High Fructose Corn Syrup: A Modern-Day Food Dilemma

High fructose corn syrup (or HFCS) is quite the buzz word these days.  Similarly to trans fats, HFCS has become ultra taboo to mainstream America. 

Various studies have controversially linked HFCS with the recent rise in obesity and diabetes.  It’s cheaper and sweeter than sugar, easier to transport, and extends the shelf-life of various popular food products.   

Go to the grocery store these days, and you can find it pretty much anywhere: ketchup, soft drinks, bread, even children’s vitamins!  Since sugar is so expensive, let’s sweeten everything with this highly processed compound!  Sounds like a good idea!

Poor HFCS, getting such a bad rap.

But it’s made out of corn, isn’t it?  Yes, it’s derived from corn.  So why not call it a vegetable?  (BTW, corn is not a vegetable; it’s a grain.)  But everything is derived from some sort of naturally-occurring ingredient.  Then some are heated, twisted, wringed out, spliced, and osmosis-ized into something else so it vaguely resembles anything even close to its original form.  Such is HFCS.

Time magazine quoted Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, saying, “High-fructose corn syrup starts out as cornstarch, which is chemically or enzymatically degraded to glucose and some short polymers of glucose. Another enzyme is then used to convert varying fractions of glucose into fructose…High-fructose corn syrup just doesn’t exist in nature.”

Now the Corn Refiners Association is trying to say HFCS isn’t as bad as it sounds.  (Hm, does clearing up HFCS’s bad rap sound like it would be in their self-interest?  I wonder…):

HFCS Ad

So maybe it has the same number of calories as table sugar.  So maybe when it comes to pure calorie-counting, it’s not so bad.  But to me, it still doesn’t sound like something I care to have in my body. 

I’m no nutrition expert, but I do know one thing – our bodies are intelligent machines. However, throw something in there that’s been totally morphed into something crazy like HFCS, and it won’t know how to react to it.  So it’ll react in a not-so-favorable way.

This is why I always prefer Sugar in the Raw, agave nector, or natural pure cane sugar over Sweet & Low, Equal (lovingly referred to as “Pink and Blue Death”) or Splenda.  Your body is a naturally-occurring mechanism.  Feed it with fuel that’s as close as you can get to its naturally-occurring state.

Do your own research.  And decide for yourself whether or not you want to feed HFCS to your children.  As for me, I plan on feeding my body, and the bodies of my future children, something that hasn’t been treated with something highly processed – or “osmosis-ized”, my new favorite word (yes I made it up) – like HFCS.

Do What You Gotta Do…Then Make It Work for You

My last entry got me thinking more about “cheating.” Why am I so concerned about “cheating”? Some of you might be thinking, “That’s no way to live – always having to stop yourself from eating something you enjoy.” That reminded me of a conversation I recently had with one of my good friends who is currently on a mission to lose some weight.

My friend is a very social individual. One night she’s out with one friend, and the next night she’s out with another. The common factor is a bottle of wine and dinner at some fancy restaurant. Besides the fact that she was spending WAY too much money on eating out, she was not eating very healthy, which didn’t help her at all when it came to her fitness goals.

She felt that there was no way her lifestyle and social calendar could uphold any type of “diet”, and she didn’t think that depriving herself from eating the food she enjoys was any way to live.

This is where we get into the whole “diet” vs. “lifestyle change” issue. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say it: “Diets don’t work. Lifestyle changes do.” Which is easier to do? Change how you eat for a month, or change how you eat for the rest of your life? I put my money on #1. The problem is, any results you saw from that diet will soon disappear, and you’ll be left at square one.

So I believe that to have any kind of lasting results, you must change your eating habits, or your lifestyle with regards to food and nutrition. However, what kind of lifestyle do you want to live? What is acceptable to you?

You’ve heard me talk about the 90% rule. Allow yourself a “cheat meal” only 10% of the time. Seems kind of strict, doesn’t it? Who wants to keep count of all their meals and how many of them were “compliant”? And who wants to wants to keep track of all the “compliance” rules?

This is where I blur the lines between a “diet” and a “lifestyle change.” I think if you’re going for a specific goal – to lose X pounds, to decrease bodyfat by X%, to fit into your old cocktail dress in time for your girlfriend’s wedding – you have to play full on. If you want more than snail-paced progress, you have to bear down, make sacrifices, and adhere to your “compliance rules”. You need to prioritize and say for example, “Right now this goal is more important than going out to dinner with my friends every night.” Do what you gotta do.

Once you obtain your goal, then if you want to maintain those results you have to take what you did and make it work for you in the long term. Go into maintenance mode, so to say. So maybe that means you don’t count your calories anymore, or you allow yourself starchy carbs even though you haven’t worked out. Or maybe you allow yourself a moderate “cheat meal” more than 10% of the time.

