Well it’s all junk food, so I suppose it deserves junk science but still, it’s disquieting to see so much nonsense prevalent in Greenwich – leaves not much hope for the less educated areas of the US. Greenwich mommies prefer cane sugar over high fructose syrup 575 – 1, according to a study I just made up. And they pay a premium to express that preference, even though there is zero, nada, no difference between sugar that comes from a test tube and that harvested by a sweaty exploited Cuban peasant.
Sugar cane sweetened sodas are becoming fashionable, mainly to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which many claim is associated with obesity and increased cardiovascular risk. Jim Laidler did an excellent job reviewing this controversy two years ago on SBM. To me this represents a general tendency to try to understand a complex question by oversimplifying, specifically by avoiding perceived “villains.” It may seem overwhelming to grapple with all the complex information involved in basic dietary health choices, like which beverages are best. Following simple rules, such as avoiding single ingredients that are perceived to be “bad,” therefore has an appeal. I also think this is part of the appeal of the naturalistic fallacy, a simple litmus test to what is good vs bad.
A recent commentary in the International Journal of Obesity seeks to set the record straight with respect to HFCS. The authors point out that, in reality, there is very little difference between sucrose and HFCS. Sucrose is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. There are two main forms of HFCS in drinks and processed food: HFCS-42 and HFCS-55, indicating the percentage of fructose they contain. So one form has slightly less and the other slightly more fructose than sucrose. Available evidence indicates that this is not metabolically significant. In fact HFCS-55 is slightly sweeter than sucrose and so products with this sweetener may use less sweetener, and therefore contain fewer calories.
The authors write:
HFCS existed as a benign and essentially non-controversial product for over 35 years until 2004 when Bray, Nielsen and Popkin published a commentary suggesting a potential link between HFCS consumption and obesity.1 These authors buttressed their argument by charting the consumption of high fructose corn syrup along with the prevalence of obesity in the United States between 1970-2000,
Later research showed that HFCS is not a unique cause of obesity (beyond the calories they contain), and there is no significant difference between the effect of different carbohydrate sweeteners on metabolism and weight gain. They also point out that there has been a lot of misleading research involving feeding animals a high carbohydrate diet consisting entirely of fructose, which cannot be extrapolated to HFCS consumption.
The scientific controversy is largely over. The Bray hypothesis, which was always weak, has not survived later research. But the meme that HFCS is harmful is out there, taking on a life of its own on the internet, and so the public controversy continues.
It’s astonishing to see Greenwich women (and it seems to be mostly women) who at least attended well-regarded colleges, stocking their carts with products they’ve selected on the basis of junk science or what their equally-ignorant pilates instructor has told them. Check it out, so to speak, and watch them buy homeopathic “remedies”, eschew cancer-causing plastic water bottles for glass, gluten-free Cheerios and a pack of Day’s Work (okay, maybe not this last item) and stuff it all in filthy, germ-ridden organic hemp recycle bags, then carry it out into some of the most polluted air in the nation and drive it home in their Mercedes SUV. In so far as it implies even a faint stirring in the amygdala, cognitive dissonance is too kind a term for this behavior.