You’ve had a bad day. You feel pretty terrible and your troubles seem insurmountable. You really need a pick-me-up. You head for the pantry the minute you get home and pull out a treat. It’s sweet, it’s gooey, and it’s most definitely over-processed food. You know it isn’t good for you but you really don’t care. It works. A few minutes later, you’re blissful, ready to get some dinner and happy to finish your evening. Sure, you still have all of those problems but they just don’t seem quite so terrible.
Why did that sweet treat do the trick? The secret is most likely sugar – and, to narrow it down a bit, most likely sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is a super sweet concentration derived from corn; it’s cheap to make, easy to use, and (an added bonus) extends the shelf life of foods in which it is used. Pretty cool, don’t you think? Manufacturers think so. They know more about it than you do. First, they know it’s highly addictive. Canadian scientists equate the potential addiction to that of cocaine. Ridiculous, you think. We thought so, too. But HFCS has been shown (via MRI studies) to stimulate the pleasure centers in your brain and to elicit behavioral reactions similar to those elicited through cocaine use. No, this doesn’t mean HFCS is the same as cocaine; only that it is highly addictive. For food manufacturers, this equates into increased consumption which, of course, means increased profits. Second, rats fed a diet of foods high in HFCS become nervous and anxious when the sweet stuff is removed from their diets. Think about your friends who go on No Sugar Diets. We don’t know about yours, but our friends report headaches, bad moods, and general anxiety as they attempt to succeed at eliminating sugar from their diets. It’s okay to refer to it as an addiction. Professor Bart Hoebel, with the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, has named it so and reports it makes you fat. In fact, he mentions the problems we’ve all experienced if we’ve successfully stifled our sugar addiction – cravings and relapse are part of the process.
What are the potential effects of fructose on your various organs and systems? That’s the bad news. The happy feelings you derive from HFCS foods come at a heavy price. Science News reported the effects of fructose in its June 2013 edition:
Brain: Unlike glucose (i.e., table sugar), fructose does not adequately curb the hunger signals in your brain. So you remain hungry – and you continue eating. Also, pleasure centers in your brain are stimulated – creating a dependency.
Liver: Fructose ends up in your liver when it’s consumed. Its chemical bond is different than that of table sugar – which does not break apart until it is in the intestine. Fructose breaks apart in the liver and may be packaged short-term as glycogen to provide energy or as fat. This flood of energy overstimulates your mitochondria (i.e., the power plants of your cells) and the excess energy is turned into liver fat; increasing your risk of fatty liver disease (a liver disease that is usually associated with alcoholism and can cause cirrhosis).
Kidney: Fructose that seeps into the liver may increase uric acid increasing your risks of contracting gout, high blood pressure, and kidney disease.
Abdomen: Fructose is responsible for much of the fat that accumulates in your abdomen.
Bloodstream: Triglycerides circulating in the blood can harm both your heart and your liver. Additionally, it can cause rashes.
As we move toward our Cupcake Time Diet, we hope you are willing to move away from foods containing high fructose corn syrup. However, this does take somewhat of a commitment since HFCS is found in so many foods:
Bread: Some commercial bakeries use HFCS in their bread. To avoid it, you would need to carefully check labels or take the time to bake your own bread. Amazing that we often have to make our own food if we want to avoid all of the chemical additives.
Salad Dressings: Again, you would need to carefully check labels to avoid HFCS or make your own.
Tuna: Avoid purchasing Sunkist Tuna Lunch To Go as it contains HFCS.
Canned Goods: HFCS can be found in canned fruits, vegetables, and even baked beans. Again, checking labels (or canning your own) can work to help you avoid it.
Mac & Cheese: Making your macaroni and cheese from scratch is easy and it tastes better. Give it a try!
Cereal: Check the labels of your cereal. Be wary of anything listed as a syrup or corn derivitive.
Crackers: Even though we think of salty when we eat crackers, a quick check of boxes reveals tons of crackers that include HFCS on their labels.
Soup: Campbell’s condensed vegetable soup contains HFCS. Is there nothing a mom can feed her kids that doesn’t contain this stuff?
Yogurt: Danon and Yoplait list HFCS on their lists of ingredients. Trader Joe’s French Village yogurt does not.
Ketchup: Heinz ketchup lists both corn syrup and HFCS on the label. Check it out.
In short, read labels to find out the hidden ways HFCS is tucked into your diet. When you identify the products, walk away. Cooking from fresh, finding alternative labels, or avoiding certain foods altogether are ways you can eliminate HFCS from your diet. Don’t replace it with other sugars; work to only eat sugar when you intend to.