Better Living Through Chemistry? Sweet Science

Maybe I am a bit of a science geek, but I think that it is important to understand some of the research behind nutritional choices before we decide to eliminate products from our diets or those of our families.  Are you considering or have you decided to eliminate high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from your family’s diet?  If so, on what did you base that decision?  The video below from the Washington Post was created by the American Chemical Society to explain the difference between HFCS and regular table sugar.

So now what do you think?  When I learned about the chemistry of sugar and HFCS in my nutrition and biochemistry classes it made me take a minute to think about the choice I had made to eliminate HFCS from my kitchen and to choose products made with regular sugar on both nutritional and ethical grounds.  Yes, glucose and fructose are used differrently in our bodies, but either way we are taking in added sweeteners that will have an effect on us.  Sugar is sugar, right?  But then there is the values question.  The production of HFCS links back to our dependence on subsidized corn and monocultures.  Plus, I try to stay away from buying foods that are “engineered” for production, so HFCS loses ground in my estimation compared to sugar in its more natural forms.  Eliminating almost all packaged, processed foods from my pantry has minimized our at home HFCS consumption.

As with many other food items, I believe in moderation vs. elimination in otherwise healthy people with no sigificant, nutritionally-based or managed health issues or allergies. To me, the key point of this video is not HFCS vs. sugar but more the final message about the amount of either sweetener that we choose to eat.  I don’t believe that a little HFCS now and then will kill me.  I do belive that choosing to eat large amounts of any sweetened food is a problem.  So while I tend to lean towards foods sweetened with natural sugars, honey, agave, and maple or other natural syrups instead of HFCS, I feel that it is most important to limit intake of all sweetened foods regardless of the type of sweetener used. That means that desserts are “sometimes” treats, not every day requirements; that sweetened beverages are an occasional indulgence and not an every day occurrence; and that the grain products I provide for my family are minimally, if at all, sweetened.

We are constantly bombarded with information about what we should and shouldn’t be eating.  Before you make a choice to add or subtract something from your diet, take the time to do a little research and make sure that you are making the best decision for you. Look for studies by impartial researchers and make sure that claims are not being biased by special interest groups who have an economic stake in how you spend your food dollars. Whether its HFCS or other food products, knowing the whole story can help you to make the most informed choice for your health and your values.

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