Like everyone else, I like to add a nice bit of high fructose corn syrup to my morning coffee to sweeten it up a bit. There’s nothing like the taste of fermented cornstarch that’s been mixed with bacteria and genetically modified enzymes to add a little sweetness to my cup of joe. And I definitely love a nice loaf of chemically sweetened bread.
Americans consume more high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) now than sugar. It has become the sweetener of choice, whether the average consumer realizes it or not. Even staples that you wouldn’t consider sweet – such as sandwich bread – are saturated with HFCS. Sodas, juices, processed foods and almost every processed food item you can buy at your local supermarket is loaded with it.
When you are shopping for food, I think about 4 decisions have to be made before you buy something. They are:
- Do I find this food enjoyable to eat? Is it tasty?
- Is this food good for me and my health?
- Can I afford this food?
- Is this food easy to prepare?
The critical question becomes in what order you make these decisions. For example, an exotic organic butternut squash soup with truffle shavings and a dollop of cream might pass test 1, maybe test 2, possibly not test 3 and mostly likely not test 4. A Red Baron pizza might pass tests 1, 3 and 4 but be a resounding NO on test 2 for one person, but flunk test 1 for another.
Very few people will be able to go to the supermarket and buy all natural, all fresh and all cheap food. Something usually gives. Your organic apple juice comes from New Zealand. Your all-natural milk costs half again as much as the store brand. A big pile of raw veggies is going to take a lot longer to become soup than a can of Campbell’s Soup.
HFCS, however, is one ingredient that should make the decision process easier. HFCS is a byproduct of corn, a crop that America produces in quantities far greater than any other country on Earth. There is no particular health benefit to production of HFCS, and its production is actually far more complex than that of regular sugar. It is all created through a complicated process of fermenting, adding bacteria and enzymes and chemical treatments in one of 16 different plants around the US. While the debate over its health costs are not definitive, studies have shown that HFCS does not trigger the same “full” reflex as sugar, meaning you will eat more HFCS than you would an equivalent amount of sugar. Rats fed large amounts of HFCS develop terrible health problems. Shrinking of the testicles appeal to anyone?
If you are old enough to remember what sodas tasted like pre-HFCS, you may recall that sodas didn’t taste the same 30 years ago as they do today. If you travel to Europe or Latin America, you will find that HFCS is practically non-existent in their foods. Mexican Coca-Cola, which is sometimes available in New York, has a significantly sweeter, smoother and more pleasant taste than American sodas.
I challenge anyone who is even slightly concerned about HFCS to try this simple test. Buy two loaves of bread, one with HFCS as the second or third ingredient (this is probably 90% of the bread in your local market!) and one without (this may be hard to find). The bread with HFCS will be mushier, less flavorful and have more calories. However, it will be cheaper in all likelihood.
So when you are shopping and trying to save money – and I doubt many people don’t try to shop without being aware of the prices of things – stop for a minute and consider what the long term effect might be of eating a product that is very sweet, heavily chemically treated, doesn’t actually taste that great and doesn’t satisfy your brain’s “appetite switch.” You might eat a bit more of it. You might get fatter, or develop diabetes, and how much will that cost you?
It’s fairly difficult to eliminate HFCS from your diet. It is omnipresent. However, it is possible and you will notice a difference in the quality and amount of food you eat if you do quit. You’ll be satisfied with less and enjoy it more, and in the end that will save you money too. Consider quitting cold turkey from high fructose corn syrup. You won’t be sorry you did.