I want you to imagine the worst drug you can think of. Unlike marijuana (or sugar), it’s made from chemicals not naturally found in nature. It pops up in unexpected places. Ten years ago, you’d never heard of it, and now it’s virtually everywhere. Even your kids are at risk of getting hooked, and several people you know have inadvertently back slid into total addiction of it…without even realizing the direness of what they were doing, they just wanted to feel good. Now say the name of that drug out loud. If you said “Crystal meth,” you’re not wrong. But you could have also said “High Fructose Corn Syrup.”
A decade ago, I don’t think anyone outside the agricultural business or corn lobby would have been able to tell what high fructose corn syrup was, let alone that it was beginning to wind up in all their favorite foods. Seemingly overnight, this horrible manufactured substitute for cane sugar started to be dumped into everything. It wasn’t just a sweetener, it was a preservative, and a Frankenstein-esque creation was born where nothing in your local supermarket (assuming your local supermarket isn’t Whole Foods) isn’t tainted by it.
Once I decided not to allow HFCS (and if it doesn’t scare you that you’re eating food that has an ingredient that has initials like some powerful street drug, you must be pretty numb…from HFCS-stimulated overeating) into my New Year’s Diet, I suddenly became aware of everything that it’s in. And to my surprise, it was in almost everything.
Sodas, Oreos, any snack foods, almost any sweetened drinks, almost anything that needs a preservative, almost anything that doesn’t need a preservative, certain chips, ketchup, almost any barbecue sauce, almost any fast food, etc. Okay, you might say, that’s fine because I’m forgoing most of that stuff anyway, but when you start seeing HFCS in mashed potato instant mix and even freaking Stove Top Stuffing (what the hell needs HFCS in loose croutons calling themselves stuffing mix?), it’s a pandemic of the stuff.
For me it was one thing to hear Michael Pollen or another nutritional expert talk about HFCS in Food Inc. or some dry PBS special about all of the unknown ingredients in our food. That was interesting and alarming, but to actually see a sweetened, obesity causing corn syrup deposited in virtually everything on the shelves of Target, Wal-Mart, and even “high end” local chains that just charge a dollar more to make you obese was downright scary.
What makes High Fructose Corn Syrup so bad for you is that it’s essentially liquified trans fat. It’s made in a lab, not naturally found in nature, and therefore harder for your body to burn than just regular cane syrup. The chemical component of it ultimately wreaks havoc on your metabolism and diet, and causes your body to store more of those “super, manufactured” calories than it would in natural calories found in cane sugar.
You might say “And? You aren’t telling us anything we don’t already know.” But I sometimes find that attitude hard to believe because no parent in the world would give their five year old an eight ball of crystal meth. However, we give our kids Oreo cookies on a daily basis. You might say that’s hyperbole and I know that it is, but the food you eat can be as much a drug as the illegal drugs you smoke (they certainly activate the same parts of the brain and in the same way, which is why the cravings for foods with HFCS are often subconscious while our conscious mind knows it’s bad for us). This isn’t meant to be some soap box lecture because lord knows I’ll probably want an Oreo by the end of this. And that’s the problem. Like any other drug, HFCS can make you want it…even if you know you shouldn’t. It works against your better judgement, and it’s in practically everything you might want to eat.