Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So about that high fructose corn syrup thing

If we were to put this entire conversation really succinctly, I would simply say that I think that when foods are closest to their natural form, I believe they are healthier for us. I think when foods are highly processed, a lot of the nutrition and benefit is lost, and many times what is left behind is a dense version of the less desired parts.

For example, apple juice. Apples are themselves quite healthy. They contain sugars, but not an extreme amount of them. The skin itself contains roughage that is good for nutrition and digestive processes. The "packaging" is simple and the food is portable. Now, make it into juice. You concentrate the sugars. You lose the roughage and fibrous qualities. You make it difficult to transport, as you now have to employ a container. You also lose the sensation and practice of actually eating, which does not provide the same cues to our body that we have consumed calories. (FWIW, it is a rare day when my children drink juice of any kind. We don't even keep it in the house.)

So, with that example laid out, we now have high fructose corn syrup. As I mentioned in the last post on this, the corn used to make HFCS is not even the same kind of corn we would eat as corn on the cob or stewed corn. It is corn that has been genetically engineered to be higher in sugar. (We could go into a rant on genetically modified foods as well, but I'll spare you this time around.) So not only would you lose 'good' corn parts in the process of making HFCS, this variety of corn had less to begin with.

There has been some mixed opinion on whether or not HFCS is more unhealthy than regular sugar. To me, the answer is simple, yes, because it is further from it's original source. But I know that we all need more proof than that, and that's fine. Science, thankfully, supports my opinion on this one. In 2010, a study was completed at Princeton that compared the health and weight gain of rats when they were fed diets either high in HFCS or standard sugar. The rats who were consuming HFCS gained more weight than the other rats, especially in the abdominal area.

In 2009, a study found that almost half the tested samples of HFCS contained mercury, and mercury was also found in almost 1/3 of the brands tested for it(which also contained HFCS). Mercury is not something that I want to add to my, or my children's, diets unnecessarily. Because I feel that some foods which contain mercury(like some kinds of fish) hold significant benefits of their own, I make a choice to consume and feed my children controlled amounts of these fish, in order to reap the other benefits, but not to overdo it with the mercury levels in mind. I would not expect or account for there being mercury in, say, our breakfast cereal. (For anyone who might need a quick refresher, mercury is dangerous for any number of reasons. It is actually a toxic substance, and it can affect your central nervous system, lead to brain injuries, damage your kidneys, and so on. It is especially toxic in children, who are more sensitive to small levels of it in their bodies.)

Additionally, the presence of HFCS often is a marker of a poor quality food item. HFCS is less expensive than sugar for manufacturers(thank you government corn subsidies!). It is also in some cases easier to cook with because it is more readily absorbed by the food. It is pretty simple to walk through a grocery store and compare what food items and brands contain HFCS and which do not, though in some stores it may be hard to find some products without HFCS(I recently I had to figure out how to make barbecue sauce when one grocery store close to me did not have a single variety of it without HFCS). Products with little or poor taste are often 'enhanced' with HFCS because it is far less expensive than adding nutritive herbs or spices. It is also a taste that is familiar and appealing to the palate of Americans(and people of many other countries, though the US is by far the worst offender on this one).

All of the above reasons are why HFCS should be avoided by people in general. For the sake of my entire family, I was avoiding most HFCS. But recently I decided to avoid all of it, 100%, because of Ansel. As I mentioned, Ansel is a "spirited" child. He's always been loud, super active, off the walls, prone to lack of restraint, and a real handful. I had heard for years some people mention that their children's behavior improved when they eliminated HFCS and food dyes. Let me say, I do not believe that this "cures" anything. I do not believe diet cures autism. I do not think diet cures ADHD. I do think that it can help some people. That is all. And I also think there is little to no harm in doing this with a child that is not already on a restricted diet and who is not a picky eater and is easily able and willing to consume a balanced diet, as, fortunately, both my children are.

