HFCS, the evil in my cupboard

When we moved out of our house last year, I packed up all kinds of long-lasting ingredients in a couple of boxes and stored them. They just got unpacked a couple of weeks ago.

Opening those boxes was like having another Christmas.

Some of the stuff in there came from our travels, like the wild rice. We drove across Minnesota, passing many signs advertising cheap wild rice. We kept meaning to stop, but never did. Just over the border, in Nebraska, we stopped for some groceries and found it for $2 a pound, so we bought five pounds. Then there was that can of garlic macadamia nuts — Barry’s parents brought them from Hawaii, and he’s been hoarding them ever since. Some goodies in the box were holiday gifts, like blueberry barbecue sauce and Russian chicken soup mix. There’s even a pound of smoked salmon along with the an obscene 2-foot long summer sausage.

I turned up lots of healthy foods, like cracked wheat, dried beans, and TVP. Then I found it: The Karo syrup. I’d used it to make soft-batch cookies last year, but the recipe only uses 3 tablespoons, so the bottle was nearly full.

“I wonder if I could use this stuff to sweeten my tea?” I mused to Barry, just thinking about using it up.
He was alarmed at the thought. “No! Don’t use that stuff!”
“Why not?”
“Don’t you remember that book we read? That stuff is evil!”

A few years ago, Barry and I read Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World (Critser, 2002), about how Americans have become so obese. The author talked extensively about high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, and the sinister politics behind its introduction. In 1966, HFCS was unknown to the American diet. Today, the average American eats over 60 pounds of HFCS every year. It’s a key ingredient in soda pop, candy, and jam, but large amounts are also found in baked goods, barbecue sauce, and spaghetti sauce. A glance at the cans in the cupboard finds HFCS in cranberry sauce, while the enchilada sauce and canned soup have “corn syrup solids.”

The stuff is insidious, and it’s really bad for you. The problem is the sweetener has a mix of glucose and fructose, and our bodies have a problem metabolizing the fructose. Scientific studies have associated it with elevated triglycerides, leading to heart problems, and also found that it alters your magnesium balance, causing bone loss. Unlike glucose, which stimulates hormones that make you feel full, it bypasses those mechanisms and just gets stored, like fat.

There is one website that talks about the healthful benefits of HFCS. Who sponsors it? The Corn Refiners Association. They’ve got financial incentives to sell as much HFCS as possible. No wonder they tout it as a wonder food.

If you don’t think the politics behind HFCS are sinister, here’s an interesting story. A few years ago, a study found that Mexicans had a 158% increase in obesity, due mainly to the “Americanization” of their diets and the amount of soda pop and junk food they were consuming. This was despite a 20% tax in Mexico on beverages sweetened with HFCS.

Last month, the World Trade Organization, the WTO, determined that Mexico’s tax was discriminatory, and must be lifted. Who’s cheering? The U.S. Grains Council and the Corn Refiners Association. They say that U.S. farmers have lost $4 billion dollars because of Mexico’s tax.

So now the Mexicans get to buy all the soda pop they want, without the tax. And how much will it cost Mexico to deal with the health issues of obesity? Probably about $4 billion dollars, if not more.

In another example of the politics of sweeteners, a few years back, the World Health Organization, the WHO, published a report recommending that we all keep our sugar intake to less than 10% of daily calories. The U.S. sugar lobby went ballistic, trying to discredit the report and wanting to cut off the U.S. membership in the WHO. Like the tobacco lobby, “Big Sugar” wants to suppress news of risks associated with their product.

Given my choice, I’ll take the WHO’s recommendations and thumb my nose at the WTO. And just to be on the safe side, I should toss that bottle of Karo syrup in the trash.