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High-Fructose Corn Syrup


qwertyy
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I'll bite: what's wrong with high-fructose corn syrup? Why is the anti-HFCS movement so vehement? Is it health issues? Or the issue of government subsidies? If so, do folks also avoid soy and wheat and other sectors receiving sizable support? Michael Pollan recently said that there was nothing "intrinsically" wrong with it and that it's no worse that sugar. So what's the hubbub? (I'm honestly asking here because I'm wondering if there's a side of the issue I'm just not getting.)

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I'm too lazy to dig up links... My concerns are the use of gmo-corn. The only way to know it isn't gmo-corn is to get organic corn. (And I think that isn't 100 percent anymore.). There were reports of mercury in HFCS caused by the processing.

So I try to avoid it. It limits the amount of packaged foods we eat. And that doesn't bother me because I'm worried about bpa in cans anyway.

(I'm totally the paranoid foodie parent...)

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I'm turned off by the unnatural use of HFCS. In high school I worked at the main cafeteria at Sesame Place (theme park based on Sesame Street). To make lemonade we mixed large containers of some unknown concentrate and a whole bunch of clear HFCS. I try to think of that disgusting, sticky process whenever I feel a craving for soda or some other processed food that has corn sugar in it for unknown reasons. Sensory experience>abstract debate (for me).

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As the Mayo clinic story from a couple of years ago indicates, there is some evidence, though not yet enough, that the way your body processes HFCS is different than natural sugar. A lot more research is needed, but it may affect things such as insulin production, mineral losses and absorption, and be linked to IBS.

However, because of it's amazing stability and shelf life, and low cost (due primarily to corn farm subsidies in the US, another reason those have to end), it's being used in a lot of products that wouldn't normally have sugar, but as a preservative, not as a sweetener. That's the larger concern, to me, and why I try to avoid packaged foods as much as possible.

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As the Mayo clinic story from a couple of years ago indicates, there is some evidence, though not yet enough, that the way your body processes HFCS is different than natural sugar. A lot more research is needed, but it may affect things such as insulin production, mineral losses and absorption, and be linked to IBS.

However, because of it's amazing stability and shelf life, and low cost (due primarily to corn farm subsidies in the US, another reason those have to end), it's being used in a lot of products that wouldn't normally have sugar, but as a preservative, not as a sweetener. That's the larger concern, to me, and why I try to avoid packaged foods as much as possible.

Actually, it's not corn subsidies. It's sugar subsidies, specifically high duties on imported sugar (effectively preventing cheaper international sugar from being imported into the US) that are the problem. While the cost ratio between sugar and HFCS has changed more recently, for many years domestic sugar was just way more expensive, and there wasn't enough being produced to sweeten all those drinks as well as all other uses. The sugar subsidies made the Fanjul family stinking rich, and did little else. So now we are where we are.

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There is a large and growing body of research about HFCS and why it's very concerning in terms of impact on the environment and human health. The Mayo Clinic work DanielK cites is work I know but it's far from limited to that. HFCS is increasingly seen as a likely primary cause of the obesity and diabetes epidemics in America. We perhaps know more about long term impact of sugar than of HFCS but the latter is likely even more concerning due to what is both known and still unknown. One common sensical and unscientific view is that sugar, while perhaps still best to minimize in the diet, isn't as dangerous as HFCS is simply human history. Humans have been consuming sugar since at least the 5th century and, anecdotally, we all know of many people who consumed it regularly and lived to be 80-100, etc. Nevertheless, for the OP and anyone else interested, I'd suggest a few sources to get a quality backstory on this.

