Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sugar Versus Corn Syrup

It's funny to read an article about how sugar is making a major comeback into our food products. And how that is a good thing. People are excited about this. Really? Things of this nature truly depend on which way the wind blows. Today it's blowing in favor of sugar. Almost 30 years ago corn syrup was the more favorable of the sugary choices. To researchers and doctors, there is not much difference between the two when it comes to how it affects the body.

(Though there are many health-related problems arising from our consumption of sugars, I am going to focus on obesity for this article because it is a particularly alarming national epidemic.) 

Obviously, sugar has been studied longer than high fructose corn syrup, but so far, the research shows that both have a lot to do with obesity. Obesity has a lot to do with diabetes and heart disease. And we are supposed to be excited about our old friend sugar? 

Thank you to a reader who forwarded me this article from the New York Times. "Sugar, the nutritional pariah that dentists and dietitians have long reviled, is enjoying a second act, dressed up as a natural, healthful ingredient."

It made me giggle and cringe at the same time. I feel like the point is lost on people. There are those who have a vendetta against corn syrup, and those who have a vendetta against sugar. I started my blog because I had a vendetta against sugar. But, as I wrote about earlier, I realized that sugar is not evil. Read more about that here. Corn syrup is not evil. It is the food corporations and media and advertisers and people who push for sugar in our food products who are screwing with our minds and best intentions. Best case scenario is that no matter what is in our foods, we would eat in moderation. 

The problem is Americans have a very hard time with moderation. Moderation is not a motto we live by. (I just deleted an entire paragraph about restaurant buffets...)

Sugars are found in more food products today, I will speculate, than 50 years ago. I'm guessing because it is now so cheap to add to our food, why wouldn't a company add this simple, cheap sweetness, which will make a product stand apart from another. We like things that are sweet. We love a perfect balance between sweetness and saltiness. They know this and are preying upon our senses. The sugar industry folks and corn syrup folks have something in common. Neither of them care about our health individually, or the health of our nation as a whole. Rates of obesity are at an alarming, all time high. Not only are more people considered obese, but those once considered obese are now being considered morbidly obese. The money the United States spends on obesity and overweight issues is estimated to be about $90 billion annually. Billion.

The sugar industries: cane, beet and corn continue to market and sell their products because somehow we have been convinced that "in moderation" is okay. Really? I am an expert on one thing. Going without sugar for one year. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Sugar/Corn syrup was in practically everything. How do those industries propose that we eat it in moderation, when they serve a disproportionate amount of sugar in their "suggested serving size?" 

Though the pendulum swings back towards an increase in sugar consumption instead of corn syrup, I believe that we still have the same problem on our hands. That is, our addiction to sweet things and our "need" for sweets in greater and greater amounts. Since going without sugar, I've come to realize that eating too much sugar and corn syrup is a problem, but so is eating too much honey and agave and brown rice syrup and dried fruit. They are all carbohydrates which our bodies turn into glucose and if we eat more calories than we burn in a day, our glucose is stored as fat. Our bodies don't care what the source of the carbohydrate is. If it's a carb, it turns into glucose (with the exception of some fiber). Obviously, if a type of natural sweetener is less likely to spike our blood sugar, it is probably better for us for that reason, but when it comes to carbs, calories and weight, we are pretty much comparing apples to apples. 

I don't typically make generalizations like this. However, I have to make the distinction between choosing something based on morals versus choosing something based on health. When it comes to white sugar and corn syrup, I don't eat either one because of health and moral reasons. Morally, I won't eat corn syrup because most corn is grown using GMO's and pesticides. I just don't support that kind of farming. Morally, I don't eat white refined sugar because I don't support the organizations selling it. It has no place in our food supply. It is empty calories, which means that it offers no essential nutrients but is extra calories in our diet that most of us don't need. I can't support the sugar and corn industries that are fattening us to death. 

Morally and for health reasons I don't eat artificial sweeteners or the new stevia products (I eat pure stevia, but not the new products of processed stevia.) Most of these products have not been around long enough to have long-term research studies done to determine their safety. I feel good about eating natural sweeteners, but I have to be careful not to overindulge. Yes, honey is natural, but to be completely grass roots and organic about it, if I were living out in nature, the fact is that I would probably only be able to swipe a finger full of honey from a bee hive before getting chased out of the area by a swarm of territorial bees. It would not be possible to eat a large amount of honey at one time. Yet, because of the industrialization of food, I can go buy a jar of honey and sit with a spoon and eat to my heart's content. But I have not evolved to eat honey in those kinds of proportions. 

I would not have the facilities to make agave or brown rice syrup or molasses in nature. I am currently questioning my consumption of these products, as well, in an effort to be eating how I was meant to be eating, not what the media or latest fad would have me believe. In my perfect world, I would dry my own fruit, squeeze my own juice by hand and collect honey in moderate amounts before the bees got to me. These sweet items would satisfy my sweet tooth, and because of all the whole foods I would be eating, only, I wouldn't have insane cravings. In my perfect world. I am working on making this a reality, but to participate in society, I am faced with difficult food choices--eating with friends, family and going out to eat. So, in my perfect world, everyone else figures out that eating healthy is the secret to happiness and longevity and we all thrive happily. One must dream...


anastasia_wolf said...

I am interested to learn more about beet sugar. We don't have it in Australia as we have cane sugar in abundance. What is the difference between something like beet sugar and date sugar?

I haven't been doing this as long as you so I'm not really sure where I stand with the health stuff. I do believe that refined sugar (and corn syrup, though you don't find that much over here if you are already eating a good diet) is extremely unhealthy, because of the loss of nutrients and its affect on minerals in the body. Honey, agave, maple syrup... natural, un (or less) refined sweeteners... I eat far less of them than I did sugar. They are more expensive, and it is harder to find decent recipes to use them in. Because of the money and lack of recipes my intake of sweeteners has been drastically reduced. I have lost a LOT of weight (and I wasn't overweight by any stretch of the imagination).

So for me, while agave, honey and maple syrup might not be ideal, and might not be technically "sugarfree", they are better for me because I am forced to consume less and I do receive the benefit of some nutrients. But morally... who knows? I know vegans think honey is immoral...

Hamil said...

I agree that neither sugar nor Corn Syrup should be consumed in large quantities, and neither should be seen as somehow "natural." However, you are ignoring the research that shows that sugar consumption is in fact easier to regulate than corn syrup when one is attempting to consume in moderation. Corn syrup is not recognized by the body in the same way that sugar is, and that is why 50 years ago, had you tried to drink a 2-liter of Coke in one short evening, your body would have refused it, as it would with too much solid food. However, the corn syrup doesn't trigger the same reactions for fullness and thus, some 20 years ago, when I was in middle school, my best friend did just that - he consumed 2 liters of Coke in under 2 hours. The corn syrup is just as damaging, but it is also harder for our bodies to detect.

That being said - I love your blog, and am trying to build up to a sugar free life as well! Thank you for being an inspiration.

My Year Without said...

Beet and cane sugar are both processed/refined to make a white sugar. You cannot tell the difference in the two. Date sugar, however, is just ground up dried dates. You get the nutrition found in dates as well as the fiber. Date sugar is SUPER expensive.

How wonderful that you eat less natural sweeteners, than say, myself. It sounds like you are doing a good job of eating less calories in general which can for sure contribute to weight loss.

I love that buying expensive products sort of forces us to think twice and spend less.

I would love to know what it cost to ship a small package to you there down under, as I would like to ship you a product that is currently unavailable to you....

Thank you for sharing. I actually have not heard that corn syrup is more difficult to regulate than sugar. I would be interested in any sources that you used for this information.

It seems like all sugars are more or less difficult to regulate when we get in that eating mode. I'd be curious to know more...

Zel-kun said...

I completely agree that all things should be taken in moderation. Too often I see a friend trying to lose weight by cutting one thing out of their diet, but yet completely gorging on another thing. Cutting out sweets is great, but when you substitute that cupcake with a block of cheese, you didn't accomplish much.

Also, as an aside, the photos at the top of your page hide the majority of your post in IE6. Displays fine in Firefox, though.

My Year Without said...

Thanks for the tip. When I set up the page, I didn't check other internet browsers capabilities. My tech support guy (husband) fixed it and made the entire page more functional. I really appreciate the feedback!

Barbara Bakes said...

I enjoyed visiting your blog today. There was an article in our local paper that you might be interested in

Hanlie said...

Thanks for this article! I agree with you completely... and I like the way you think! I really don't think we need sugar or sweeteners in our diet.