High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS, is the inexpensive sweetener of choice for many large food manufacturers.  Companies who make HFCS have spent a lot of money on ad campaigns to convince the public that HFCS has the same effects on your body as sugar.  You may have seen ads like the one below starting a couple of years ago.
New research suggests that our bodies do metabolize HFCS differently than regular sugar.  Here are some reasons why it’s best to avoid this food-like item:

Weight Gain, Abdominal Fat.  Several research studies have shown that HFCS makes rats gain weight faster than table sugar.  In addition to the weight gain the (poor) rats had noticeably bigger bellies than their sugar-consuming friends.  This occurred in cases where each test group ate the same amount of total calories.  This means that the HFCS rats ate the same amount of calories as the other rats, yet they gained more weight.  This suggests that our bodies do process HFCS differently than sugar, and not in a good way!

Increased Heart Disease Risk.  A recent study done by the National Institute of Health found that HFCS could increase several risk factors for heart disease.  In a period of just two weeks, healthy young men and women who consumed 25% of their calories in HFCS experienced higher blood triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.

Increased hunger, decreased satiety.  Several animal studies have shown that rats will eat more calories if they are fed HFCS freely.  In one study from the Saint Louis University Liver Center rats that were fed HFCS ate 10% more calories, and weighed almost 50% more than other rats after 16 weeks.  These HFCS rats are really getting a bum deal!

We’ve discussed before how eating a “clean” diet with very few processed foods is best.  It’s easy to avoid HFCS if you choose to fill your plate with fresh produce, whole grains, and lean protein. 
 
A couple of weeks ago we laid out the USDA requirements for fruits and vegetables that are labeled “organic.”  So we know that organic plant foods are grown without pesticides, but what does it mean when dairy products are organic?  Farmers don’t put bug spray on cows… right?

Here’s a translation of the different terms you might see on a milk carton:

Organic means that the dairy cows…
Were not given antibiotics or growth hormones
Were fed 100% organic feed
Had access to pasture (the outdoors)

No rBST or rBGH means that the dairy cows…
Were not given any growth hormones to increase milk production

Grass fed means that the dairy cows…
Were fed through grazing (eating stuff that grows outside)
Were not fed grains or grain byproducts
Had continuous access to pasture

Ultra-pasteurized or UHT means that the milk…
Has been exposed to a very high temperature for a short period of time in order to kill bacteria.
Ultra-pasteurized milk in an aseptic container can keep from spoiling for months, but would you want to drink 6-month old milk?
This process basically turns milk into a different food, so it is not usable for making dairy products like yogurt or cheese at home.

So which one is best to buy?  I would say that organic is ideal, but if it’s too pricey go for a hormone-free milk at minimum.  There isn’t any research that proves it’s harmful to humans, but I don’t think milk from a cow on steroids is part of a wholesome diet.

I think this commercial from Applegate Farms says it all!
 
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Hold on to your seats, I might be about to gross you out a little bit!  Today we’re talking about toxic load, the sum of all the small amounts of chemicals we’re exposed to every day.  Small doses of chemicals don’t have an effect on the body individually, but when the overall toxic load gets large it can start to wreak some havoc on your health.

What I mean by chemicals are fake compounds made in a factory or lab that our body can’t use when they get into our system.  Bisphenol A, or BPA, found in some plastic containers is a good example.  Compounds like BPA stress the body out because they have to be sorted and then kicked out, a process that wastes our body’s resources.  These compounds can also hang out in our bodies for a long time, getting in the way of normal functions.

This is a hard area to research, because we are exposed to chemicals through food, food containers, body care products, and our general environment.  It’s hard for scientists to determine what the offending chemicals are and where they are coming from.  However emerging research has made connections between toxic load and allergies, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, several types of cancer, and more.

Here are some simple ways you can decrease the toxic load in your life:

Wash your produce thoroughly.  Wash all your fruits and vegetables for at least 10 seconds under cold running water before you eat them.  In addition to getting rid of any chemical residue, this will wash off all the germs of the many people who handled that produce before it got to you.

Eat clean.  Eat less packaged foods, don’t buy foods with ingredients you don’t recognize, buy organic when possible.

Use glass or metal containers in place of plastic.  Even BPA-free plastic containers have other chemicals that can leach into your food.

Use natural body care products.  The Environmental Working Group has a great database where you can look up the least (or most) toxic soaps, lotions, and shampoos.  Fake fragrances contain many toxic ingredients, so go fragrance-free or look for something that is scented naturally.

 
If you’re confused about what organic food is and why it may be beneficial, you’re not alone!  Today we’ll talk about what organic means in terms of fruits and vegetables.  Meat, packaged foods, and beauty products are also sometimes labeled organic, but they’re a little bit different so we’ll talk about them another time.

According to the USDA, organic foods are grown:
  • Without using most conventional pesticides (there are still certain ones that are allowed in small amounts)
  • Without fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewer sludge
  • With no bioengineering
  • With no exposure to ionizing radiation

In order to achieve USDA organic certification farms are also required to emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water.  Food from a certified organic farm may have this USDA label on it:

A number of studies have shown that organic foods are richer in various nutrients and antioxidants.  It makes sense that food that is grown without bug spray, sewer sludge, genetic modification, and radiation would be better for us.  I can always tell when I slice into an organic onion that it’s rich in those sulfuric compounds that make me cry!

On the other hand, when cost is an issue- conventional produce is better than no produce at all.  Sometimes local organic asparagus costs $7.99 per pound and I don’t feel like taking out a loan before I go to the grocery store, so I buy conventional and it’s not the end of the world.

Some foods are more affected by pesticides than others.  For a list of which foods are best bought organic, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list.

If you've got 90 minutes and would like to learn more about conventional vs organic foods watch The Future of Food here.