Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You call it corn, we call it "liquid obesity."

When I was growing up, I used to hate that my dad wouldn't let us drink soda. All that sugar, he explained, was bad for growing kids (and he may be right: I would consume all the soda, Twinkies, and Ding Dongs I could at a friend's house and I ended up stunting my growth at 5' 7").

I'm not sure, but I think most of the "sugary" foods were still sugar, not high fructose corn syrup which people are beginning to link with an epidemic of obesity and other health problems in both adults and children. I'm not sure, though, because I didn't really start reading labels until I was in my sophomore year and had to buy groceries for myself; by then HFCS was everywhere. That and lard.

Relatively good news, perhaps, that sugar is making a comeback. Moreover, reports the New York Times, it is "enjoying a second act, dressed up as a natural, healthful ingredient." Scientists are not so sure that's the right perception, since both table sugar and HFCS are similarly unhealthy when consumed in excess.

The real problem, as I see it, is that HFCS was and is so cheap that they stick it in everything, including things that simply shouldn't be sweetened, like ketchup and peanut butter. Check the ingredients panel: some sort of sweetener is in almost everything. This gets kids used to the taste of sugar, and then they eschew things that aren't sweetened at some level. In other words, the pervasive sweetness of the food raises the baseline.

We have to wean ourselves and our kids off of this stuff. Take a look at the peanut butter label at left. Ingredients: peanuts. You can't get any purer than that. No salt, no sugar, no preservatives. It's a good bet that the bread, crackers, jam, honey, etc., will provide enough salt and/or sweetness to make the peanut butter taste just fine.

Sure, you have to stir it because the oil from the smashed peanuts naturally separates out, but that's a small price to pay for better health. Unfortunately, it was quite a hard thing to find in Korea. One reason I am hoping for the FTA is that it will be easier for smaller companies like Adams (the makers of that peanut butter) to sell their product in Korea.

Another problem with HFCS is that the name sounds so innocuous. Fructose (C6H12O6) is fruit sugar, sugar from fruit, and fruit is good for you, right? (In Korean the frugivorous connection similarly clear: kwadang (과당/果糖) is literally fruit-sugar). We consume fruit sugar whenever we bite into an apple or a banana or drink some orange juice. Fruit sugar is good for you. Right...? Right?!

And by extension, high-fructose corn syrup (고과당옥수수시럽) would be even better! And it's made from corn, which is pretty healthy, right? I mean, the Indians saved the Pilgrims with corn. Corn is what we feed our cows to get them big and strong. All those folks from Nebraska are corn-fed all-American kids. Corn is (after apples, tofu, bananas, green tea, and grapes), like, the perfect food. It's corn, for fu¢k's sake!

And thus were duped a whole generation of label readers. Sigh.

Me? When I make myself some coffee or tea, I add a bit of honey. Bee barf, nature's candy. People think I'm weird, but I'm used to the taste and honey itself has antioxidants and other good stuff. I just wish honey didn't cost so damned much in Korea (it's the honey lobby that's behind that; my ex-fiancée's family owns honey and ginseng farmland in Ch'ungch'ŏngnam-do, so I heard a bit about this).

[above: dietary child abuse (photo snagged from article)]


  1. Great post. I cringed when I got to the McCune-Reischauer in the last line, though.

    Who uses that anymore? Get with the times, man! You're stuck in 1985.

  2. Actually, I'm stuck in 2000.

    Seriously, though, the new Revised Romanization is atrocious at representing accurate pronunciation (and I talked about it here but I really should make this a dedicated post.

    I will admit, though, that Ch'ungch'ŏngnam-do is not the prettiest of renderings, which is why I think a new system should include breve-less spellings of McCune-Reischauer with the M-R pronunciation in parentheses. Like this:

    Chungchongnam-do (ch'ung•ch'ŏng•nam•do)

    With the Hangul and or Hantcha thrown in for good measure.


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