Archive for May, 2012

Corn Sugar?

The New York Times just published an article today in its Health and Science Blog, “Well”, about the Corn Refiners Association request to change the name of high-fructose corn syrup to a more appetizing sounding name, “corn sugar”.

The association had previously tried to convince the FDA to change the name in September of 2010 as another component of their campaign to promote their product as a “natural” (I made the quotes…) ingredient from corn. The campaign, of course, was a response to the anti-HFCS movement making its way across America.

High-fructose corn syrup is most definitely far from natural. The article says that “HFCS is an aqueous solution sweetener derived from corn after enzymatic hydrolysis of cornstarch, followed by enzymatic conversion of glucose (dextrose) to fructose,”. That hardly made sense to me the first time I read it. Eventually, I Wikipedia-ed it.

Basically, its produced from corn starch, which is then processed to become corn syrup, which is composed almost entirely of glucose, not fructose, yet. Then, manufacturers add certain enzymes (Wikipedia goes into detail about the different kinds) which converts 42% of the glucose into fructose. Then, a portion of the HFCS 42 is further enzyme-d into a 90% fructose concentration, which is thus mixed in with the 42 to produce the ideal concentration of HFCS 55.

Although all ingredients are quote on quote “natural”; the way the manufacturers define natural, anything made on this planet could be natural as long as it comes from the earth! (which is the entire human existence) The amount of processing that goes into HFCS is insane, Wikipedia even says that on top of everything I just explained, “Numerous filtration, ion-exchange and evaporation steps are also part of the overall process”. Now tell me again, Corn Refiners Association, that this stuff is natural??

Luckily though, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA denied their petition for three reasons.

1. The word “sugar” could only be used for food that is solid, dried, and crystallized, all of which HFCS is not.

2. “corn sugar” has already been used to describe the sweetener dextrose.

3. Labeling HFCS as “corn sugar” could also pose a risk to individuals who must avoid any type of fructose due to a fructose intolerance since they would not identify “corn sugar” as having anything to do with fructose. Thus it would constitute a public health concern.

Thank you FDA! (for once!)


How Soft Drinks Affect Children

There are plenty of articles out there about how soft drinks affect kids, but the one I read, called Liquid Candy, was especially useful since it was an easy read, although a bit long, and contained a wealth of statistics and information. Moreover, it was published by the Center For Science In the Public Interest, so it was independent of any government agency.

In the recent decades, soft drink intake among children has increased at lightning speed.

Among children 2 to 18 years old, the percentage of calories provided by carbonated and noncarbonated soft drinks more  than doubled (from 4.8 to 10.3) between 1977–78 and 1999–2001.

Among 12- to 19-year-olds, carbonated soft drinks provided 9 percent of boys’ calories and 8 percent of girls’ calories. Those percentages are triple (boys) or double (girls) what they were in 1977–78.

Moreover, the kids who consumed the most soft drinks (soft drinks account for over 10% of calories) were deficient in other areas of nutrition. This is because of, the obvious yet often overlooked fact, that soda is replacing more nutrient dense foods, as well as increasing caloric intake.  A study by the USDA Agricultural Research Service found that these kids consumed

  •  24 percent less fiber than light consumers
  •  less of 15 different vitamins and minerals than light consumers
  •  15 percent to 20 percent less vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B-12, and magnesium than light consumers
  •  6 percent less calcium than light consumers

Deficiency in areas such as calcium can significantly affect that child’s development later down the road.

Another study reviewed adolescents’ food consumption based on USDA national dietary surveys conducted between 1965 and 1996.The study found that decreases in raw fruits, non-potato vegetables, and calcium-rich dairy foods coincided with “greatly increased” soft drink consumption. Calcium consumption by children 11 to 18 years old dropped from 1,100 mg to 960 mg per day between 1965 and 1994–96. The paper noted that those trends “are of most concern for females, who may be at greater risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.”

Soft drink consumption obviously increases a child’s risk for obesity, especially those who are already overweight.

National Cancer Institute scientists found that soft drinks provide a larger percentage of calories to overweight youths than to other youths. The difference was most striking among teenage boys: soft drinks provided 10.3 percent of the calories consumed by overweight boys, but only 7.6 percent of the calories consumed by other boys.

In fact, each can you drink can have a huge effect.

David Ludwig and his colleagues at Children’s Hospital in Boston conducted an observational study on the relationship between soft drinks and obesity in children.The 19-month study involved 548 children whose average age was just under 12 years. It found that the chances of becoming obese increased significantly with each additional daily serving of sugar-sweetened drink.

The article also mentions that drinking liquid calories are more likely to promote obesity than eating the same amount in solid foods.

Subjects added 450 calories a day to their diets from either soft drinks or jelly beans during two four-week periods.When they ate jelly beans, the subjects subconsciously compensated for the added calories by consuming roughly 450 fewer calories from other foods. However, when they drank soft drinks, the subjects failed to compensate, adding 450 calories to their previous diet

Although there are studies that differ from the results of that one study, the logic behind it seems sound. Generally when we eat meals, we don’t focus on the nutrition of the drink. Not until the USDA introduced MyPlate did it even include a drink as a source of nutrients in the meal. Thus, traditionally, the caloric value of drinks is underestimated, so people are less aware of how much they’re actually drinking up, so they don’t compensate by eating less or drinking less in the next meal.

There are so many more negative affects that I can think up of off the top of my head for children, the above being just a glimpse. If we can limit soft drink consumption among kids, and make them more aware, it would have big effects, since children are one of the biggest consumers of soft drinks. There is also the psychological effect that we would be shifting the paradigm of health for an entire generation, and thus generations to come after them.

