The Sugar vs. High Fructose Corn Syrup Debate

My friend Lita sent me a news article today on Yahoo.com about a lawsuit between some sugar farmers and corn growers and lobbyists. Basically the sugar farmers didn’t like the recent ad campaign by the corn growers claiming that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the same to our bodies as sugar. “Sugar is sugar” the ads claim. A federal judge weighed in on Tuesday for the first time on the debate. My friend wanted to know my thoughts. I have so many thoughts that it’s hard to keep them all straight! But I will try.

First, the corn industry has a tarnished image as people are becoming more aware that over consumption of HFCS can lead to serious health issues (inflammation, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer). They are trying to reposition themselves as being just as natural as sugar and here’s where I have my first thought: how unfortunate that being considered llke sugar is any better! They are wanting people to think that sugar is natural and has been around forever so is therefore some kind of health food. The trouble is that all those serious health issues that come from HFCS are just as prevalent in a high-sugar diet.

The lawsuit is an argument over whether or not these two sweeteners are different or the same. They are both. Different and the same. Make sense? Well, both are absorbed immediately into the blood system and both cause huge insulin releases to balance out the high blood sugar levels. This can lead to, if consumed frequently (read daily you soda in the morning drinkers) insulin resistance, the precursor to diabetes. If left unchecked, diabetes will follow. The calories from all this sugar is stored as fat, which has led to our obesity epidemic. Obesity causes strain on our joints, heart and the rest of the cardiovascular system. Sugar also eats away at the collagen in our skin causing wrinkles and the lining of our arteries, leading to plaque build up, and other inflammation in our bodies. It’s a seriously bad thing to eat! We also become addicted to the high we feel after that initial blood sugar rush because that sugar energy is consumed quickly and we are left with a crash a little while later, so we reach for more sugar. (If you’re wondering the way out of this vicious cycle, it is to eat long-sustaining energy sources like protein, whole grains, vegetables, and healthy fats instead. You will not feel the highs and lows in your day, but rather a more even keel, high level of energy).

So both sources of sugar are bad for you. However, HFCS is worse in my opinion. It is more highly processed and further away from what nature created, as well as there being concerns about the processing methods themselves. There were reports of finding mercury in products containing HFCS. Mercury is poisonous. And it is used to make caustic soda which is used in the production of HFCS. The corn farmers insist that producers don’t use mercury-contaminated caustic soda anymore in the US and that HFCS is safe. But there is some question about where the food companies are sourcing their HFCS and other countries may still be using mercury. In our global food trade, I too have that concern and personally don’t want to risk any form of mercury in my food or my kids’ food, so I avoid HFCS strictly for that reason alone.

So basically I would advise to avoid HFCS, seriously reduce refined sugar and eat real unrefined whole foods for a more sustained energy throughout the day. If you need something sweet, reach for a piece of fruit or a sweet vegetable (sweet potatoes and winter squash are naturally sweet), or even dare I say it? an ear of natural sweet corn.

To your health,

Laren Watson
Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach

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