorb it, which, in terms of weight gain, is a good thing.
But faster weight gain isn’t the only cause for concern from HFCS. Recent studies have found that some foods with HFCS contain mercury. In fact, a few years ago, the Institute For Agriculture and Trade Policy released a study with jarring findings: One-third of all foods containing HFCS had detectable levels of mercury. When you think about how much of our food has HFCS in it, that’s a lot of mercury in our food supply. And frighteningly, it was found in foods that we often give our kids: cereal bars, fruit flavored jelly, fruit yogurts and even chocolate syrup. The researchers suspect that the mercury was a result of the processing that the corn undergoes in order to be turned into a sweetener. Specifically, they attribute it to the “caustic soda” used to separate the cornstarch from the kernel.
So, high fructose corn syrup can basically mainline itself into your system, might contain mercury because of its processing and — hello — caustic soda???
I guess they call it junk food for a reason.