Coca Cola Marketing

I came across something today that bothers me quite a bit. The text here speaks for itself:

Currently, in a desperate attempt to link soft drinks to good health, the industry emphasizes that soda contains water, an essential nutrient: “Drink plenty of fluids: consume at least eight glasses of fluids daily, even more when you exercise. A variety of beverages, including soft drinks, can contribute to proper hydration.”A similar claim was made in 1998 by M. Douglas Ivester, then Coca-Cola’s chairman and CEO, when he defended the marketing of soft drinks in Africa. He said, “Actually, our product is quite healthy. Fluid replenishment is a key to health….CocaCola does a great service because it encourages people to take in more and more liquids.”

Um…WHAT?! Really Coke?? Really? Although that was published in 1998, and no soft drink executive would ever make that claim today, the idea is still the same. To what limits are soft drink companies going to in order to promote their product? When does the marketing stop? There has been quite a lot of heated debate over soft drink marketing, and it has gone down in the recent years. But that is not to say that it’s still not influential . Something definitely needs to be done about that.

Sugar: The Bitter Truth

Dr. Robert H Lustig MD, a professor of Pediatrics at UC San Francisco, lectured on why refined sugars, particularly fructose, along with not enough fiber, contribute significantly to our obesity epidemic. It is fascinating yet haunting, and I highly recommend it to anyone. It’s basically what inspired me to do this project.

It’s called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” and it is available on YouTube.  Dr. Lustig also has a seven-part miniseries called “The Skinny On Obesity”, which I hope to watch soon also. It looks like it is very informative! Anyways, here is the run down of what I got from his lecture:

He begins his lecture with a couple surprising facts.

  • The USDA regulates everything  (trans fats, saturated fats, calories, sodium, etc.)…except for sugar. Considering that it’s a big part of the obesity epidemic, there is clearly something wrong with the system.
  • If a person drank one soda a day, that would be equivalent to adding about 15.5 pounds of fat each year. If each soda is 15o calories, multiply that by 365, and divide it by 3500 (the amount of calories in a pound of human body fat), you get about 15.64.
  • The average American consumes about 141 lbs of sugars per year.
  • If you walked down the bread isle, out of 32 refined breads, only 1 doesn’t contain some sort of added sugar

Then, he moves onto a bit of history, in which he explains why consumers today are surrounded by so many unhealthy, high-sugar options. Basically,

  • In 1973, Nixon decided to subsidize food, to make it cheaper to the American. Not a bad idea, but it had profound implications, as we all know today.
  • The invention of high fructose corn syrup in the 1960’s made it easier for manufacturers to put sugar in their products since it was substantially cheaper.
  • At around that same time, the USDA made an order to reduce fat consumption from 40% of our diet to 30% because there were studies that showed it caused bad cholesterol and strokes, which is also true.

That third point is important, because, surprisingly, the food industry did comply with that order and brought the fat content of it’s food down. But, without the fat in processed foods, they became basically tasteless. Processed foods in general are pretty tasteless pieces of cardboard, so they would always need some component to compensate for the taste of the lost fat, and that came from massive amounts of added sugar. However, sugar turned out to be even worse for Americans.

There are two big types of sugar, says Lustig. Glucose and Fructose. The former is a natural sugar that humans have been burning for energy for thousands of years. The latter however, is not naturally metabolized, and is sent directly to the liver. An article by Susan Beck from Pediatrics Consultant Live explains the difference and effects pretty well.

Fructose metabolized like fat – just as alcohol is. Dr Lustig did a masterful job of explaining the many ways in which fructose metabolism differs from human metabolism of glucose. When glucose is metabolized, it promotes a nice negative feedback pathway involving the liver, pancreas, and brain. The end result is that, through the suppression of ghrelin, the appetite for more glucose is suppressed and glucose consumption is kept in check. Insulin performs efficiently, and energy is stored in a usable form.

Fructose metabolism takes a very different form. In fact, it is metabolized by the liver in many ways just like a fat – and 30% of fructose actually ends up as fat. By-products of fructose metabolism include uric acid (which causes hypertension), very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol and triglycerides (which contribute to dyslipidemia), and free fatty acids (which lead to insulin resistance). These are all components of the metabolic syndrome. In addition, fructose leads to leptin resistance, thereby setting up a positive feedback pathway in which continuous consumption is promoted. (Dr. Lustig pointed out that these problems are all minimized when fructose is consumed in the form of whole fruit, since whole fruit always contains significant amounts of fiber , and fiber works to counteract the effects of fructose in a variety of ways. “When G-d made the poison, he packaged it with the antidote,” he said.
Dr Lustig noted that fructose metabolism also is strikingly similar to the way in which ethanol is metabolized. He made the graphic point that a 150-calorie can of soda and a 150-calorie beer both lead to 90 calories reaching the liver, and that both result in the toxic by-products of VLDL cholesterol and excess free fatty acids. Excess alcohol consumption and excess fructose consumption also result in many of the same health problems. Both cause hypertension, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, and fatty liver disease.
Even more frightening, Lustig says that the earlier one is exposed to sugar, the more they will crave it later in life. For example, infant formulas are highly sweetened, containing large amounts of lactose, fructose, and glucose.
There are four points that Lustig summarizes with, or his bottom lines:
  1. Fructose is a carb
  2. Fructose metabolizes like a fat and is in fact, high fat
  3. Fructose is a toxin
  4. The FDA labels fructose as a GRAS (generally regarded as safe) food, however, that label isn’t based off of any solid research.