Monday, June 03, 2002

In nutrition news

First, the bad news. In yesterday's LA Times Opinion section, this piece by Greg Critser on the use of high fructose corn syrup in snacks, soft drinks, and many other prepared/manufactured foods. Some excerpts:
Coca-Cola and Pepsi were among the first to see the future. In the 1980s, the companies, wanting out from under long-standing import tariffs that kept the price of sugar high, reformulated their drinks, shifting them from 25% HFCS and 75% cane sugar to 100% HFCS. The cost savings were immediate and enormous--more than 20%--causing Coke's president of the period, Roberto Goizueta, to claim the reformulation as one of his principal executive victories.

The inexpensive sweetener had another effect on the soft-drink industry as well: bigger servings. As soda became cheaper to manufacture, its purveyors didn't charge us less: They simply gave us more. With HFCS, the Big Gulp was both possible and profitable.
On the use of HFCS in snack foods:
The number and variety of high-calorie snack foods have consequently soared. Where all through the 1960s and 1970s the number of new candy and snack products each year remained stable--at about 250--it jumped to about 1,000 by the mid-1980s and to about 2,000 by the late 1980s. The rate of new, high-calorie bakery foods also jumped substantially. A revealing graphic of this trend, charted against the rise in obesity rates, was published by a group of nutrition scholars from Tufts University in 1999; the two lines rise in remarkable tandem.
Some potential health problems from HFCS:
Since the mid-1970s, use of the sweetener has soared; it now accounts for about 9% of the average American's daily caloric intake, with about one out of 10 Americans--many of them children--getting up to 20% of their daily calories from it.

A big part of the problem, of course, is that sweet things tend to be filled with empty calories that provide little nutrition. But scientists are also concerned about properties unique to HFCS. Unlike sugar, which undergoes an intermediary absorption process in the small intestine, the fructose in HFCS proceeds directly to the bloodstream and to the liver, where, an increasing body of evidence suggests, it may cause potentially harmful metabolic changes. Some studies have suggested it may increase cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood and increase the risk of coronary artery disease.
A collegue had read about HFCS a while back, and since then I've checked ingredients' lists for HFCS. It's scary where you can find it--what is it doing in vegetable stock??

Now for the good news. From the June issue of Vegetarian Times, "Eleven Healing Foods." Unfortunately the article is not online with the details of why the selected foods are considered to have healing qualities and what for. But here's the list:
  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Chickpeas/Garbanzo beans
  • Flaxseeds
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Oats
  • Soy
  • Tomatoes
Finally, I'm not sure whether it's good news or bad news, but the WSJ has a front-page article (paid subscription required) on the positive correlation between calorie-restricted diets and longevity. I'd seen a PBS program a while back interviewing some of the people who are following the low-calorie diet in order to live longer. Here's a website cited by the WSJ article. I think I'd rather live a normal lifespan than extend it by cutting back on calories so severely.

No comments: