There have been countless news stories recently decrying the fact that Obesity has become so prevalent in our society today. Government officials and agencies have declared a “war on obesity” with the advent of all sorts of programs aimed towards both adults and children. These programs are educational and/or physical activity related in nature. Finally, the powers that be are willing to admit that having a percent body fat that is too high is likely the real cause of many of the chronic diseases that we suffer from today, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
I find it interesting, and not really at all surprising, that it is this very same government of ours that is truly responsible for the obesity epidemic of today.
One of the ways that our “Uncle Sam” (or the local equivalents that seem to govern our lives) is contributing to our expanding waistlines is obvious… when I was a grade-schooler we had Physical Education every single day. It wasn’t an option; it was required. Today, P.E. only happens every other day in many elementary school systems, and a child can actually graduate high school without having to have any physical activity for years.
The other way, the more pervasive and deleterious way, is much more subtle… and yet it is the crux of the real problem. If you come to comprehend this connection you will then have the information needed to make the changes necessary to really improve your health.
This story really begins back during the Nixon administration. Remember when the price of beef went out of control? At that time, a policy was changed in a way that, little did we know, would eventually lead to our ever expanding girths. At that time, our government changed the way that it supported the slumping corn farming industry.
It does not take an accounting degree or a masters in economics to understand this concept. If you grow a crop that no one really wants (or too many people are already growing), meaning that you can’t get paid enough for growing it, then you will have to switch to growing something that someone does really want, or you will end up starving. That is, unless, you find a government that is willing to support your efforts in the form of a guarantee to buy whatever you grow.
Now really think about this… let’s say we have a farmer that grows corn. Let’s say he has 1000 acres to his farm, but he only plants corn on half of that land because that is all that corn that he can manage to sell. Now enter an entity to say to our farmer, “I will guarantee that you will get $2 per bushel of corn. If you can only get $1.50 per bushel on the open market, I’ll make up the difference. Or, if no one wants to buy your corn, I’ll buy it from you.”
The first thing that the farmer is going to do is plant the other 500 acres with more corn. A guarantee is a guarantee… and this is exactly what happened. The result was that we had more corn than ever… again, this was corn that no one really wanted. All of a sudden, a crop was available to buy that actually cost less than it cost to grow it, thanks to government subsidies. When that situation occurs, people become very inventive, finding unique uses for the suddenly cheap commodity.
One of those uses became feeding that corn to livestock. All at once a rancher could get his cattle ready for market quicker by feeding them more corn… and he could do this without increasing his costs.
Another of the uses for this suddenly cheap commodity was to make High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) out of it. In fact, because of government subsidies, HFCS became a cheaper, more easily transported sweetener than even simple sugar.
Of course, anytime the word cheaper comes into the economic picture, it gets the attention of the bean counters at all of the companies. The food industry responded with a great “hurrah” at the news and instantly started substituting HFCS for sugar in many foods. But the economics went further than just the cost of the raw material. The soda industry learned that HFCS goes into liquids much easier than table sugar does… so not only was it a cheaper material, but their work became easier, meaning less labor costs. Today, HFCS is the only caloric sweetener used in the soda industry. It is also a common sweetener is fruit juices, canned fruits, baked goods, dairy products cookies, gun, jams and jellies.
And, the benefits went even further than that. The food industry people quickly surmised that having High Fructose Corn Syrup on their labels somehow seemed different that having sugar there. Apparently, John Q Public did not pick up on the fact that HFCS was actually sugar in a different form. Label readers were sort of fooled into using foods that they didn’t realize had sugar in it.
So what’s the big deal, really? Sugar is sugar, right? Table sugar or fructose… they are all the same, right? Wrong! And this is the key. The body responds to fructose differently than sucrose in many ways.
First of all, the presence of fructose does not cause the release of insulin from the pancreas like table sugar does. This means that any fructose in the bloodstream that does not get used for energy right away will be stored as fat. Secondly, fructose does not cause the formation or release of certain substances and hormones that tell the body that it has eaten and turns off hunger. In other words, when you consume a cookie sweetened with HFCS instead of sugar, your brain never gets the message that you have eaten something. That, in turn, makes it more likely that you will continue to eat, even though you shouldn’t still be hungry.
Furthermore, in the liver, fructose is converted into the chemical backbone of triglycerides more efficiently than table sugar. Elevated triglycerides have clearly been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. HFCS has also recently been implicated in altering magnesium balance in the body, which can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and may be related to osteoporosis.
Combine these last 2 facts together… a sugar that leads directly to fat with never getting the signal to stop eating… and you end up with exactly what you would expect, an Obese Society.
So what is the solution to this problem? Exercise is a part of the answer… giving your body the means to burn the HFCS right away is important. But the best answer, of course, is to avoid the HFCS in the first place.
But that is much more easily said than done. I challenge you to start reading labels and see just how prevalent corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup have become in our diets. And I promise you; it shows up in foods that you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to… like different canned soups and stews, marinades, even seasoned croutons.
We live in a society that has told us that fat is bad and should be avoided. Regular readers of this column know how wrong that message is. Unfortunately, many people still eat a “low-fat” diet. But because we want our foods to taste good, low-fat often translates into high sugar… we just don’t realize it because the sugar comes in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup. Furthermore, HFCS is sweeter than sugar is, and as our taste for “sweet” gets over-stimulated, we require more of it to feel like we are eating something sweet.
We have become HFCS junkies… and believe me, the food industry loves that fact and ultimately, our own government is the cause, regardless of how much you hear them tell us to trim those waistlines!