Since you’ll never find the film King Corn in theatres, I strongly urge you to rent this important independent documentary (netflix has it here). It certainly was an eye opener for me.
I’d always known that high fructose corn syrup is bad for us, but King Corn reassured me the problem was actually much worse.
King Corn follows two friends who become interested in corn when they learn from a food scientist that because they’ve been unknowingly eating so many corn-derived products, they themselves are now largely corn. The scientist performs a hair analysis on one of them and says something like, “Yes, you are corn.”
To the friends’ surprise, each of their great grandfathers had farmed corn in the same Iowa county decades ago, so they head to the Midwest, where they rent a single acre of a corn field, grow corn, and follow their crop’s travels after the harvest. Along the way, we all learn a great deal about America’s single largest agricultural commodity.
Here’s some of the cheerless data:
- Most of our immense government-subsidized corn crop is inedible to humans, used mainly for animal feed and to make high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
- Corn-fed beef is the fattiest and least nutritious. A visual comparison between corn-fed and grass-fed beef makes you squirm. Plus, corn is so bad for cattle that one rancher remarks: it’s a good thing we slaughter them–they’d be dead from this diet in six months anyway. The food scientist reminds us that a hamburger is just a “slab of grilled fat,” as the protagonists nervously chow down a bacon cheeseburger.
- The original species of corn grown in the US (from Mexico) was a rich protein source and actually good for us. The corn currently grown is a high-glycemic (read: sugary) simple carbohydrate with minimal nutritional value.
- Because we have so much corn and because HFCS is so cheap to make, it’s replaced cane sugar as our sweetener. Food manufacturers use it in bizarre ways (to “brown” a loaf of bread or sweeten cole slaw).
- If you shop the aisles of a grocery store (as opposed to the healthier outside ring), it’s hard to find products without HFCS.
- It’s our soaring intake of high fructose corn syrup that’s likely responsible for our epidemics of obesity and diabetes. HFCS actually tricks the body into storing more fat.
- If you think ethanol is a good idea, the film shows that the amount of overall work needed to produce ethanol from corn ends up actually burning more energy sources than it creates.
Your best bet? Eliminate HFCS from your life. The single largest source is sweetened drinks, including soft drinks and sweetened fruit drinks. I must admit it was a real challenge for me to find even a breakfast cereal without any sweetener–the two were shredded wheat and puffed rice. (Homemade oatmeal remains one of your best choices.)
If you’re a beef eater, stick to grass-fed beef. It runs a bit more, but you can offset the extra cost by reducing the amount you eat.