Jon de Vos – Children of the corn
January 21, 2010
Say, have you had any of that Mexican Coke that’s been going around?
Pepsi and Mountain Dew Throwback, also sweetened with real sugar, is back for a limited time only, just until Feb. 22. Coca-Cola from Mexico and nearly every other country where it is produced, is made with real sugar. When I say “real” sugar, I mean sucrose, table sugar made from sugar cane or beets.
Sugar is cheap in most countries; it took American ingenuity to make highly processed fake sugar cheaper than real sugar. Here’s how we did it: First you have to subsidize the corn agribusiness to the tune of $40 billion in the last 15 years. Then you impose tariffs on imported sugar to keep the price of domestic sugar artificially high.
Technology brought us high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the late 1950s. Corn kernels are soaked in warm water containing sulfur dioxide. This warm solution hydrates the kernels and makes it easier to separate out the starch. Next, the corn starch is washed and enzymes are added to break down the starch into glucose and fructose and create the desired balance of the two. The resulting syrup is then placed through an evaporation process to create the desired consistency for shipping.
To get some perspective on why this is important, consider that in 1910 the average person ate about five pounds of sugar annually. One hundred years later, we consume nearly 150 pounds of sugar annually, broken down as 66 pounds of glucose and 84 pounds of fructose.
Not only is the price of high-fructose corn sweeteners artificial, there’s a lot of controversy over its overwhelming consumption in the United States. American soft drink makers, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, use sugar in almost all other nations, but switched to high-fructose corn syrup in the United States in 1984. Until the late 1970s, our sugar consumption was almost entirely sucrose, itself a delicate balance of glucose and fructose. But with HFCS the individual sugars can be manipulated, blended and manufactured cheaper than the price of real sugar. However, there’s a whole school of thought that thinks increased levels of fructose are at the heart of a our heart disease, premature aging, obesity, liver diseases and increased levels of diabetes.
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In a 2007 study, 4,000 rats were fed a diet high in fat and HFCS and kept relatively sedentary for 16 weeks in an attempt to emulate Jon de Vos’ lifestyle. Uh, no, make that the “average person’s lifestyle.” The rats were not forced to eat, but ate as much as they wanted. Within four weeks, the rats showed early signs of fatty liver disease and type II diabetes. One conclusion from the study was evidence that fructose suppresses the sensation of fullness.
So maybe you should switch to artificial sweeteners, but which artificial sweeteners are safest to consume? Most of them are vaguely linked to cancers of this and that, brain tumors, impotence, migraines, and other unpleasantness. Studies done in different countries have conflicting information. Saccharine, one of the oldest sugar substitutes, is banned in Canada but OK in the United States. Cyclamate, 30 times sweeter than sucrose, is banned in the United States while OK in Canada.
Get busy, you’ve got three 50-pound bags of sugar to eat this year!
– Note from Willard, Jon de Vos’ pet rat who really writes this column: The real tragedy of this story is the hundreds of thousands of laboratory rats and mice who contributed their lives so you humans can pop a Coke Zero and not die until you’re outside the statistical study group. Truth. Argue with me at email@example.com
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