I've never read or heard Pollan say HFCS was alright or the same as sugar. He has written and spoken extensively with the opposite perspective in "Omnivore's Dilemma," "In Defense of Food" and even last week at the Strathmore, where I saw him speak and where he mocked HFCS in his opening, humorous riff. If you've never read Pollan, Omnivore's Dilemma is the one with which to start. It's an easy, substantive and fascinating read. Pollan is a journalist very knowledgeable about science (and not a scientist). He brings a very sensible, straightforward, engaging yet authoritative style to warning about processed foods and the value of what he terms "real foods." Real foods, according to Pollan, don't have 25 ingredients and are typically found on the perimeter of the grocery store where the fruits, vegetables and other unprocessed foods like dairy, meat, and seafood reside. Part of what Pollan and scientists have pointed out is that HFCS is crazily ubiquitous in our society, used in huge numbers of processed food products (many of which don't even taste sweet) and even in packaging materials like FDA-approved plastics. As DanielK pointed out, this is done not just because HFCS is a cheaper sweetener than sugar (the Coke and Pepsi motivation) but also due to its value as a preservative. Again there, "real food" isn't very shelf stable. Cheese, fish, produce, orange juice, etc, aren't suppose to last for months or without refrigeration.

Refined sugar has a separate but related set of issues. Gary Taubes is a scientist and writer with degrees from Harvard, Stanford and Columbia. He has written extensively for Science (a/the leading scientific journal) and authored a NY Times Sunday Magazine cover story last April titled "Is Sugar Toxic In that piece, This is a great read. In the article, he also cites Robert Lustig, an MD on faculty as full professor at UCSF. Lustig has been a highly credible and leading voice against sugar and HFCS. His video lecture on the topic, titled "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," has over 1.7million views on YouTube and is also very worthwhile for anyone interested in learning more about this.

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I've never read or heard Pollan say HFCS was alright or the same as sugar.

See link in my initial post.

"I've done a lot to demonize it," [Pollan] says. "And people took away the message that there was something intrinsically wrong with it. A lot of research says this isn't the case. But there is a problem with how much total sugar we consume." High-fructose corn syrup is cheaper than sugar, so it traditionally was pumped into a lot of foods, including savory items.

"It shows the brilliance of the industry, which is always a couple of steps ahead of me," Pollan says. "They started giving products made of real sugar health claims and [are] trying to make sugar look good." And that is a problem.

In the same interview, he cites both the demonization of high-fructose corn syrup and the craze for gluten-free products as examples of the fadishness of nutritional thinking. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of high-fructose corn syrup. It's not like Pollan's encouraging people to run out and buy a case of Mountain Dew. But it does strike a blow to the argument that "real sugar" is vastly preferable to corn syrup.

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A side note: Dame Edna brought home a box of Harris Teeter brand rosemay and olive oil "triscuits" which tasted oddly sweet. Sure enough, in the ingredient list was either sugar or HFCS (don't remember which). Just bizaare and completely unnecessary. What on Earth were they thinking?

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A side note: Dame Edna brought home a box of Harris Teeter brand rosemay and olive oil "triscuits" which tasted oddly sweet. Sure enough, in the ingredient list was either sugar or HFCS (don't remember which). Just bizaare and completely unnecessary. What on Earth were they thinking?

Wheat Thins too. I used to like those things, but when I bought some after having eaten mainly water crackers for a spell, I couldn't believe how sweet they were. Not pleasant at all.

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Really, if you don't read Omnivore's Dilemma, which makes the HFCS ubiquity case in a very effective and engaging way, all you have to do is check a couple dozen different jars, boxes or cans of different processed food products next time in a Giant or Safeway. Items like crackers, breads, soups, beverages, sauces, condiments, frozen dinners, cereals, processed cold cuts, sausages, frozen desserts, etc, etc. all have HFCS because it's cheap, it sweetens, it preserves and it substitutes for higher-cost and higher-value calories and nutrients. When I read Omnivore's dilemma several years ago, it was really eye opening for many reasons, the widespread use of corn in our diet chief among them.

qwertyy, did see the article you'd linked to but I don't think it or anything I've ever come across attributed to Pollan, makes the case that sugar is much better than HFCS. He acknowledges different research but then doesn't backtrack from his longstanding critiques of HFCS. Rather, he points out that his focus on HFCS probably distracted attention from concerns about sugar he's now expressing more. Concerns that have been publicized more by people like Taubes and, especially, Lustig. I personally think that sugar is probably 'less bad' for us in limited quantities (everything real and in moderation feels like a decent guide) but the difference may be marginal. The point being made by Pollan and the scientists is that both substances are problematic for different reasons. We just have more history with sugar.