So. I wish I could link you to some amazing study here, but to my knowledge there isn't one. I don't know that this is scientific fact. I know I have read plenty of anecdotal tales of how this worked for someone's child. I know there's hardcore activists saying this is the end all be all of childhood cures for anything that ails you. I know that if you Google it(as I have) you'll find all kinds of blogs that address this. But studies? I don't know of any studies. There might well not be any studies.

But what I do know is that Ansel has calmed down, a lot. I know that he is much faster to respond to directions and corrections. I know that he will more readily recognize his own fault in situations. I know that he is quieter, kinder, and less destructive. I know that after a couple of weeks of a total elimination of HFCS and food dyes, he and I were in a situation that forced us to wait in a VERY long line(about 5 1/2 hours) unexpectedly. I did not bring activities for him. I didn't bring a lot of snacks for him. He only got to go to the bathroom once(fortunately, he only asked that one time). And by the end of that awful day, I had two strangers compliment me on how well behaved my son was. And that has never happened. Ever. And that weekend, we were at a party with friends that have known us for quite a while, and they all commented on how different Ansel's behavior was, and were very impressed. And I am still very impressed.

I have allowed him one 'cheat' occasion, the ice cream truck, which very rarely come down our street They of course didn't have any "safe" options. Also, at the above mentioned party, I brought snacks and treats for him that were ok. I picked up a cupcake from a bakery that doesn't use HFCS or food dyes, and we brought that with us so he could eat it when the other kids had cake. He's also hooked on the same seltzer I drink so I brought that in lieu of fruit punch and soda, and that worked out just fine.

Has anyone else eliminated HFCS from their or their kids' diets? Did you find any foods that were especially difficult to obtain without HFCS? Are there some things you simply cut out of your shopping because you couldn't find alternatives?


  1. We cut out HFCS well over a year ago and haven't looked back. Finding children's pain reducer/motrin without dyes and hfcs is tough and for a while I'd take the hfcs over the dye and then I learned about the mercury link and that hfcs can pass the blood brain barrier? So we just stopped using it unless we can get the infant motrin when they are really sick.

    There haven't been many foods we couldn't get without it. I actually can't think of any. It has been hardest for my mom when they visit her to find things without. But over hte last two years she's done really good adapting out our dietary changes. If nothing else cutting hfcs caused us to do more cooking from scratch because many times the hfcs free items cost more than I was willing to pay, thus the cutting it out of our shopping.

  2. We are HFCS-free at home (also avoid food dyes, artificial flavors and preservatives). Trader Joe's is a huge help for that, although we managed it before TJs came to town, it was just more label reading. We are fortunate to live in a very 'foodie' city with plenty of other options.

    I do let the boys have hamburgers with ketchup and other condiments chock full of artificials when we're out and i havent planned ahead with sandwiches/snacks but that ia a rare occasion (once or twice a month).

    I can't think of anything we've eliminated completely. I try very hard to escape the ice cream truck completely or offer a substitute goodie.

    And 5 hours in line?!? Getting Ansel his first Depeche tickets? ;)

  3. Angela, the medication thing is a good point. I think that's another where I'd go for the dye-free, but because my kids so rarely use medication I doubt there's any significant amount of mercury they'd be consuming there. Unlike when one is consuming HFCS in lots of food products.... that really adds up.
    We also have to make a bunch of stuff from scratch because the healthy alternatives are just too expensive and I can't justify the cost.

    Meaghan, eating out has been a hard one. We've been avoiding fast food and only selectively eating at sit-down restaurants. I really wish we had TJ's here. *sniff*

    And the line.... No, it was college enrollment stuff. The school here is incredibly disorganized.

  4. Wow- I guess I should start removing this stuff from our diet too.

    I rarely read labels, but I also rarely buy processed stuff. Although, now with school starting I'm having a really hard time with packing lunches. Can you do an entry on that?? :)

  5. Jenny, I didn't buy much either. It was in the things I thought were 'ok' to not make from scratch for convenience reasons.... like biscuits in a can, salad dressings, pickles, other condiments, things like that. It really added up once I started seriously looking.

    A post on lunches is a great idea! I'll have to take pictures of Kadin's lunches next week and make a post on Friday.