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What about table sugar?

Posted Sep 22 2008 4:35pm
The question of the day is if we are giving up HFCS, why are we still consuming table sugar (aka sucrose) with abandon? It's a question (posed by me to myself) that I've thought a lot about lately.

Good ole table sugar is a plant-produced sugar. Major sources are sugar cane and sugar beets, and minor sources include sweet sorghum and sugar maples. Sucrose is a disaccharide of glucose and fructose - 50% glucose and 50% fructose held together by a glycosidic bond. Sucrose readily breaks down into the sugars glucose and fructose in weak acidic solutions. It's also enzymatically digested to glucose and fructose in our stomachs. While it does have to go the extra step to release the fructose, our bodies really do that quite readily. (See Wikipedia for a pretty good and basic discussion of sucrose.) Everyone knows that you shouldn't eat too much sugar. Overconsumption of sucrose can result in health problems - tooth decay, obesity, and blood sugar regulation problems to name a few.

So, there lies the rub. Why is it that we're bothering to give up HFCS but not sucrose? Sucrose has as much fructose as HFCS, and though it is bound to glucose and takes an extra step to release the fructose, our bodies can do that fairly easily (though some sucrose can pass through the highly acidic environment of our stomachs intact). Is HFCS as evil as it is made out to be or does it get a bad rap because of the types of foods it is in and the quantity that we consume those foods? (You'll remember that excessive HFCS consumption has been linked to high triglycerides, diabetes, obesity, and other health ailments.) I've struggled a little with this.

But here's the thing... giving up HFCS is a BIG step in the right direction. By giving up HFCS, we're cutting out a lot of junk and refocusing our eating energy toward healthier stuff. HFCS seems synonymous with junk food, and for good reason. It seems to turn up in the worst of foods (and rarely in really healthy food) - in large part because of its ease of use and cheapness.

We could, I suppose, decide that we are going to eat HFCS-containing products in moderation, but that is a slippery slope for us, especially with two young children who are very good at nagging until they get what they want. I'm proud that we've been able to purge it from our diets, especially since I know that my kids still get plenty of junk containing HFCS from other sources. Not having that junk at home (while still providing tasty substitutes) makes their junk consumption a little more bearable for us as parents.

Our ultimate goal is a healthier diet. That goal includes reducing our overall sugar consumption. We won't eliminate refined sugar - that goal is too daunting and really not realistic for us with two small children (and my insatiable sugar tooth), plus I don't think that it's necessary - but by moving toward whole foods and healthier processed foods, we will hopefully be reducing the amount of our total sugar consumption in foods over the long term.

There you have it. HFCS is gone from our house for good. Science is unclear as to whether HFCS is the culprit or if it is our enormous consumption of fructose (in the form of HFCS and sucrose) in general that is causing the escalation of health problems, but it is clear that giving up HFCS eliminates a lot of foods that we shouldn't be consuming anyway. So, keep reading! Lots more information and reviews of HFCS-free foods to come!
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