Monday, June 21, 2010

Sweet Surprise?

Thanks to a coworker, I recently came across the website which was developed by the Corn Refiners Association of America to educate consumers about "the facts about high fructose corn syrup". It has been a long time since I have been this shocked by corporate nutrition messaging. This website argues for the idea that high fructose corn syrup is no worse for you than regular sugar. I beg to differ...

The authors of the site have done their homework; they have listed every major argument against the consumption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and created a rebuttal. The website is an astounding feat of defense - obviously manufacturers are hearing the battle cry of consumers wanting to take back their food. Poor consumers, don't you realize that you are mistaken in thinking that completely novel products of technology shouldn't be a part of your diet?

Let's be honest...refined sugar isn't that great for you either. And the core argument of the website is that HFCS is nutritionally equivalent to refined sugar (way to aim low, guys!). But the process of obtaining juice from sugar cane is a pretty simple one that humans have been using for centuries. And evaporated cane juice is a fairly unprocessed sweetener that does not require chemical intervention. It contains sucrose, which is a naturally occurring molecule that consists of one glucose and one fructose, linked together.

HFCS starts out as corn...which becomes corn starch...which is then processed to convert the glucose to fructose. Then that high fructose (90%) product is cut with corn syrup until the desired level of fructose is reached. Boil corn...and you get cereal...not HFCS.

The site also offers plenty of research and expert opinion in favour of the idea that HFCS is no different than sugar. Buyer beware: there are new studies published every day to provide proof to either side of the HFCS debate. However, simply because a study gets published in a peer reviewed journal does not mean it was a high quality study. And scientific fact does not a single study make. Do a search on "high fructose corn syrup and obesity" on PubMed and you will see what I mean.

We need to take a step back and tap into some good old fashioned common sense: HFCS is the poster child for much larger problems. We are a society of hyper-processed starch junkies. So many of the foods we eat (breakfast cereals, baked goods, granola bars, crackers...) are simply a rearrangement of sugar, starch and artificial flavours and colours and texturizers. This is what is primarily responsible for our health woes. HFCS is also representative of a larger system of corporate domination of agriculture: from GM seeds that rob farmers of their autonomy to corporations benefiting from crop subsidies resulting in incredibly cheap ingredient components to make ridiculously unhealthy foods which they spend billions on advertising to ensure we fill our grocery cart with them. Many great documentaries and books exist on these topics filled with eloquent arguments which I couldn't possibly do justice.

Is HFCS a bad idea? Definitely. We will ever have unequivocal evidence of that fact? Maybe...maybe not.

So let's make a deal: avoid HFCS and foods that reek of processed sugars and starches in general and we will all be healthier, okay? Eat real food...and don't sweat the rest.

Time for you to weigh in on this juicy topic...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Nutrition ABCs: Broccoli

Image from the mysterious pro-broccoli website...

Once so beloved as a superfood, now it seems like we have all but abandoned broccoli for brooding winter greens and exotic tropical berries. Dating back to the Roman Empire, broccoli belongs to the family Cruciferae, which refers to its Cross like shape.  

Broccoli deserves to be back on your nutrition radar: loved by kids and adults alike (sorry Elmo!), broccoli lends itself to a diverse range of cuisines, preparation techniques and is one of the best research vegetables in terms of chronic disease prevention. 

Rich in anti-oxidants for healthy aging and loaded with vitamins and minerals for optimal health, broccoli is one of those foods that should find its way into your diet at least a few times a week. Need more inspiration to rekindle the love for this emerald crucifer? Read on...

Sulphoraphane A sulphur containing compound that helps activate Phase 2 enzymes in the liver responsible for detoxification and elimination, a new study in the journal Clinical Cancer Research (May 1, 2010 16(9): 2580-90) confirms that high doses of sulphoraphane are able to eliminate breast cancer stem cells (CSCs) and stop tumour production. Sulphoraphane may also inhibit H.Pylori infection, a leading cause of stomach ulcers.

Indole-3-Carbinol I3C is another anti-cancer powerhouse: I3C has been also been shown in clinical research to suppress breast cancer development, especially in estrogen sensitive tumour types. (Most recent publication? Click HereI3C may also have a role to play in suppressing the growth of prostate cancer.

Folate An important nutrient for women who may become pregnant, folate reduces the risk of spinal cord defects in the fetus. Folate is also essential for healthy cell cycle regulation and DNA repair. 1 cup of broccoli contains 94 mcg of folate.

Calcium On a gram by gram basis, broccoli is richer in calcium than milk! Not just for healthy bones, calcium is critical for muscle contraction, healthy nerve transmission and even blood pressure regulation. The vitamin C in broccoli also helps to aid in calcium absorption.

Vitamin C Richer in vitamin C than oranges, 1 cup of broccoli contains 123 mg of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps build collagen for healthy skin, supports immune health and wound healing and aids in absorption of vegetarian iron sources (non-heme iron).

Magnesium Looking for more magnesium? Broccoli packs a punch here too! One cup contains 39 mg of this calming nutrient; magnesium is also important for a healthy heart, blood sugar regulation and muscle contraction.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin These anti-oxidant phytochemicals are critical for eye health and may help prevent age related macular degeneration and cataracts, leading causes of blindness in later years.

Want to get healthier? Eat broccoli! Try to eat 1 cup of broccoli 3 times a week; enjoy it raw, steamed, stirfried or roasted! Avoid overcooking as the sulphur compounds will be degraded and you can tell by the telltale sulphurous odour. Look for vibrant green stems that are firm and eat promptly - many nutrients, such as vitamin C, degrade quickly when stored. Local broccoli not in season? Frozen broccoli is a great option as it is picked at the peak of freshness...lightly cook directly from the frozen state for best results.

If there are any requests for a "C" post...let me know! Some interesting options: Carotenoids, Co-Enzyme Q10, Calorie, Carbohydrate and more....

Eat's summer!