Corn fed cows, corn syrup, and the end of civilization

Ater a discussion with my sister about health concerns over corn syrup in food and grass vs. corn fed beef I followed up a bit on the Corn Syrup and Corn Fed Cow Continuum ….:

I’d consider this source (the Mayo Clinic dietician) to be “very authoritative” and when I find these sources I don’t need to look much farther because they keep up on the research and have little reason to distort things.    There are exceptions to this and you need to be careful not to trust authorities when they are advising on things they are NOT authoritative about..but…

To me it suggests something I routinely find to be the case on these issues:   They are of minor rather than major concern, but many bright people choose (for reasons I do not understand) to *focus* on a narrow aspect of the overall health (or other scientifically defined) issues.

There’s a lot online about Grass fed beef that suggests it is healthier than corn fed.   Unfortunately the papers tended to look at grass fed meat composition rather than the long terms effects of that composition on human health, so for me this probably falls into the category of a small enough difference that I’d prioritize this far, far below what I’d argue are the big three: exercise, total caloric intake, and fat to calorie ratio.    I also understand that a daily multi-vitamin is good idea and would suggest that is likely enough to make a difference that we should take one.

The gist of my argument is simple and I’d suggest pretty obvious to an open mind:   If you care about your health you should spend most of your health-related thinking working to balance exercise, total caloric intake, and fat to calorie ratio such that your BMI stays below 25, a well established health milestone.   Secondarily, you should generally take a multi-vitamin.

Lastly, at the risk of sounding kooky because this type of thing normally falls into the kooky thinking realm, I think you can make a case that most of us should probably be taking resveratrol, an antioxidant that was shown to provide simply extraordinary life extension benefits in mice.   Although I normally think this kind of thing is goofy the early results for this substance are so compelling it’s foolish to ignore it (for the same reason it is foolish to *pay attention to* the largely bogus claims of most vitamin and nutrition therapies).

There may be some other compelling science I’m not familiar with but my point is that fretting over trivial things like trace chemicals in food, organic food issues, and even non-trivial but small issues like corn beef being fattier and corn syrup are *probably*, though not certainly, a waste of health thinking time because these factors are *swamped out* by the big three listed above:
(exercise, total caloric intake, fat to calorie ratio), and vitamin supplements.

Also note that I’m excluding cases where somebody has a deficiency or a disease that should affect their diet.   For example lactose intolerant folks should obviously not eat cheese or drink milk unless they take enzymes to help digest it.   Normally those are healthy foods but they are …. ugly foods for some people.

Also I’d note another obvious item – biology plays a big role in health that remains very poorly understood.   A poster gal for horrible diet and no exercise will often thrive for many years and will often outlive a LOT of joggers with great BMI and diets.  A poster perfect diet and exercise routine will affect your biology but I’d guess won’t trump it.    Hmmm – this would be interesting to review as identical twin study.   If I’m right, you’ll find identical twins will tend to die close to the same age regardless of their lifestyle.  It seems you could use twin studies to tease out the biology vs lifestyle factors.

8 thoughts on “Corn fed cows, corn syrup, and the end of civilization

  1. Hey there Joe – good question, and good observations. I think you are right in one respect in particular – that of keeping focused on those “big three” is of course paramount.

    That said, on high fructose corn syrup specifically, I am one of those people that focus on it. But in my mind, for good reason. My reservations are not only health-based but increasingly morally and ethically based – the environmental and social costs of our love affair with the unnecessarily subsidized overproduction of corn is costing us not only in environmental terms, but in tax dollars – nearly all of which goes to big industry, not small farmers. Corn overproduction is linked to significant health and environmental impact on critical U.S. growing regions that utilize industrial petroleum-based fertilizers. In other words, for me it goes well beyond just the health reasons.

    I am mid-swing in a series on it at Almost Fit (link’s in my signature), and there are *significant* health issues as well that are easily obscured by counter studies that are conducted under the direction of the Corn Refiners Association, not to mention their current $30 Million dollar ad campaign to try to convince consumers that HFCS is good for you. To be frank (and risk sounding “kooky”) I think HFCS is one of the principle reasons for the obesity epidemic in this country for one simple reason, all studies aside: HFCS is added to 80% of the food products sold in the U.S., which means that nearly everything we eat contains some form of sugar (fructose, in particular). That makes overconsumption almost guaranteed, because the more sugar you consume, the more your body craves it. And again, that only benefits one side – the seller. As long as we continue to overconsume sugar in any form, we’re going to be obese, diabetic, and in line for heart disease. To me, dietary fat is a lesser concern that sugar. When you eliminate the majority of sugar (HFCS or otherwise) from your diet, the eating aspect becomes much more manageable – and your risk factors go way down.

    Again, I am living proof of this: I’ve lost 25 lbs this year by doing one thing: eating real food in moderation, which is my focus on Almost Fit. I’ve eliminated HFCS completely as part of that picture, and as expected, the big three you rightly mention are much easier to manage.

