For the last 10 years or so, I've been on a personal crusade against High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Recently, I added soy products to my list of scary stuff. And today, I learned that Agave Nectar is just as bad as HFCS. Turns out, my husband's desire for us to have a kosher home (compliant with the Jewish Dietary Laws) is inadvertently protecting my family from a lot of bad "food products".
The problems with HCFS and Agave Nectar
One of the major health concerns for my family as for the country is obesity. Among our extended family, there are lots of people who fight this battle and we'd like to help our kids avoid becoming soldiers in that war. One of the major drivers of obesity is an "addiction" to sweet. I find myself craving sweet flavors - Panda's Sweet Fire Chicken, Dark Chocolate, Tropicana Orange Juice. At least two of the three only use natural sugars. And while I'm sure it would benefit me to reduce total sugars to 5% of my daily calories, the very fact that most of my family's sugar intake comes from natural, unprocessed sugars versus manufactured sugars and sweeteners is inadvertently biologically beneficial in the effort to give my children a great opportunity to have healthy bodies throughout their lives.
The Weston A Price Foundation, a non-profit committed to healthy foods, did a comprehensive analysis of the chemical differences between natural sugars. From their April 30, 2009 post:
Sugar is a disaccharide that breaks down into two monosaccharides—glucose and fructose—in the intestinal tract. After absorption, fructose must pass through the liver. Small amounts of fructose added to glucose in the diet increase the production of glycogen (stored sugar) and reduce the release of glucose into the bloodstream, an outcome that is theoretically helpful to those suffering from type 2 diabetes. However, large amounts of fructose in the diet rapidly turn into fatty acids—a process called “de novo lipogenesis”—which are then stored as fat or released into the bloodstream as triglycerides....
...Glucose enters the cells through the action of insulin; fructose enters the cells through the action of something called a Glut-5 transporter, which does not depend on insulin. This transporter is absent from pancreatic B-cells and the brain, which indicates limited entry of fructose into these tissues. Glucose provides “satiety” signals to the brain that fructose cannot provide because it is not transported into the brain.
And guess what HFCS and Agave Nectar are made of -
...the fructose in HFCS is free, unbound fructose, which is not the same as the fructose in fruit, which is bound to other sugars, and is part of a complex that includes fiber, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals...the fructose in HFCS is therefore not recognized in the human Krebs cycle for primary conversion to blood glucose in any significant quantity, and therefore cannot be used for energy utilization.13 Instead, these refined fructose sweeteners are primarily converted into triglycerides and adipose tissue (body fat).
This is bad stuff. For a lot of foods, it's the first or second ingredient.
- Sodas and fruit juices.
- It's in children's yogurt.
- It's in tomato sauce.
- Most ketchcup is made of the stuff.
- So is most "maple syrup" - unless its real maple syrup.
- It's in salad dressing (just when you thought you were eating the right stuff).
- It's in breakfast bars.
- Obviously - it's in candy.
In fact, it's hard to buy stuff without this in it. And you should hear our pediatric dentist rant and rave about the impact of this stuff on kids' teeth.
Because we have a kosher home, there is a lot of processed food I simply cannot buy. We have to cook it. And because I won't permit HCFS in the house, we have to cook our treats or eat chocolate (the torture). Most organic products use sugar (hopefully unrefined). Apparently, our shopping habits align with Food Rules - a new book by Michael Pollan of the Omnivore's Dilemma.
We don't adhere to all the Food Rules - and I know we should - but we adhere to some of them. It is somewhat marvelous that a 5700 year old set of food rules protects my family from 21st century health risks. What food rules do you observe in your home? Where did they come from?