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                                       politics + culture

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

the human diet in the news

Food is in the news. Nina Planck's NYT op/ed Death by Veganism and the sagas of both Governor Ted Kulongoski and Congressman Tim Ryan trying to live within a food stamp budget for one week highlight some basic questions about the human diet and who eats what in our society.

There's a reason this stuff is in the air, I think. We know something is off kilter...from the related epidemics of childhood obesity and diabetes to folks revisiting some of basic questions about things like who does the cooking and where does our food come from.

Given that, I think Nina Planck makes a good, balanced point and one that rebuts some popular, yet dangerous, notions within the health food movement. In that light, I'd like to make a simple, albeit unpopular, point that I think pretty much all nutritionists would agree on.

Refined and processed sugars are not part of the original human diet and, by most definitions of the term, aren't really nutritious. Simply put, when we eat the empty calories that come from sugars, we miss out on nutrients contained in all the other truly healthy foods we could be eating. Nevertheless, Americans get a huge portion of their calories from just such sugars. Now, before you abandon this post and get back to your sweetened latte drink or cola beverage, hear me out.

Even within that class....refined and processed sugars...there's one culprit that sits at the fulcrum of many these questions about the American diet, and that's high fructose corn syrup.

It's not just that high fructose corn syrup, like all refined sugars, is not really good for you, and quite possibly bad for your liver and pancreas, it's that it is cheap, artificially supported by government policy and it's been put into everything by our corporate food industry including the supermarket bread and peanut butter that both Governor Kulongoski and Congressman Ryan tried to live on. Most people would find that cutting back on the refined sugar and the high fructose corn syrup in their diets would make them feel better and allow them focus on the healthy foods they do like to eat, whatever their dietary philosophy. Problem is, as the politicians discovered, it's really hard to avoid high fructose corn syrup if you are on a budget.

And that gets to the heart of the matter; sugar is cheap in America. With the advent of high fructose corn syrup, sugar has become a higher percentage of most people's diets. A diet focused on getting calories from sugar, however, is simply not good for anyone.



  • it's not just that it's more sugar, and that it's more subsidized sugar, but it's specifically a form of sugar that appears to really skew our metabolisms in ways that may affect our total healthiness very dramatically. and yet few people know to worry about it . . .

    By Blogger ACM, at 4:29 PM  

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