New data just released today shows that production of HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) has decreased 11% since 2003. That is pretty significant when you think about the quantity that was being refined and processed by big companies such as Cargill. The impetus for this change seems to have come from the link between HFCS and obesity in our children. Although many scientists (paid by the big companies that produce the stuff) say there is no difference in the way the human body metabolizes HFCS or regular refined sugar. Heath advocates and proponents of the organic food movement disagree. In fact, in poor socioeconomic communities where the consumption of HFCS is a regular occurrence, diseases such as diabetes and childhood obesity run rampant. As time goes on these diseases are striking children at younger ages and their life expectancy is greatly impacted.
This news is a small triumph in a much larger war against processed food. But I will take what I can get. We now can see some mainstream brands in our mainstream stores HFCS free. Brands such as Hunt's and Snapple. Even Starbucks has vowed to eliminated all HFCS from its food and only uses natural ingredients. This makes me feel good but I do still have to go out of my way to get to the farmers market or make a trip to Trader Joes or Whole Foods for some of the ingredients I may need for a meal. It will be a perfect day when we can go to one or two places and feel good about all the products we purchased there. Feel good about the price the quality and the impact it has on our health.
I would like to see more brands joining the campaign to end the use of HFCS. It was only a short while ago that such a substance was considered un heard of. HFCS was only created in the 1950's and only became ubiquitous around the 70's and 80's when sugar tariffs for imported sugar were so high. Our parent's and grand parent's ate sugar. Maybe it was refined but at least it was real. We, on the other hand have been brought up on this corn based derivative and who knows what it has been doing to our bodies. The biggest culprits are the soft drink manufacturers (Coke and Pepsi). Cargill isn't worried about the loss of demand for HFCS because its happening in only a few segments of the food industry right now and its mostly regional. The biggest purchasers of the "stuff" are Coke and Pepsi and they are not planning to stop using it. In addition, places like Mexico are starting to use it more frequently. So any lost demand here in the states will be made up for in other countries. I am sure Cargill will push it to anyone or any country that is willing to purchase it.
So between the HFCS and the aspartame, sucralose or saccharine that is used in soda and diet soda, anyone who drinks it is at risk for health problems. Take your pick: obesity, diabetes or cancer?
On the other side of the battle are the sugar producers. They look at this as an opportunity but don't be fooled. Refined sugar is not healthy either. There are other options such as sugar in the raw, agave nectar and stevia. These are more natural and un refined. They are just as sweet , if not sweeter than refined sugar and do not increase blood sugar as rapidly or as short lived as your regular refined sugar or HFCS does.
I feel the momentum starting to build. Our food quality has been in the forefront of our culture and has been on our collective minds. Movies are being made (i.e. King Corn, Food Inc. ) books are being written (i.e. Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food) and we are seeing more organic/natural options offered at our regular food stores. In fact, the place where I take my boys on rainy days to jump and play serves only organic snacks and drinks. It makes me feel good to know that I don't have to bring my own. More venues for children should opt for healthy food choices. Lead by example and the mom's will follow.
Lets keep our eyes open and continue to fight the war on HFCS. Without the consumer demand there will be no need for supply. The market will work itself out eventually and we can help to stem the increase in diseases that are entirely preventable.