Avoiding HFCS

Awhile ago, back when I was on my Michael Pollan kick and was reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, I realized just how nasty high-fructose corn syrup is.

And this isn't a case of me blindly listening to everything Mr. Pollan has to say just because I adore him, by the way. (Full disclosure: I do adore him.) The evil effects of HFCS have been confirmed by quite a bit of research.

For starters, studies have linked consumption of HFCS to kidney and liver diseases, rising obesity rates, and the general lack of good health among Americans. (Of course, part of the problem is that most of the foods that HFCS appears in are highly processed and pretty much lacking in nutritional value all around.)

Plus producing HFCS takes one heck of a toll on the environment—I won't bore you with my rambling about Big Corn and monoculture and the resulting pollutants, erosion, etc. Just consider this: hermaphroditic male frogs. Not so fantastic.

And yes, I have seen the the Corn Refiners Association ads that say concerns over HFCS are misplaced. And no, I don't believe them. They're not very convincing. At all.

As anyone who's seen me knows, I'm not the sort who has to diet. Never have. (I realize that could change any day, that my metabolism could slam on the brakes and say, "You know what Julie, it's time to slow down" ... but for now, it's racing along at its usual rate as long as I keep exercising and don't eat nasty junk all day every day.) Thanks to the aforementioned metabolism, I am able to regularly indulge my soft spot for pasta with creamy sauces, anything that involves fresh baked bread and butter (real butter), and any homemade sweets I can get my hands on. And I eat meat, although not near as much as I used to.

In other words, the obesity epidemic Pollan and others regularly speak of isn't really a concern for me personally. Yet I'm still conscientious about what I eat—I don't buy all organic produce (expensive!), but do buy as much as I reasonably can (if nothing else, organic versions of the Dirty Dozen when I can find them around here). I try to squeeze in as many fruit and veggies in my day as I can (admittedly, some days I succeed more than others). I love those things that have been hailed (recently, at least) as good for you—cooking with olive oil, garlic, a glass of red wine, dark chocolate. (Don't those sound like indulgences to you?)

I'm also the sort who—despite what you may think about some of the wacky things I've been known to try—does not fall into fads easily. But when I read something that's backed up with research, something that's logical and makes sense, I say, "OK. You convinced me." Such was the case with BPA and water bottles.

And after learning about HFCS, that meant avoiding products that contain it. And I did pretty darn well for a while. Avoiding it is as easy as looking at product labels, after all. And although a ton of items in the supermarket include it, a lot more don't. (Plus it's a lot easier to avoid if you're cooking a lot rather than buying premade, prepackaged junk.)

But then I started teaching and taking classes. And when you're busy it's easy to let your guard down. And so I haven't paid attention to labels quite as much.

Now, however, I'm about to start again. Because this week, I learned this:

High-fructose corn syrup is commonly tainted with highly toxic mercury, according to a peer reviewed report in Environmental Health. And yep, the FDA has known about it since results of the study came out. In 2005. And yep, they did nothing about it, until a renegade author of the study went ahead and published the results on her own. Testing has since revealed traces of mercury in some products from a few companies you may know well: Quaker, Hunt's, Manwich, Hershey's, Smucker's, Kraft, Nutri-Grain, and Yoplait.

You can read more about it from this Grist article.

That's enough for me to start serious label reading again. Both Butter and I are very sad that the list includes Yoplait. I pretty much stopped eating it when I lived in Des Moines—I ate some locally made yogurts and lots of Stoneyfield Farm. But Yoplait was cheaper and C.B. preferred it so lately I started buying it again for both of us (and for Butter, who's a fan of our leftovers). Now, however, it's back to Stoneyfield Farm. (Not that it's a bad thing—have you tasted their yogurt? Deeelicious.) And it's back to weeding out other things that include HFCS (some in our house right now: the cheap store-bought bread on the counter, the granola bars we eat when things get busy, and the Yoplait of course).

I'll pass on the HFCS and the mercury, thanks. How about you?


Nikki said...

OMG jules. I was totally anti-HFCS for environmental reasons linked to its production (your suggestion of the Omnivore's Dilemma changed my diet entirely) but mercury? Holy buckets! And although it means losing some comfort foods (how can i possibly make rice krispie treats??!) its totally worth it!Thanks for the great links!

Julie said...

I know! It horrified me. I am sad to give up some foods too (and can't promise I won't slip occasionally), but there are enough foods without HFCS I think we will survive and be much healthier without the HFCS ones.