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When I get the chance to read again... - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
June 17th, 2006
08:03 am


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When I get the chance to read again...
I intend to pick up "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Micael Pollan. He was on Stephen Colbert's show recently, and he made the assertion that the US was subsidizing the production of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) to our own detriment. He also drew the comparison that as the Irish were the people of the potato, we are becoming the people of corn.

Some thoughts:

  • subsidy - Ok, so we don't subsidize HFCS per se. The subsidies go for growing corn, which gets made into all sorts of things, like livestock feed and tortilla chips. Also, popcorn. If you read "Fast Food Nation", you might be a little concerned about how livestock are fed, and maybe feeding corn to animals isn't a good idea.
    I'm sure the topic of farm subsidies is a detailed and difficult one to wrap one's head around, but one of Pollan's points in his appearance on the show was that the government's investing in unhealthful food choices. One figure I turned up claims that we spend less than 2% of our farm subsidy budget on fruits and vegetables.

  • fructose vs glucose - I'd be interested to be educated by some friends who pay attention to their blood sugar, but my understanding is that our body metabolizes glucose in a substantially different way than fructose. Glucose is more closely related to satiety than fructose (blame the glucokinase in the hypothalamus). Glucose needs insulin to be metabolized by the body, whereas fructose is absorbed directly - but only in the presence of glucose.
    When the body absorbs fructose, it can do a number of different things with it, including turning it into glucose or triglycerides (fat). The body makes that decision based on all sorts of factors, including diet and exercise.

  • HFCS vs other sweeteners - there's all sorts of sweeteners out there, including corn syrup, table sugar, and honey. Table sugar's an easy comparison to make, since it's familiar, and it happens to be easy to talk specificially about. Table sugar - sucrose - is exactly one unit each of fructose and glucose, so a fructose content of 50%. HFCS can range from 42% fructose content up to 90%, but 55% is widely used, as at that ratio, it behaves similarly to sucrose.
    Honey's got all sorts of stuff in it - the bees don't produce nearly as simple a product as our stainless-steel factories. But, from what I can tell, it looks like honey's in the 55% fructose and 45% glucose range, too.

  • so fructose is evil? - of course not. It's not even poison. My first inclination was to think that fructose=bad, glucose=good, and that if I eliminated all fructose from my diet, I'd be trim and smart and healthy. Then I realized that HFCS isn't really higher in fructose than sucrose is - the name means that HFCS is higher in fructose than normal corn syrup, which is almost pure glucose.
    HFCS has been replacing sugar in our diets for the past 25 years or so, at a ratio of about 1:1, meaning that pretty much each pound of HFCS consumed today means one fewer pound of sucrose consumed. The HFCS lobby maintains that the US consumption of sweeteners is pretty much constant over the past 40 years, and this seems to agree with the substitution of HFCS for sucrose.

  • so fructose is just fine? - er, I wouldn't say that. It's in an awful lot of stuff that you might not expect. Mmmm-mmm good. I could really go for some pancakes with sweet, sweet cough syrup on them.

  • upshot - after all this googling and crawling around wikipedia (and not yet having read Pollan's book), I've considered all sorts of drastic changes in my diet - no more corn! - no more fructose, all glucose! - no more glucose, all fructose! - no more caloric drinks! - and I think those are all reactionary and crazy now. It hardly matters, I wouldn't have kept up with any of the changes for long.
    However, I do think that I'm going to turn a suspicious eye towards packaged foods for a while.

(11 comments | Leave a comment)

Date:June 17th, 2006 09:22 pm (UTC)
I look at it this way:

The more stuff you eat that's closest to it's original form, the better off you are. The more processed it is, the worse it is for you. Baked potato is better than french fries or a packaged scalloped potato mix (yuk). Shop around the periphery of the grocery store and stay away from the middle aisles.

Freah is best, frozen is good in a pinch. I rarely use canned vegetables except for tomato products, soups, green chiles and black beans.

Everything in moderation is a completely healthy way to eat (I'm still working on it). Getting popcorn at the movies maybe once a month is completely doable. Every single week? Might be a bit much. A little bit of chocolate now and then has some health benefits. A supersized hershey bar a day could pose a problem.

and, as my former Weight Watchers leader used to say "none of us got here from eating too many grapes or apples."

and now my pointless diatribe ends.
Date:June 17th, 2006 09:22 pm (UTC)
ok, I didn't mean to bold that whole thing, just key points. Now my key points are lost forever.
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Date:June 19th, 2006 04:53 pm (UTC)
Heh, it's cool - I read it first in my (text-only) email notification, so I read the original source, which was pretty clear. :)
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Date:June 19th, 2006 05:48 pm (UTC)
The more processed it is, the worse it is for you.

