My new favorite Scientist, UCSF pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, MD, argues the obesity epidemic is,
“due to the wide use of fructose by food manufacturers, creating a toxic environment in the Western diet”
Over the past 30 years, total calorie intake of Americans has increased by an average of 150 to 300 calories per day!
In 1970, around 15 percent of the U.S. population met the definition for obesity; today, roughly one-third of the American adults are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Approximately 50% of this increase in total caloric intake comes from liquid calories, primarily sugar-sweetened beverages, laden with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Dr. Lustig contends, since the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup as a cost-effective sweetener in the American diet, not only have rates of obesity dramatically increased, but other leading chronic diseases, cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and polycystic ovarian disease have also skyrocketed.
The reasons behind the obesity epidemic can be linked to historical factors dating as far back to President Richard Nixon and his appointed USDA Secretary of Agriculture Earl “Rust” Butts.
Insufficient physical activity, unhealthy food in schools, marketing of junk foods directed at children—all indeed contribute to the problem, and all have received a high degree of attention by those trying to address obesity. Yet, one significant contributor to obesity has thus far been overlooked: our government’s farm policy.
U.S. Farm Policy and Public Health
For the past 50 years, U.S. farm policy has been increasingly directed toward driving down the price of a few farm commodities, including corn and soybeans. At the same time, prices for fruits and vegetables, grown with relatively little government support, have steadily increased.
Low commodity prices have in turn deeply influenced private investment. The food industry invests in processes that can provide the greatest economic return, and as such it has focused on cheap commodities rather than on more expensive fruits and vegetables.
The problem with the extensive use of these cheap commodities in food products is that they fall into the very dietary categories that have been linked to obesity: added sugars and fats. U.S. farm policies driving down the price of these commodities make added sugars and fats some of the cheapest food substances to produce. High fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oils—products that did not even exist a few generations ago but now are hard to avoid—have proliferated thanks to artificially cheap corn and soybeans.
Whether by intention or not, current farm policy has directed food industry investment into producing low-cost, processed foods high in added fats and sugars. These foods are often more available and more affordable than fresher, healthier choices and, not coincidentally, U.S. consumers are now eating many more added sweeteners and oils than is healthy. Our misguided farm policy is making poor eating habits an economically sensible choice in the short term.
High-fructose corn syrup and refined sugars are found in such a wide range of foods and beverages, including fruit juice, soda, cereal, bread, yogurt, ketchup and mayonnaise that it is difficult and expensive to avoid. A trip to any local supermarket, convenience store or big box store like Walmart or Target demonstrates the truth to this statement and the difficulties associated with trying to avoid added refined sugars and HFCS. Even Whole Foods Markets, a corporation that has driven much of the natural foods competition out of the free markets in this country, has few product choices without added refined sugar or sugar substitutes. In fact, Whole Foods Markets widely propagates misinformation about evaporated cane juice, touting it as
“a healthy alternative to refined sugar…that does not undergo the same degree of processing that refined sugar does, therefore it retains more of the nutrients found in sugar cane.”
|Attribute||evaporated cane juice, 100 g||granulated sugar, 100 g|
|total lipid (fat), g||0||0|
|vitamin C, mg||4||0|
|vitamin A, mg||83||0|
|price, 5 lbs., $||8-10||1-3|
My own recent experience trying to buy a jar of refined sugar free mayonnaise and marinara sauce reinforces this statement. In both instances, I was unable to find refined sugar free choices in either the regular or health food grocery section at my local market, nor at the local Whole Foods market in San Francisco, CA or Omaha, NE.
On average, Americans consume 60 pounds of the sweetener per person every year.
Fructose is a monosaccharide naturally found in fruits and honey. Many consumers mistakenly believe that high-fructose corn syrup is pure fructose. High-fructose corn syrup is composed of either 42% or 55% fructose and is similar in composition to table sugar (sucrose). High-fructose corn syrup is the sweetener commonly used by the beverage industry.
According to Lustig, fructose, a carbohydrate, acts biologically like a fat and a hepato-toxin that worsens obesity, especially in children.
High fructose stimulates the appetite and increases overall food consumption. Similar to highly addictive substances cocaine, tobacco and alcohol we do build a tolerance, thereby increasing the urge for sweetness.
Dr. Lustig’s good research beacons to a new direction in world wide public health policy and thought. Addressing the truth in corporately sponsored, government sanctioned disease!