What's in Your Diet
Yesterday, I wrote about the current research on high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), how there is an ongoing but unclear debate on whether HFCS is any worse for your health than sugar, and that scientists point to sweeteners and lack of exercise for Americans' trouble with obesity. One thing that comes up is whether HFCS and other sweeteners are becoming more common in our food. So, today I decided to perform an extremely unscientific experiment involving my own diet. After my latest grocery shopping trip, I went through the ingredient list of each item I purchased. I tracked which contained HFCS, sugar, both or neither. Results are below, with notes (S,H,D indicate order of ingredients of Sugar, HFCS, and Dextrose):
|High Fructose Corn Syrup||Sugar||Neither||Both|
|Hot Dog Buns||Bread||Potato Chips||Cookies (D,H,S)|
|Hot Dogs (less than 2% H, more than 2% D)||Hot Pockets||Milk||Lemonade (H,S)|
|Pickles||Pasta Sauce||Cheese||Yogurt (S,H)|
|Stuffing Mix||Flavored Rice Mix||Ground Beef||Ice Cream**|
|Tortillas (last ingredient)||Chicken|
|Chocolate Bar||Fruits… Assorted|
*Within the half dozen varieties of Chicken/Hamburger Helper (they were on sale) some listed sugar as high as the third ingredient, while others had none.
**Second to the lemonade, ice cream might be the best way to fill up on sweeteners. After cream and milk, the ingredients are, in order: sucrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sugar.There are a few things to point out here, but several ways to interpret the results. Remember this experiment is not designed to draw any scientific conclusions.
|A surprising source of |
- First and most obvious is that most of the food products I bought contain some kind of sweetener. I bought several types of fruits and vegetables but I think even listing all of them, the "Neither" category would be less than half of the products I purchased.
- Most of the items that contain only one sweetener contain a very small amount, which includes all of the items with only HFCS, and all with only sugar except the chocolate bar and brownie mix.
- The most surprising to me had to be pickles for containing any sweetener, though HFCS was towards the end of the short list of ingredients, and yogurt, for containing both sweeteners. The brand was Yoplait original, which I think many consider a healthy food choice, yet the second ingredient was sugar, and HFCS was fifth of about ten. Yogurt, of course, has benefits in moderation and a balanced diet, but I was surprised. Yoplait light has no sugar, but HFCS is the second ingredient for most flavors and the source of about 80 of each container's 100 calories.
- The most sweetener-packed item has to be the lemonade. After water, the second and third ingredients were HFCS and sugar. The other ingredients are vitamins and flavor.
All in all, I would say I get about as many calories from sugar as HFCS, which lines up with the national data from the USDA. Whether our food is packed with sweeteners probably depends on individual dietary choices, as the ones I found crammed with HFCS and sugar could be expected, with perhaps the exception of yogurt and granola bars. And if you want to avoid HFCS yourself, good news is that there are many foods out there without any.
|Juice, important vitamins, but also|
high in calories.
There is one thing that struck me. The lemonade, though tasty, is basically HFCS water. It has 100 calories per 8 ounces, more than coca-cola. But it is not the only drink to look out for. Sodas, sports drinks, sweetened iced tea, and juices of all types are high in calories, which all come from sugars. 100% Apple juice contains about 30% more calories per ounce than soft drinks, and it is predominantly fructose. Some cranberry drinks and "juice cocktails" are even worse (check #2). Juice does provide health benefits that soda does not, but many good nutrients are lost processing the fruit, and juice can add large amounts of calories if not drank in moderation. Eating fruit is healthier than drinking it.
Medical research points to evidence that people have trouble considering the calorie count of drinks in their daily intake as a top factor in increased obesity and diabetes. Add to that concerns that increased fructose consumption, whether from HFCS or sucrose, confuses the mechanism in our body that limits our appetite and speeds our metabolism, and these effects are worse when the fructose is in liquids.
If the United States, and you personally, want to cut down on the amount of HFCS, sweeteners, and calories we take in, the place to start is with our drinks. You can drink water (not bottled!), tea, diet or "light" beverages. Cut juice with water or make lemon water without sugar. And know that sweetened coffee drinks and fruit smoothies, especially those with peanut butter, are often high in fat and top any of the previously mentioned drinks in calorie count.
It's not all bad news, even with drinks. Knowing that the eating less and promoting exercise will help may make the fight simpler than trying to eliminate an ingredient from our food supply. HFCS is a cause for concern, but so it sugar. There is little evidence to indicate one is much worse than the other, so replacing HFCS with sugar would do little. But there is good evidence that if we reduce our intake of both sweeteners, starting with what we drink, the country will get healthier.
More about HFCS
Obesity in the United States
Info on Sports in the United States