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all have HFCS because it's cheap, it sweetens, it preserves and it substitutes for higher-cost and higher-value calories and nutrients.

Setting aside the issue that sweetener of one type or another is in WAY too much stuff, the crux of my question is: why is this more of a crime when it's HFCS?

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Setting aside the issue that sweetener of one type or another is in WAY too much stuff, the crux of my question is: why is this more of a crime when it's HFCS?

Right. The Pollan, Taubes and Lustig sources I cited upthread all address (to different degrees) why HFCS is particularly concerning. As Pollan acknowledges, the jury is still out to some degree since HFCS is much newer (than sugar) and since not all researchers agree. I don't think science has yet proven whether HFCS is more or less dangerous than sugar. At the individual level, probably just good to be informed of pros and cons/risks and then decide what to avoid, limit or ignore. Personally, I pretty much (excepting inevitable things snuck into dishes at restaurants where impossible to find out 'what's really in there') avoid all HFCS due to what I've read and due to the fact that it's the result of a chemical process and not a natural component of real food. I do consume sugar. After all, I'm the milkshake advocate who started that thread. :) But over the past 10+ years, I've really cut down on sugar intake also. Sounds like you're maybe asking which is worse or why HFCS is worse than sugar. I don't think there's a definite answer to that.

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Here are two articles that may help answer the originally posed question as best it can be answered:

First, an MD's anti-HFCS article from Huffpost that directly compares HFCS and sugar with five specific reasons why he feels HFCS is especially dangerous. This same article can also be found here

Second, the industry's response to that same article taking the opposing view (i.e., that HFCS is fine in moderation) with citations*

* in this case, the response comes from the "Corn Refiners Association," which has seven members including major HFCS producers Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland

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I'll bite: what's wrong with high-fructose corn syrup?

The same thing that's wrong w most beef available to US consumers: federal subsidies for corn (plus wheat, soy, cotton and rice) grown by large agribusinesses at the expense of so-called specialty crops such as carrots, kale and other nutritionally dense plants whose growers often struggle to harvest without access to federal assistance. At least, this is the message delivered by Pollan and others that registers most w me. Expedient, less costly methods of producing highly processed food stuffs for the sake of higher profits to those involved in the process drives the delivery of calories to our guts and affects our palates so much that our natural craving for sweets increases and we eschew the subtler flavor profiles of beef from purely grass-fed animals that were the norm before WWII, preferring the greater ummph! that comes from cattle finished on grains that hasten their growth and thus, their demise.

ETA: After writing, I realize I missed quite a bit of this argument over the weekend and that posts have addressed subsidies significantly.

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The same thing that's wrong w most beef available to US consumers: federal subsidies for corn (plus wheat, soy, cotton and rice) grown by large agribusinesses at the expense of so-called specialty crops such as carrots, kale and other nutritionally dense plants whose growers often struggle to harvest without access to federal assistance. At least, this is the message delivered by Pollan and others that registers most w me. Expedient, less costly methods of producing highly processed food stuffs for the sake of higher profits to those involved in the process drives the delivery of calories to our guts and affects our palates so much that our natural craving for sweets increases and we eschew the subtler flavor profiles of beef from purely grass-fed animals that were the norm before WWII, preferring the greater ummph! that comes from cattle finished on grains that hasten their growth and thus, their demise.

ETA: After writing, I realize I missed quite a bit of this argument over the weekend and that posts have addressed subsidies significantly.

And as usual the Sec. of Agriculture has strong ties to big ag. which means not much is going to change from that end.

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Setting aside the issue that sweetener of one type or another is in WAY too much stuff, the crux of my question is: why is this more of a crime when it's HFCS?

