Sunday, October 16, 2011

It’s The Real Thing (What Is, Exactly?)

The text above reads:

If sugar is so fattening, how come so many kids are thin?

You’ve probably had people tell you they’re avoiding this or that because it has sugar in it.
         If you want to see how much sense there is to that idea, next time you pass a bunch of kids, take a look. Kids eat and drink more things made with sugar than anybody. But how many fat ones do you see?
       The fact is there’s no such thing as a fattening food, any more than there’s one that can make you thin.
       If you constantly take in more food than your body needs, you’ll probably get fat. If you eat a balanced diet in moderation, you probably won’t.
       When your daughter gets in from a couple of hours of practicing her baton twirling, or your husband’s sagging from finally painting the upstairs bedroom, they’re close to empty on readily available body fuel.
       That’s when eating or drinking something with sugar in it can give you a new supply of body fuel. In not too many minutes, they’ll be ready to go again.
       Sugar has a useful psychological effect, too. The good natural sweetness is like a little reward that promotes a sense of satisfaction and well-being.
       Good nutrition comes form a balanced diet. One that provides the right amounts, and right kinds of protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, and carbohydrates. Sugar is an important carbohydrate. In moderation, sugar has a place in a balanced diet.

Sugar isn’t just good flavor; it’s good food.

*     *     *     *     *

If this sounds familiar, chances are you have seen the Corn Refiner’s Association’s adverts concerning sugar’s replacement: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which the corn industry is (unsuccessfully) trying to get the FDA to re-name “corn sugar.” The term “corn sugar,” however, is already in use — as dextrose. The HFCS ads are notorious examples of “badvertising” in that their combined visual, auditory and textual composition are misleading (mostly by omission).

Here’s one ad, and a transcript of it: 

If you’re like me, you care about the food your family eats. I was pretty confused by everything I’d been hearing about High Fructose Corn Syrup. So, I did a little research to find out what independent experts like doctors, dieticians and nutritionists had to say. I learned — whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar. And that’s one less thing to worry about.

The key lines here are “whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar.” This is patently untrue. It’s not a matter of interpretation; it’s a matter of basic science. What they are playing on is the complicated fact that “sugar” is a catch-all name that actually comprises several different chemical compounds, all of which sweeten in different ways. Fructose and Glucose (the main components of “sugar” and HFCS, but in different percentages) are metabolized, used and stored by the body differently. It’s iffy if your tongue can tell the difference (the popularity of Mexican Coke seems to suggest it can); your pocketbook can certainly tell the difference (the production of HFCS has been subsidized by the US government to the tune of $40 billion since the mid-1990s, and because it is a liquid, it is far easier to transport, thereby passing savings on to you);  and your body can indeed tell the difference (just ask your liver); it’s you whom they hope will remain in the dark.

Here’s another ad by the same folks:

Girl: (Offering ice-pop) You want a bite?
Guy: (Piqued) I thought you loved me.
Girl: (Puzzled) I do: take two bites.
Guy: (Disgusted) It’s got High Fructose Corn Syrup in it.
Girl: (Quizzical) So?
Guy: (Confidentially) Well, you know what they say about it.
Girl: (Shrugs) What?
Guy: (Mystified) That…it’s…um…
Girl: (Smiling) That it’s made from corn? Has the same calories as sugar, Honey, and is fine in moderation?
Guy: (Reassured) You only brought one?
Girl: (Laughs)

It is no accident that she calls him “Honey,” as the corn industry tries hard to align other “natural” sweet substances — maple syrup and honey being the two big ones — with corn syrup as all belonging to one big “natural” ambrosial bounty (cane and beet sugars — sucrose — are the other). While maple syrup and honey are naturally occurring substances which happen to be sweet, corn syrup is not — until it is refined by increasing the ratio of fructose to glucose. Sucrose is a disaccharide, while fructose and glucose are monosaccharides. While sucrose is processed by the pancreas (which produces insulin to balance it), fructose is processed by the liver, which tends to want to store it as fat.

So why not just use honey? Because not all honey is created equal. That’s because two thirds of it contains the same stuff as Equal, the artificial sweetener you see in the white and blue packets on your restaurant table. Commercial honeybees are fed HFCS, which makes its way into the honey. Only honey labeled “raw,” “100% Natural,” or “Organic” is actually pure honey. It’s also worth noting that genuine maple syrup is the only stuff actually made from maple trees. The cheaper kind sold for your pancakes is made almost entirely out of HFCS and flavorings.

While the HFCS industry has received a bad rap in recent years, it is not without cause; since it was introduced into the American diet, obesity rates have skyrocketed. Clearly, obesity has always been a public relations nightmare for sugar producers, as the ad above will testify. And just like their foes the corn industry, they seek to allay the public’s fears by calling for common sense and moderation.

The sugar ad from 1971 features a woman brandishing a cola that is not sweetened with HFCS, as it is today (HFCS was introduced into soft drinks in the US in 1984; a popular and persistent urban myth is that the introduction of “New Coke” in 1985 was engineered to mask the change in flavor). This is not so everywhere; if you like the “Real Thing,” you can buy Mexican Coke, which is still made with actual sugar.

One of the most obviously dated aspects of the sugar ad isn’t the claim that “there’s no such thing as a fattening food” or even that they draw attention to the addictive properties of sucrose due to it’s effect on the brain’s pleasure centers. It’s that they take for granted that kids could not possibly be fat. Indeed, the whole ad hangs on this premise, which sadly would not hold today. They had a point though: kids wouldn’t suffer nearly as many medical problems on sugar-based cola as they do on HFCS-based cola. This generation may have dodged a bullet while they were young, but sure caught it once they grew up.

Also; boys and girls use far less of their limbs to engage in extra-curricular activities today; while in 1971 they might have spent hours twirling batons and playing baseball, now they just use their thumbs to text and play games. Actually, most of us are all just twiddling our thumbs.

Pin It