But you won’t go back to eating creamy pasta every night, making a run to the golden arches for lunch every other day, or eating a chocolate lava cake for dessert every single weekend. You have new habits and operate under new knowledge, so you can’t go back. “Man’s mind stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions.” — Oliver Wendall Holmes

What I’m saying is, do what needs to be done to get to your goal. Once you get there, it’s okay to take it back a notch or two. Understand, however there are consequences. You might experience a slight decrease in energy, you might not feel as lean or rock hard. You might even gain a little bit of bodyfat back. But it’s all about tradeoffs. To enjoy life, if you truly feel you need to take it back a notch, then I propose you do it. Make it work for you. But keep in mind the consequences and what consequences are really, truly worth it to you. I highly doubt after accomplishing your health and fitness goal, you’ll think going back to your original unhealthy ways would be worth it. At least, I hope not.

So yes, while I was trying to achieve my goals, I was religious about the 90% rule. I logged my food, I watched my calories, I made sure I always ate a protein with a fibrous carb at every “eating opportunity.” Now that I’ve gotten there, I don’t pay as close attention, but I am ALWAYS cognizant of what I’m putting into my body and how it’s affecting me. I still make healthy choices, but I don’t freak out if I occasionally eat a snack without a source of lean protein. And I occasionally allow myself the pleasure of a warm, chocolate lava cake.

So what happened to my friend? She made a sacrifice, stopped eating out every night, and limits herself to one glass of wine every other week. She logs her food, eats plenty of vegetables and lean protein, and limits her sugar intake. She’s well on her way to her fitness goals. But once she gets there, I have a strong feeling she’ll stop logging her food and she’ll probably drink more than one glass of wine every other week. And that’s fine because to her, it’s worth it. (What is worth it, and if it’s truly worth it is another conversation.)

You know yourself better than anyone else. You know what’s important to you. Live life to the fullest. To you, if that means occasionally enjoying a bottle of wine with an old friend, more power to you.

Like/dislike what you read? Can you relate? Have a reaction? Add a comment!

When the Cat’s Away…

I am a cheater. My husband has been out of town for the past week, and while he’s been gone, I’ve been cheating. About a year ago, he regularly went out of town once a month for work, and I cheated back then too. I cheated in the kitchen, I cheated in the bedroom, I cheated in the car, and I even cheated in my office.

It’s not something I’m proud of. This weakness of the flesh is a sore reminder that I’m human with carnal urges. How can I say no when temptation is staring me in the face? When I can feel the intense yearning deep within me…

Whoa, stop me before I get carried away and start talking about something totally unrelated to what I really mean to talk about: Snickers bars, chocolate covered pretzels, McDonald’s french fries, and hot fudge sundaes. Mmm…

*Sigh* So I know I’ve talked about the 90% rule and allowing yourself a cheat meal 10% of the time. And I admit that this is probably easier to uphold when your husband is your personal trainer. Here’s a secret: when my husband is away, the temptation to cheat is, like, 500% greater.

No one is here to slap my hand. I’m like the kid after trick-or-treating who is stuffing her face with the candy her mom told her to put away because she turned away for two seconds.

What about personal accountability, you say? I know, I know. Hey, just because I’m a trainer’s wife, and just because I have chosen to start living a healthier lifestyle doesn’t mean I stop having all urges to indulge. Especially when no one is watching.

But I’m watching. I’m watching, and I have to live with myself afterwards. I’ve heard about a few strategies to stop yourself from reaching for the food that you know shouldn’t come anywhere near your mouth. Things like saying, “Oh well, it’s not part of my plan” and moving on from the tempting situation, or saying, “Thank you that I have food, but not this food.”

What tends to work for me – when I truly apply myself to doing this – is to just quiet my mind. Because usually while I’m reaching for the chocolate chip cookie, thoughts are churning through my mind like a whirlwind: “Mmm…chocolate. I love chocolate. But I shouldn’t eat this. Think about how you’ll feel after you eat it. But it’s just one cookie, it can’t hurt. But one cookie will lead to another cookie. And I didn’t even work out today, so I didn’t even earn it. But chocolate is so goooood…”

So the trick is to cut it off at the “Mmm…” or as soon as you can. Some have described this as the “chatterbox” in your head. And then move your body away from the cookie. As Alton Brown says, “Step away. Just step away.” (Well, that’s usually in the context of over mixing wet ingredients with dry ingredients when baking, but it works for my purposes too.) And then occupy your mind with something else. Like updating your status on Facebook or something useless like that. Or finishing that email you meant to send to your co-worker before lunch.

Okay, so tonight my method didn’t really work for me. I knew I should have eaten the salad with grilled chicken and balsamic vinaigrette, but the Panino Italiano with prosciutto and hot coppa was just crying out to me.

At least I’ve moved on from the hot fudge sundaes, Take 5’s, and Whopper Juniors from the cheating days of my past. This is progress. Next business trip he takes, maybe I’ll take the cheating down another notch. Probably a good idea.

People who are “into fitness”

Today I was in the gym and overheard a woman say, “People are more ‘into fitness’ here.” 

What exactly does that mean – “into fitness”?  As if it’s a hobby or a trend. 

Yes, I can see that health and fitness has become much more mainstream these days.  With all the focus on “low carb,” “low calorie,” “all natural,” etc., some might say that this is merely a trend, and it will pass.  Like jelly shoes and leg warmers, it just might pass, only to come back again.

