Every now and again we here at Spinach HQ veer off the straight and narrow path of staunch eco and energy policy and into the more sublime. Or dare we say, more fun.
This item caught our attention because of it’s overlap with food and agriculture, and specifically corn, which has arguably changed more about our ag systems over the past 50 years than any other crop. We’ve all heard the demonization of high fructose corn syrup — HFCS, as its known — for making our bodies unhealthy, our kids fat, and type 2 diabetes more common. Most of that demogoguing came from food and consumption guru Michael Pollan, who’s written a handful of books on how we eat.
Now, Pollan is changing his tune. And while one should shake his head at perpetuating a theory he knew was wrong, we do applaud his effort to correct the record. Here’s what he told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer in an interview this week about HFCS:
“I’ve done a lot to demonize it. And people took away the message that there was something intrinsically wrong with it. A lot of research says this isn’t the case. But there is a problem with how much total sugar we consume…It shows the brilliance of the industry, which is always a couple of steps ahead of me…They started giving products made of real sugar health claims and [are] trying to make sugar look good.”
Since this is a science blog, a quick primer: HFCS is made from corn starch, which is boiled down to make a super sweet syrup of glucose. The a molecular additive of genzemes make the glucose into fructose. Fructose is what’s known as an isomer of glucose: the same molecular formula (C6H22O6) but different molecular structure. Sucrose, or table sugar, on the other hand, has a different molecular recipe: (C12H22O11).
The difference in carbon and oxygen quantities doesn’t inherently make you fatter, or more susceptible to diabetes. The problem has long been that HFCS is easy to mask, so it goes in everything we eat, thus making us consume more sugars than we would normally eat. So Pollan is admitting that it’s the quantity and packaging of HFCS that is bad for us, not the compound itself.
Okay, we’re done with wonky science stuff.