Maybe I read this somewhere (Pollan, Nestle?), or came up with it on my own, but HFCS tends to be a marker for highly processed, cheap and nutritionally deficient food. That is, for me at least, why it is viewed in a negative light. Then throw in the other mentioned issues; subsidies, how the body processes it. A "Throwback Pepsi" made with cane sugar is still junk food, but I did buy a 12 pack to see if I could taste the difference, and I generally don't buy or drink soda.

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Setting aside the issue that sweetener of one type or another is in WAY too much stuff, the crux of my question is: why is this more of a crime when it's HFCS?

Possibly because (a few years ago) most of the general public didn't understand nutrition labels, and didn't translate "high fructose corn syrup" into "sugar". Seems obvious to us now, but I remember talking with a lot of people who said something to the effect of "I didn't realize that was sugar!"

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Exactly. More examples here.

Eeee. The chemist in me must say to be careful equating sugar alcohols like mannitol and sorbitol to disaccharides like sucrose. They are all sweeteners, yes, but if you eat a lot of mannitol, you'll have a much different reaction than when you eat a lot of sucrose (i.e., be near a bathroom).

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Eeee. The chemist in me must say to be careful equating sugar alcohols like mannitol and sorbitol to disaccharides like sucrose. They are all sweeteners, yes, but if you eat a lot of mannitol, you'll have a much different reaction than when you eat a lot of sucrose (i.e., be near a bathroom).

Even moreso if you're comparing chemical sweeteners like sorbitol to natural, unadulterated sweeteners like maple syrup and honey, both of which appear on this list. There's a world of difference, danger and benefit between HFCS, white refined sugar and honey in terms of benefits and risks of products available at market. I'm not sure totally fair to call honey, maple syrup or agave (which didn't even make consumerist's list) "code words for sugar." While true they all are or have sugar in them, the implication is that all are equally bad or dangerous and best avoided. Not the case. Education is The Thing. The more scientific articles upthread, written for the general public, are a good place to start.

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Eeee. The chemist in me must say to be careful equating sugar alcohols like mannitol and sorbitol to disaccharides like sucrose. They are all sweeteners, yes, but if you eat a lot of mannitol, you'll have a much different reaction than when you eat a lot of sucrose (i.e., be near a bathroom).

Even moreso if you're comparing chemical sweeteners like sorbitol to natural, unadulterated sweeteners like maple syrup and honey, both of which appear on the consumerist list. There's a world of difference, danger and benefit between HFCS, white refined sugar and honey in terms of benefits and risks of products available at market. I'm not sure totally fair to call honey, maple syrup or agave (which didn't even make consumerist's list) "code words for sugar" as Consumerist does. While true that everything on the list either is or contains sugar, the implication is that all are equally bad or dangerous and thus similarly best avoided. Not the case. Education is The Thing. The more scientific articles upthread, written for the general public, are a good place to start.

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HFCS isn't intrinsically evil, but there is reason to suspect that the companies that put it into soft drinks have chosen profits over the well-being of their customers, in much the same way as the tobacco companies have historically done. Those companies should have to compensate health insurers - federal, state or private - burdened by excess charges directly related to HFCS consumption.

This is not simply a case of people making poor dietary choices; this is about manufacturers taking advantage of biochemistry to sell more product. The consumer is actually a real victim.

On the face of it, HFCS isn't much different from sucrose: a fructose:glucose ratio of 55:45 versus 50:50. But the free fructose in HFCS has no effect on leptin secretion. Adipose tissue, remarkably, acts as though it is a gland in the endocrine system. It secretes the hormones leptin & adiponectin in an inverse fashion, so as to control appetite. The leptin target is receptors in the hypothalamus.

What if one could create junk food that didn't turn off the appetite? If it tasted good, people would consume more than they should. Would that be unethical? I think so, but the urgent issue is the economic burden on society. HFCS is cheaper than sucrose - a health tax on HFCS would go a long way towards rectifying the problem.

