Friday, November 18, 2011

Funny Corn Syrup Video

I have a tolerate/hate relationship with the corn syrup ads that ran on television over the past few years. I can respect the corn industry's desire to protect public opinion of their product, but at the same time, they have to know that what they are selling is bad.

Bad because it tastes inferior to sugar,1 bad because it's the final step in a massive government subsidy clusterfuck, and bad because the body might process HFCS differently from ordinary corn syrup and sugar.2 That is something that they happily ignored in those television ads, in their twisted Socratic dialogue, with an interlocutor character who is plainly retarded.

I had to opt to embed a low-quality version that a YouTube user uploaded since the official versions forbid embedding and moderate the comments. You can find the second official video here. Some inventive spoofs on these ads were created that deserve posting.

High-fructose corn syrup should always be avoided. If a product has it in it, don't buy it. It is that simple. Do. Not. Buy. It. Not because it may be bad for you in some physiologically obscure way. Not because you only want to buy organic crap. But because it is indicative of a company that is cutting culinary corners. This eliminates basically the entire cookie aisle, I'll admit, and pretty much everything that your children want, but that's a good thing. HFCS is the Boy Scout badge of a bad dietary life.

At the same time, I do not like to treat HFCS as some bugbear that is the cause of our obesity problem. It is absolutely not. If that were the case, countries without significant HFCS consumption like those in Europe or Asia, would not be seeing large weight increases. They are. Everyone in the Western world is getting fatter, the problem is just more apparent in the US. This is most likely because we were the only Western Nation not obliterated by World War II. Thus, we were able to get down to the important business of consumption directly after the war ended.

No, it is our overall lifestyle that is causing obesity. And while the emergence of HFCS might have encouraged our increasing desire for sweetness in the food that we buy, it is not the cause. That does not mean that we all should not be aware of how our food is made and from whence elements of our diet come. Truly, the more aware we are, the more likely we are to make overall better decisions. Not because we are terrified of HFCS or some other dietary boogeyman, but because we recognize that good diet has as little sugar in it as possible.

There is some evidence to indicate that this happening. According to the USDA, from a peak in the year 1999, overall sugar consumption in the US is on a downward trend. It may even get back to pre-1980 levels within the next five years.

This is obviously not the only piece in the puzzle as US obesity rates are continuing the rise. The reasons for this may be very bad, indeed.

I fear that the reduction in sugar with a corresponding continued rise in obesity evinces the growing divide between the dietary haves and have-nots. Sugar consumption is going down, but only among those in the middle and upper areas of the Socioeconomic Status scale. As this chart shows, overweight levels have remained flat since the late 1980's, and saw a downward trend in 2005/2006.

 This next chart shows that overweight levels have actually remained flat for the past four decades. This indicates that the bulk of weight gain has happened in those genetically susceptible to weight gain and those too poor to buy better food. As the quality of cheap food has taken a nose-dive, as has the diet of those who will be attracted to ever-cheaper products.

Is HFCS worse for you than sugar? Maybe, but if there is a difference, it is likely small. But that doesn't mean that those inane corn syrup advertisements are correct. They ignore the fact that as HFCS consumption has gone up, obesity levels have gone up. They ignore the fact that the cheapest food is the only food loaded with HFCS. That does not indicate a causal connection, but it does indicate that they are likely somehow linked. If you care about your diet, you should avoid HFCS as much as possible. And as I have discovered, as much as possible means never eating it at all. Well, except for the occasional Milano.

1: In multiple semi-scientific studies, people are frequently able to tell the difference, but many actually prefer the flavor of HFCS-sweetened drinks to the sugar-sweetened varieties. I think that it is because the HFCS versions are sweeter. Just look at the Pepsi Challenge, where Pepsi was preferred by a majority of people. This was explicitly because Pepsi is sweeter than Coke.

2: This is a problematic aspect of the debate. A few studies have shown some connection, with one very strong study done at Princeton University being widely criticized. Other studies have shown no unique link between HFCS and health issues. I think that the debate is something of a canard. Sugar is bad in excess. HFCS is indicative of cheap, poorly-made products. So why would you want to eat sugar in excess in cheap, poorly-made products?

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