Why You Should Stop Blaming Artificial Foods For Your Dieting Woes
I was taking the time to catch up on my documentaries the other week and decided to check Netflix for some inspiration. This is where I stumbled upon the documentary Food Inc (2008).
Amongst the topics discussed were positions on animal cruelty, food labelling regulations and the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup in the modern diet. Today I want to solely focus on the latter.
This, along with another documentary I recently watched called King Corn (2007) suggest that High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has played a major impact in replacing smaller 'family farms' to major corporate industrial businesses, and that a study carried out in rats suggest that HFCS causes more weight gain than normal stable sugar . Surely then, this confirms we should be completely avoiding certain artificial products, I mean that's what the media and 'experts' are saying to do.
In regards to the business side of things, well yep that's pretty much how capitalism works. What did you expect? If it's cheaper to make than businesses are going to jump on it and profit from it.
But what about the health implications? With anything nutrition based – it's not that black and white.
What is HFCS?
HFCS is a substance made up of roughly 55% fructose (the sugar found in fruit) to 45% glucose (the most basic form of carbohydrate).
Let's compare HFCS to sucrose (table sugar) which is roughly 50/50 fructose to sucrose. A very similar structure if you ask me.
The only real difference is in the bonding that takes place. The glucose and fructose in HFCS is unbounded in comparison to table sugar where the two sugars have been bonded. From a metabolic perspective nothing is different as the bonds are broken once food is digested anyway.
So HFCS and table sugar are basically the same thing.
Foods with HFCS can be found in cereals, biscuits, sodas, chocolate bars or pretty much anything that tastes sweet. It is worth noting that we do not have HFCS in Europe and the majority of foods with this substance are found in North America. However the overriding debate of artificial vs natural is the point I want to make.
If you have lived on this planet long enough (and I assume you have if you're reading this), you'll know from a nutritional perspective that there is always a scapegoat to blame for the World's continuing obesity epidemic and worsening health status.
With the increase in disease states such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease someone has to be blamed.
First it was fat that took the blame. Back in the 80's dietary fat was the devil and everyone was told to stop eating anything that contained it. A surge of fat free products hit the shelves and through clever marketing, a lot of companies made a lot of money.
In the 80's I could go and eat a whole packet of (artificial) fat free biscuits and it didn't matter how many I could eat – they're FAT FREE!
Of course we know that diaetary fat is important for a number of physiological reasons and anyone that goes out of their way to avoid fat is in for a rough time. Fat does not make you fat, too many calories will make you fat.
After this the 90's introduced the Atkins diet (low carb - high protein.) Carbs became the enemy overnight and bread and pasta were public enemy number one. Similar to this in recent times, gluten has become the enemy (a whole other conversation and something that I won't get in to today.)
What are the same principles about both of these diets? Calories indirectly dropped and people started to lose a ton of weight quickly. Thankfully we now start to move away from this trend and every one is now posting pictures of their avocado on toast for all of Instagram to see. Ahh Instagrammers, so predictable.
Is HFCS actually bad for you?
The documentaries point the blame at HFCS for obesity but fail to take in to account other major factors that have an impact on health such as; overall intake of calories, sleep, stress levels, water intake, enough micro nutrition, the right fats in the right ratios – the list goes on.
I know the documentaries are now kind of outdated, but the arguments are still ongoing and you see it everywhere in mainstream media. As of this writing, sugar is now public enemy number one.
their sole purpose is to make you watch their documentary. Something you should know about documentaries is that It doesn't matter if the science is incorrect, misguided, misreported or complete BS. They don't care, they just have a job to get you hooked emotionally.
This is why I mostly avoid nutritional documentaries and TV shows. They all have an agenda.
Alan Aragon once said about these doucmentaries " I have never seen one that presented a diligent examination of the full range of data. This quite frankly would bore the HELL out of the masses... these documentaries are the equivalent of a textbook with half the pages ripped out and replaced with pages from Marvel comics."
If you take a look at the following graph (that's right a graph with numbers and data and stuff!)  you will notice the correlation between HFCS consumption vs obesity rates:
Understandably, this seems pretty conclusive but this is a correlation and not a causation. A big trend is to blame foods that are artificial or mass produced but that doesn't mean that the food is the only reason that you are becoming unhealthy. For example one study showed no evidence to suggest that hunger hormones such as leptin and grehlin are affected. It had exactly the same affect as a natural compound like table sugar. Other studies have reached the same conclusion.
The truth is that in the human population is growing and HFCS is extremely inexpensive, makes food cheaper and is easy to transport.
For a lot of people, this is where the problem lies as products are cheaper and relatively easy to binge on. Comparing table sugar to HFCS shows no real difference except that it's artificial. That doesn't mean that it is the sole cause of obesity.
Can HFCS be solely responsible for increased obesity rates? Probably not as we should look at the bigger picture and view the diet in it's entirety such as eating habits and overall caloric intake.
One of the ultimate indicators of whether you gain weight and move towards ill-health is the over consumption of calories. Eat too many calories and you will get fat. You can even eat too much broccoli and you will still get fat (and have a terrible time in the bathroom).
single ingredient foods should always make up the bulk of your dietOf course, I'm not saying that uncontrolled consumption of HFCS or similar foods are totally fine for health, as . I go in to this in more detail with clients and explain how to improve diet adherence by ading 'sub-optimal' foods.
My take home is do not be afraid of foods that taste good. Yes limit, but don't create an irrational fear because some documentary with an agenda said so.
Hank Green from SciSchow says it best - “People just love to hate stuff that tastes good these days.”
Monsivais P, Perrigue MM, Drewnowski A Sugars and satiety: does the type of sweetener make a difference