As humans are pursuing new and more affordable ways to acquire and eat food, they also become more disconnected from the actual source of the food. Here in the West, we spend a disproportionately low amount of our income on food, which is causing most Americans to give little thought to what they eat, where it is coming from, and what it is made out of. Convenience is often replacing quality when it comes to what we eat, and the balance of price vs. quality is now dangerously leaning in the direction of large corporate interests driven by profit margins at the expense of your dinner’s quality.
In 2008, the documentary “Food Inc.” attempted to bring to the mainstream the importance of quality food to your health and wellbeing. While many factors, including genetics, can be connected to one’s health, diet quality is critical. Among some facts presented is that one in three Americans born after year 2,000 will contract early onset diabetes; one in two will be the case for minorities. As the cases of diabetes and cancer have skyrocketed in the U.S. in the last several decades, there has been a concerted effort to identify the reasons for this sudden increase.
One potential problem identified in the film is the large presence of corn and high fructose corn syrup in most food products sold in the U.S. today. Because of large government subsidies offered to corn growers, 30% of the arable land in the U.S. is being planted with corn, and corn and corn products have become very cheap, with the prices of high fructose corn syrup becoming artificially lower than those of natural sugars being produced from sugar cane or sugar beet. Consequently food manufacturers have opted to replace sugar with corn syrup in most, if not all of their products. Thus basic foods taken for granted by Americans like ketchup, cheese, beef, bread, juices, Coca Cola, fast foods, peanut butter, Kool-Aid, juices marketed as “all natural,” and even baby food or baby cereal and formulas are sweetened with corn syrup and contain a substantial amount of corn syrup in them. This creates a situation where most Americans who shop in average supermarkets ingest on a daily basis a substance which is not natural and which is being metabolized by the human body into fat, seemingly leading to an obesity and diabetes epidemic.
A 2004 study reported in the American journal of Clinical Nutrition pointed out that the rise of Type-2 diabetes since 1980 has closely paralleled the increased use of sweeteners in most foods, particularly the use of corn syrup. Other studies seem to also indicate that correlation and causation at least in this instance are strongly connected.
To make things even worse, a study published in 2010 by researchers at the University of California in the Cancer Research magazine (see http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/70/15/6368.abstract) demonstrates that cancerous cells grow substantially faster in the presence of fructose (including high fructose corn syrup) as opposed to other sweeteners. Shockingly, the UCLA researchers also discovered that between 1970 and 1990 the consumption of corn syrup by Americans increased by 1,000 percent!
Another factor to ponder when considering food purchases is that of consolidated food manufacturing and marketing operations in the industry. Of the 47,000 or so products sold in the average supermarket today, a majority are made by a handful of companies. The system is created in such a way that shoppers get the illusion of making healthy choices when buying certain products, when the choices made are false. The illusionary pursuit of healthy products is reinforced by misleading labels on the products. For example a bottle of “all natural Blueberry Juice” could contain some amount of blueberry juice, however a majority of the contents of the bottle could in fact be apple juice and water, and it may be sweetened with corn syrup. This is why reading a label is important for healthy choices. Food manufacturers are required to list all the ingredients for a particular package in the order of the quantity contained within the package; so the first ingredient on the list is found in the largest amount while the last ingredient on the list is found in a very small amount in the package or in the bottle. Being aware of these rules can help you make better and healthier choices in your food purchasing decisions.
Because awareness around the dangers of corn syrup is growing, more Americans than ever are now avoiding products containing it…and the market is responding. Now ketchup manufacturers are making “without corn syrup” ketchup, fact being prominently displayed on the front label. Coca Cola made in Mexico containing real sugar rather than corn syrup is gaining sales throughout the U.S. and corn syrup-free cereal is gaining popularity again among both adults and children. Unfortunately we are not there yet, as it was illustrated in another good documentary titled “King Corn” where the film makers attempted to buy one product that was free of corn syrup in a convenience store and were unable to do so, coming out empty handed.
So with all these odds stacked up against us, what can we do to eat natural, wholesome and healthy foods? Here are some ways that I am pursuing a more healthy living:
• Avoid foods containing high fructose corn syrup as much as possible and cut back sodas, juices and sweet drinks and foods from your diet; be more aware of the amount of corn in your diet.
• Be aware of what your children eat at school, cut back on junk food, juices and athletic drinks.
• Buy local, organic, naturally grown food from your local market rather than chain supermarkets.
• Support small, local family farms that focus on quality and sustainability rather than quantity and profits at any cost.
• Know where your food comes from. Learn to read labels and what they mean.
• Grow your own food whether it is a garden or an animal; a small garden takes little effort to grow and it can be a fun project for the entire family. Being a producer rather than a consumer can be very fulfilling and satisfying in your life.
• Subscribe to a magazine that promotes sustainability and simple living, like Backwoods Home Magazine (at http://www.backwoodshome.com)