(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...