I've heard this expressed a few different ways - you get more benefit from a whole apple than you do from applesauce or apple juice or apple Jolly Ranchers.

Getting popcorn at the movies maybe once a month is completely doable. Every single week? Might be a bit much.

Maybe - but as the Popcorn Guy at the Zone's Movie Theatre, I have a hard time putting down the stuff. I know that there's any number of alarming things in that tub aside from puffed grain, not all of which have any reason to be in my body. So, perhaps I'll shift my popcorn habit to more home-prepared, and therefore hopefully slightly more healthful, versions.

"none of us got here from eating too many grapes or apples."

I like this. And I just bought grapes and apples.
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Date:June 17th, 2006 09:35 pm (UTC)
I saw that Colbert Report bit also. I have to admit, I have been a little more watchful of the packaged foods and other items like corn-fed dairy. It raised my awareness of the issue, for sure.

Going to college in Iowa, I saw first-hand how much this country relies on corn, corn farmers, farm subsidies, corn-fed beef, etc... I love me some roasted corn on the cob! But I'm curious to see how grass-fed beef would taste. Tender? I've only heard of its delicious goodness, that I know of. Perhaps I shall try some soon. Just to see...

Glad to see someone else caught the Colbert Report!
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Date:June 19th, 2006 05:00 pm (UTC)
Glad to see someone else caught the Colbert Report!

Even though this interview did drive me to go buy the book, I didn't think it was a great interview of Colbert's or of Pollan's.

I'll post again when i finish the book, but already it's in the same mental niche as "Fast Food Nation" and "Supersize Me" - thought-provoking and sobering.
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Date:June 18th, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
I suppose we've selected for lactose tolerance; we could be selecting for being able to digest corn as well.
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Date:June 19th, 2006 05:19 pm (UTC)
That's interesting - it's biologically unusual for a species to consume milk after infancy, and moreso to consume another species' milk. So in that case, we're expanding our dietary horizons.

In the case of corn, though, we're allowing corn to predominate our diet (although it may be blurring the issue to include corn fed to livestock), thus shrinking our range of food.

Bringing up the Irish and potatoes certainly presents one reason to be concerned about this trend towards reliance on a single crop, but I find that a little more alarmist than compelling just now. My current inclination is to consider the food chain of a meal and see what plants were involved - as I've discovered, corn's a lot of places I wouldn't have expected, so I'm trying to steer towards non-corn-based meals.

If nothing else, this is encouraging me to take more time with my food, in selection, preparation and consumption, and that seems like it's got to be good.
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Date:June 19th, 2006 05:04 pm (UTC)
Pollan's book is divided into three sections, the first of which is on Industrial Corn. I expect that by the end of the section, I'll be more leery of "hidden corn" - I wouldn't have expected to find corn syrup in yoghurt, for example.
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Date:June 19th, 2006 01:09 pm (UTC)

So, it's impossible for me to not add my $0.02 to this.

I firmly believe HFCS is evil - only slightly less evil than hydrogenated oils (what people are now calling "trans fats"). Those two things and caffeine (also majorly evil) are what I cut out of my diet to lose the first 100 lbs. I'm a little less strict about it now, but in general I try to avoid them. This is going to sound like I'm a nutsy conspiracy theorist, but I don't think science has quite caught up to exactly how evil HFCS is.

Now, I don't think white table sugar is the answer, either. I think the answer is more fruit, honey, maple syrup (the good grade A kind), and cane sugar. Not, like, more as in EAT MORE, but more as in substitute it. I make this whole wheat bread with maple syrup as a sweetener that is just absolutely DELISH. For examp. I like to shorten words.

Another good random health tip is to eat produce grown locally. Apparently it helps build your immune system against things that actually exist in your area.

In general, though, like you said at the ends, "processed foods = uh oh" in almost all cases.

And I'll shut up now.
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Date:June 19th, 2006 05:37 pm (UTC)
I don't think science has quite caught up to exactly how evil HFCS is.

Perhaps I'm nuts, but I think there's more truth in statements like this than is typically acknowledged.

I don't think that our culture grasps that science is a means for honing our understanding of systems, it's not a quiz book with the answers at the end.

So, is there a causal connection between the huge upswing in HFCS consumption and obesity? Perhaps. There's also a huge upswing in caloric intake, and it's easy to see that there's a connection there. But that doesn't say anything about the healthfulness of HFCS.

Another good random health tip is to eat produce

Out of context, but I have room to grow even in this phrasing.

I'll shut up now.

Really, don't feel that you have to. I'm sure that you've figured out stuff that I'm still working on. A while ago, I was at a friend's wedding from college, and I ran into a guy I hadn't seen since shortly after school. He had lost a lot of weight, and he looked terrific. We talked a little bit about it, but the short answer to how he took the weight off was that he thought about food differently now.

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