I'm always puzzled by people who insist that there are healthy & unhealthy sugars. The villain in HFCS is fructose - the fruit sugar. The free fructose:glucose ratio in a pear is~2:1. A pear is almost 10% sugar. It has a benign role in our diet because we don't consume the equivalent of a couple of six-packs in a day.

What about honey? Fructose & glucose in pretty much the same ratio as sucrose.

The issue with HFCS is not fructose itself (although it is dangerous to the liver in quantity), but that companies have cynically used that form of fructose to get users to overdose. We need them to take responsibility for the wreckage.

-Patrick

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I think there may be more factors to your argument, and that people do not necessarily store or breakdown fructose/HFCS as well as your scenario. I feel like I have read a study on that effect, but do not have the evidence handy. One thought does come to mind: would the HFCS breakdown also rely on the type of corn used or how it's processed?

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I'll bite: what's wrong with high-fructose corn syrup? Why is the anti-HFCS movement so vehement? Is it health issues? Or the issue of government subsidies? If so, do folks also avoid soy and wheat and other sectors receiving sizable support? Michael Pollan recently said that there was nothing "intrinsically" wrong with it and that it's no worse that sugar. So what's the hubbub? (I'm honestly asking here because I'm wondering if there's a side of the issue I'm just not getting.)

I'll bite, too: why are people so riled up about corn but not about soybeans?

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I'll bite, too: why are people so riled up about corn but not about soybeans?

Two possible reasons I'll throw out there (different sides of the same coin): (1) Corn has become generally vilified in the popular mind because of the concern (legitimate or not) about HFCS, which has corn in its name and thus is more in-your-face -- there is no soybean analogue to HFCS; (2) corn is well known to everyone since we all consume large quantities regularly, while soybeans are much more opaque to most people, who seldom consume soy directly anyway and even less in things have soy in their name (soy sauce being the exception), so mostly don't know where it fits into their diet.

How many people know that "vegetable oil" is primarily from soybeans, or that tofu is soy. And how many people in the general population eat tofu anyway, or use much soy sauce. Few I suspect.

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How many people know that "vegetable oil" is primarily from soybeans, or that tofu is soy. And how many people in the general population eat tofu anyway, or use much soy sauce. Few I suspect.

For those trying to stick to a vegetarian, or vegan, diet you would be wrong. Tofu and soy sauce are consumed in large quantities in our house and, I suspect, in the homes of people trying to cut down on red meat but not protein. I'll just say that it's a very good thing that neither Dame Edna nor I am allergic to either soya beans or gluten. We have become quite familiar with all types of miso, soy sauce, and tofu in all their various forms. And, my vegan "sausages" are made with gluten and soy. If we had to avoid either soy or gluten, we would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

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For those trying to stick to a vegetarian, or vegan, diet you would be wrong. Tofu and soy sauce are consumed in large quantities in our house and, I suspect, in the homes of people trying to cut down on red meat but not protein. I'll just say that it's a very good thing that neither Dame Edna nor I am allergic to either soya beans or gluten. We have become quite familiar with all types of miso, soy sauce, and tofu in all their various forms. And, my vegan "sausages" are made with gluten and soy. If we had to avoid either soy or gluten, we would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Half a cup of tofu has 15 mg of sodium, but soy sauce is loaded with it. What happens in the fermentation process that adds so much sodium?

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Had dinner with a friend in L.A. who is apparently doing the "paleo" diet to avoid taking diabetes medication. So no carbs at all, no dairy, sugar or any legumes (ie. no soy products). She eats meat, fish, eggs and non-starchy vegetables. I wonder what she would eat for protein if she were also vegetarian or vegan. Nuts? I know it would undoubtedly improve my health if I were to do the same, but I can't imagine living with such restrictions. Variety is just too important to me, and I would have to cook two separate meals because my +1 wouldn't eat like that. I strive for moderation.

