I’m not gonna lie – this is more for me than it is for you, dear reader, because I have a bad habit of running back to foods that are laden with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and usually don’t realize what I’m doing to myself until I’m halfway through the package. As if my mind says “Nooooo! Don’t look at the ingredients li– aww, damn.”
Conventional wisdom (and your brain) tells you, “if it feels good, do it.” Well, you know how sometimes, things feel a little too good? Like, so good, it’s downright sinful? Rest assured, you probably have no business doing it. My favorite piece of cheesecake? Sinful. My favorite Tira Mi Su? Sinful. The BBQ sauce I just tossed out the other day because I was clenching the bottle trying to understand why common sense wouldn’t let me put it down? Sinful! (By the way, all three of them contain HFCS.)
Having said all that, let me introduce you to HFCS. Actually, I’ll let the Corn Refiners Association do it:
Now… I laugh, only because I work in marketing. Ads like this serve one purpose: damage control. So when I see something like this, my first thought is “what happened to make the corn farmers toss money at the small screen?” They’re essentially mocking the very people they’re targeting — those who know it’s bad for them, but aren’t able to quickly express why — and still expecting to win them over. Or… is this a stealthy method of giving “comebacks” to HFCS fans to use when those hoity toity picky eaters get on their soapbox about Cheetos and Capri Suns? Who goes to those kinds of lengths when everything is ok? …when the accusations are baseless?
So… digging, I go.
First, let’s look at that ad up there. “My hair dresser says that sugar is healthier than high fructose corn syrup.” Follow that up with the witty retort of, “Wow! You get your hair done by a doctor?” [insert laughter]
You and I BOTH know that it doesn’t require an MD to be able to study and understand a pros and cons list. If I show you a list that says “fattening,” and another list that says “leaves you prone to diabetes, inflates your appetite, and apparently can be linked to high blood pressure,” you’re going to be able to easily identify which one is going to leave you worse off, right?
Do you need to explain to someone that High Fructose Corn Syrup fiddles with leptin, a hormone in the human body that aids in regulating the appetite, in a way that prevents you from being able to control your hunger? Do you need to be able to explain to someone that HFCS screws with your body’s ability to process insulin? (Just in case you’re wondering, that works like this: since HFCS is metabolized as fat quicker than regular sugar once it hits your liver, this process triggers something called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This process leads to insulin resistance and type II diabetes.) It isn’t enough that you know something makes you uncomfortable and you don’t want to partake in it. You have to be a doctor now to speak ill of it?
Well, let me tell y’all somethin’ – I’m no doctor, and I’ll still be damned if someone tells me that my own bad feelings aren’t enough to justify not wanting a chemistry experiment nourishing my body I was given. Period. You might get the mental judo chop for that one.
Let’s also talk about this moderation thing, here. Of course, HFCS is safe in moderation. At the same time, so are Doritos. The difference between the two is, well… do you know how many foods you eat each day contain HFCS? Let me put it to you like this: Soda? High Fructose Corn Syrup. “Processed Cheese Food?” HFCS. Jam, jelly, ketchup, BBQ sauce , “fruit juices,” Wonder bread (most breads, actually), eggos, pop tarts, cough syrup, and mayo? High Fructose Corn Syrup.Yes. Apparently, you have a better chance of escaping Doritos than you do HFCS.
I think I’ve named at least ONE thing that we all eat throughout the day. If not, then think about this: I’m sure you’ve had a McDonalds menu meal, right? The same corn that makes your HFCS feeds the cows that turn into your burgers, becomes the oil that cooks the fries and the syrup that sweetens the shakes and the sodas, and makes up 13 of the 38 ingredients in the Chicken McNuggets. Now, think about “moderation.” How can you effectively moderate something that is everywhere and in everything? You can’t… and they know it. Your ability to gauge what “moderate use” is becomes swayed by the fact that it’s been in everything you ate that day. For those of you who use these foods regular and often, “HFCS in moderation” is pretty much… a joke.
Why is that, though? Why is it that you can’t escape this substance? In as few words as possible, here’s why.
Once upon a time, our government approved a plan that pretty much pays farmers to overproduce corn in America. Considering the basic principle of supply and demand (the more rare, the more expensive; the more common, the more cheap), that drives the price of corn down. Since they have this item in such abundance and so cheap, they come up with multiple ways to use it… hence HFCS. You, a food exec, have an extremely cheap item in your hands that makes food taste (or, at least appear to taste) better. Why not use this to your advantage? Stick some extra fat in certain foods to stretch out our supply… and when the taste is altered? Stick a little HFCS in there. Want to create a cheap juice? Find a “strawberry” flavor, some high fructose corn syrup, and water. Pow. Cost $0.50 to make, but watch me sell a giant jug of it for $2.50. I’m in there like swimwear. It’s just smart, business-wise.
Nutrition-wise, it’s doing nothing for you, the consumer. It’s empty calories. That means for all that you’re ingesting, there is no vitamin or nutritional value for any of it. At all. You should seek for all of your food to provide you a liiiiiiittle somethin’ in the end. Besides a gut, that is.
There’s one more point I want to bring up before I wrap this up… and that’s the point about rewards, gratification, and habit. HFCS tends to trigger a sort of… Pavlov’s dog syndrome, if you will.
To summarize briefly, a Russian scientist named Ivan Pavlov studied conditioned responses in dogs. In short, if you get in the habit of doing something and the SAME reward happens each time you do it, you begin to expect (or, in other words, you become conditioned) the reward before you’ve even done the action that brings the reward. In other words, if you know you love that BBQ sauce… if you see it, your body starts to experience the pleasure you get from it long before you taste it.. thus causing you to indulge. You want that good feeling again. It’s that simple.
Feels like I’m sticking you with a burden, right? That’s not my intention. I would love it if you could resolve a few things within yourself.
First, resolve that you’ll begin to phase out some of the unnecessary HFCS-filled foods in your life. If you overdo the mountain dew, consider packing it away… for good. If you love the ketchup or pancake syrups, look for something a little more natural. If you can’t afford the healthier option, shoot for a less expensive option. (In the case of the syrups, the healthier alternate that my grocery had cost an extra $4. So instead, I top my pancakes and french toast with a little confectioners sugar, $0.99, and fruit slices, $1.29. In the case of the ketchup, I simply stopped eating hot dogs… the one thing I couldn’t eat without ketchup.)
Then resolve that you’ve made the best decision for you, and no corny commercial or insulting advertisement will make you feel less comfortable with the decision you’ve made for yourself. Just like you don’t owe anyone any expanation for why you want to lose weight and eat healthier, you for damn sure don’t owe anyone any explanations for why you choose to phase High Fructose Corn Syrup out of your diet.
Lastly, like I’ve written before, resolve that this is a difficult lifestyle change — a lifetime lifestyle change and it will be bumpy at first. That’s perfectly okay. As long as you’re taking and following steps each day, you’ll be able to bet that you’re moving in the direction in which you need to go.
Be happy, be healthy!