Remember when it was the “in” thing to roll down your socks into doughnut rolls?  Or to frost the tips of your hair?  One day people will say, “Rmember when it was cool to eat anything that said “No Trans Fats!”?

Yes, this emphasize on health and fitness just might go away one day.  Maybe not completely, but it won’t be at the forefront like it is right now.

Does that mean that I have to follow the masses and forget about eating healthy, exercising, and making healthy choices? 

No way!  I’m grateful for this trend.  It took the “coolness” that society has assigned to the fitness lifestyle to make me change my ways.  I guess you could say I’m a conformist in that sense.  But in this case, I don’t think it was a bad thing.

But when the coolness factor goes away, I hope I’ve learned enough and engrained enough into my lifestyle and habits to keep it going, even when commercials on TV aren’t claiming that your Fred Meyer butcher sells only hormone-free beef.

So when it’s cool to scarf down a Big Mac, large fries, and a Coke again, I plan to still be “into fitness.”

FAQ #2: Do you eat healthy all the time?

Do I eat healthy all the time?  Let’s review my menu over the past few days, shall we?

  • Monday – Protein shake with soy milk, Vietnamese-stye chicken wrap from TJ’s, shrimp pasta spaghettini, chocolate lava cake
  • Tuesday – Protein shake with soy milk, won ton noodle soup, almonds and beef jerky, raw foods meal replacement bar, protein shake, recovery drink (during my workout), homemade turkey chilli
  • Wednesday – Protein shake with soy milk, veggies, buckwheat soba noodles, and beef brisket in miso broth, raw foods meal replacement bar, wild greens with turkey meatballs, cottage cheese and raspberries

So, let’s review:  Do I always eat healthy?  Hm…chocolate lava cake doesn’t strike me as very healthy. 

Okay, I admit – to the average American, the above menu actually looks pretty damn healthy.  In my previous life, the menu would probably have included a lot more fast food, creamy dishes, and various deep-fried edibles. 

It took a few years, but I eventually stopped eating fast food multiple times a week, and took a more conscious approach to what I was eating.

My husband of course helped me along the way.  He loves to research.  It’s not only what he does as part of his day job, but what he does during his free time.  He researches the latest in fitness trends, biomechanics, ways to grow his business, and nutrition and supplementation.

So, he’d come to me all excited about the latest findings he read about in some fancy study.  It seems that nutritional best practices are always changing and are confusing as hell.  One day eating starchy carbs post-workout is good, the next day it’s bad.  One study concludes that red meat is a superior form of protein, the other concludes that its acidity is bad for you.  One person says fruit smoothies are a good way to get your daily fruit servings, the other says there’s way too much sugar in them.

No wonder everyone is confused, including myself.  After years of trying to keep up, I’ve come to the conclusion that while I’ll try to abide by the latest findings, I’ll always adhere to the following basic principles:

  1. Eat small meals (aka “eating opportunities”) spread out throughout the day – about 3 hours apart – rather than 3 gigantic meals. (Helps maintain blood sugar levels and speeds up your metabolism.)
  2. Eat whole, organic foods.  The processed stuff contains way too many ingredients I can’t read.  And if I can’t read it, chances are my body won’t know what to do with it.
  3. Eat protein with every eating opportunity, preferably from a lean source such as chicken, fish, lean beef, etc.  Balances out the carbs, regulating the blood sugar levels and helps build your lean body mass (i.e. your muscles – which are a fat burning machine!)
  4. Drink tons and tons of water
  5. Eat tons and tons of vegetables
  6. Stay away from beverages that contain calories, especially those with high sugar content (JUST SAY NO TO SOFT DRINKS!). Drink fruit juices minimally, unless they’re straight from the fruit and contain some pulp in it for fiber.
  7. Stay away from ANYTHING deep-fried or smothered in cream.
  8. Reserve the right to violate any and all these rules 10% of the time. 

What does that last one mean?  It means that I’m human.  I can’t be expected to eat healthy ALL the time.  It would just be torcherous and inhumane to deprive me of my chocolate lava cake.

It means that I will adhere to these rules for about 38 of my 42 eating opportunities during the week, but I will let myself eat whatever the hell I want (in moderation of course) for the other four.  It means that I will and should reward myself for a job well-done.

And it’s a give and take.  If I’ve been doing really well with my workouts for the past few weeks, pushing myself hard and not skipping any workouts, I may cheat a little more.  If I’ve been lazy, I’ll try to compensate by being better with my nutrition.

Oh, and vacations?  Game over.  But I will plan accordingly and be extremely meticulous with my workouts and nutrition for the weeks leading up to it.  And I will also accept the consequences of my debauchery and detox when I get back.

So no, I don’t eat healthy all the time.  Neither does my husband.  (That chocolate lava cake came with two spoons.)  And neither should you.  You’ll be much more successful if you let yourself cheat once in a while.

Cheating can be a good thing – especially in the form of chocolate lava cake.  Oh, and cheesecake ain’t bad either.

An ooey, gooey, chocolatey piece of heaven on a plate.
An ooey, gooey, chocolatey piece of heaven on a plate.