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Had dinner with a friend in L.A. who is apparently doing the "paleo" diet to avoid taking diabetes medication. So no carbs at all, no dairy, sugar or any legumes (ie. no soy products). She eats meat, fish, eggs and non-starchy vegetables. I wonder what she would eat for protein if she were also vegetarian or vegan. Nuts? I know it would undoubtedly improve my health if I were to do the same, but I can't imagine living with such restrictions. Variety is just too important to me, and I would have to cook two separate meals because my +1 wouldn't eat like that. I strive for moderation.

I think your approach is very sensible.

Why is it that so many folks' dietary choices these days seem to be so influenced by fads and popular, but totally non-scientific, ideas, particularly given that many of these ideas appear to be at odds with each other, such as your paleo/vegan example?

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I think your approach is very sensible.

Why is it that so many folks' dietary choices these days seem to be so influenced by fads and popular, but totally non-scientific, ideas, particularly given that many of these ideas appear to be at odds with each other?

I know this was probably a rhetorical question, but the poor quality of science education in this country probably has something to do with it.

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I know this was probably a rhetorical question, but the poor quality of science education in this country probably has something to do with it.

I saw a cable tv celebrity on a mindless talk show <I know, I know> so pleased with herself that she had been gluten-free for a year and was even drinking gluten-free wine (!?) When I hear things like that I remind myself that the median IQ in this country is 100.
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We've so bifurcated the bulk of food consumption from the realities of food production that we end of up all sorts of weird rules about what to eat. It's fine to eat potatoes if you also have to plant those potatoes and dig those potatoes up and store enough of them in a root cellar (that you also had to dig out) so that you had some to last you through until spring and be able to not starve and replant the eyes of the last few for next year's crop. As opposed to driving to the store and buying 5-10 pounds and walking 15 feet to the checkout counter and 15 feet into the house from the car and that's the sum total of the exercise and restraint involved.

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I'll bite, too: why are people so riled up about corn but not about soybeans?

It's a little irrational. Seemingly, corn is evil but soy merely bad.

With corn, we cannot avoid its influence. Easy to forgo softdrinks with HFCS, but our favorite meats are likely to be marbled with fat from corn-fattening. The beef feedlots produce a nice product, but the effect is to raise levels of omega-6 fatty acids & reduce omega-3. This contributes to the many inflammatory diseases that are so common these days. Wouldn't be a problem if we died young. Grass-fed beef is a different animal. For those making the transition, the subject becomes a little emotional. Paranoia can easily set in.

Even in Argentina, where one's steak was supposed to be grazing on lush pasture two days earlier, the feed lots are taking hold.

Why is corn evil? It started a half-century ago when corn oil replaced saturated fats. For most, there was already precious little omega-3 in the diet, but omega-6 and omega-3 are competitive. Raise one & you edge out the other. Some say that we should have the same ratio as in a hunter-gatherer diet - game tends to have a 1:1 ratio. We tend to get 16:1.

With cheap corn-fed beef, the problem snowballed. It's an attractive product. When I came to the U.S. in 1974, who ate fish? A steak restaurant might offer flounder for the ladies. Good luck finding omega-3 in that.

Soy is as big a problem, but only for those who think that it is heathy to eat soy. Traditional soy products are fermented. Soy has anti-nutritional qualities that must be countered.

Genistein (from soy) is a phytoestrogen. Traditional soy-eating cultures do not eat a ton of soy. We don't know how kids raised on soyburgers will be affected by its estrogenic properties. Genistein is also goitrogenic. Our iodine status needs to be in good shape to withstand a high intake. Thyroid problems can really mess you up.

With corn. we see the effect of the past 50 years. With soy, we are still on the learning curve. Soy is creeping in everywhere. The next generation will learn whether this has been a mistake.

Don's question needs an answer. Soy is the new corn. IMO. Where is the outrage? Enough about corn!

-Patrick

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It's a little irrational. Seemingly, corn is evil but soy merely bad.

...

Don's question needs an answer. Soy is the new corn. IMO. Where is the outrage? Enough about corn!

-Patrick

Is there any downside to using garbanzos as the primary source of protein?

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