    That said, on a political note, I am not in favor of legislation on it; I am in favor of educating myself and making a personal decision. So for me, part of the reason I focus on it is because I feel it is my obligation to do so – take responsibility for my health, and put my money where my mouth is, instead of just “blaming the Man”. But, sometimes I can’t help but blame him a little. 😉

  2. Kooky thinking?
    Just about all the studies are funded by someone whose impartiality is in doubt. Is Sucralose safe? Almost all the research is funded by Tate and Lyle, the manufacturer of it. Is HFCS safe? Well, we all remember those tobacco executives saying under oath nicotine is not addictive. Will someday HFCS executives be in a similar situation? I don’t know.
    As with anything we often mis-allocate concerns about risk.
    Sit and read an article about corn syrup? Well, exercise is a better activity.
    Balanced diet? Modern convenience foods alter our ‘normal’ diet.
    What is optimal in health versus reasonble given commercial realities of food processing and shelf-life? Healthy green vegetables or processed salad greens?
    Hypertension? Some researchers say our “normal” values are skewed and western industrialized nations should consider as normal the values of vegetarians in agrarian poverty-stricken areas.
    Anti-oxidants? Great advertising buzzword. Most antioxidants in large amounts are Pro-oxidants. If you drive one reaction in the cell what are you doing to other reactions? I’ve posted before about the Gers region of France having the highest number of octogenarians and also the wine with the highest antioxidant levels from 100% Tannat grapes.
    Avoid HFCS? How? Its everywhere.

  3. I notice that you didn’t write on the fact that at least 90% of corn products are now genetically modified including all corn syrup corn flour etc.It has been shown to genetically alter the bacteria living in our gut and the rest of our bodies may not be far behind.with all the digestive problems-cronic heartburn,acid reflux,crohn’s and general gas and bloating I wonder if we shouldn’t be looking at GM foods as a possible culprit.I seem to feel run down and a little nauseous when I eat corn now and have even stopped eating popcorn.

  4. I watched a program on my local PBS station, the title of the program was King Corn. Did it ever open my eyes to HFCS.

    The problem with High Fructose Corn Syrup becoming more intrusive into America’s Food Chain was during the Nixon adminstration and under his Secretary of Agriculture Mr. Butts. Butts encouraged larger farms…the beginning of the end of alot of Family Farm.

    The Soda companies were pushing for farmers to grow larger crops of a fairly new breed of Corn the gave hiher yeilds of corn syrup. The result was lager farms, more corporations getting into farming this type of corn crop and more and more food manufactuers dropping the use of cane surgar and switching to the much cheaper corn syrup.

    The PBS show did interviews with Iowa corn growers of the new hybrid od corn with the hybrid of high yeild corn syrup.

    To a farmer they said the corn they were growing was “crap, poor quality, not good for the cows and not edible for human consumption”.

    The University of Iowa AG school show a live cow where they had had safely exposed it’s stomach’s (yes all 3!) and were studing the effects of feeding the cow the (HFCS) hybrid of corn…the cow could not properly digest the corn and after a period of time it would eventually cause the death of the cow!!!

    This they said the cattle farmers and stockyards usually butcher the cattle at about 18 to 24 months of age.

    After watching this PBS show I quit eating food products with HFCS, I read food products ingredients label and you have to be very careful, HFCS is almost everyware.

    Six months after cuting out HFCS I have lost 40 pounds, with no change to my daily schedule.

    Now I am on watch for Salt content, It is unbeliveable the levels of salt food manufactuer are putting into food to raise their “Favor Level”.

    The USDA and the FDA need to step in and stop this trend of higher and higher salt levels in food portion.

    I have been checking food packagaging I saved from food companies I use to work for over the years…part of my personal business porfolio…I worked in the food manufactuering business for 31 years before I retired 8 years ago. Salt as a ingredient (Look at the whole label, there is salt inside the tomato product, in the cheese, in the “naturally Flavorings, etc.) by my calculations has increased by about 42% on the products I could compare with from 15 years ago.

    I feel better I feel more fit, so I will keep on cutting out corn syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup and keeping my salt content low and making sure I keep Mrs. Dash in stock i my cupboard.

    • Cudos to Jim Watkins! I also saw the PBS show about the unedible corn fed to the cattle for slaughter. What an eye opener! I was looking on the internet to see if I could find any mention of it. After searching for a least 45 minutes I found your comments. You have to take a little more time in the super market reading labels but it’s worth it. It’s amazing what ingredients you find
      in that sometimes very long list. I only hope many, many people read your

  5. If you can for one moment step out of your behavior and look at the inputs and outputs into our awareness and body, we might find that the usual cultural programing is killing us. They, in this case the FDA, tell us to eat breakfast lunch and dinner. Many grains, they say. but largely the grain food that is provided is so depleted of what our body needs due to processing, it is more harmful than good.

    Think about the usual breakfast options, especially those targeted at kids: waffles, french toast, cereals, 90% of which are corn syrup based, bagels, toaster pastries… and then try and feed your kid healthy alternatives once they have had a good dose of the sugar, and see where you end up. They get the sweet stuff at grandparents homes, friends, and at school. Just imagine trying to feed your child the following for breakfast:

    egg white omelet & cucumber, spinach-plum bites.

    feed them eggs, they clamor for bacon, and also for cheese in the omelets… and then toast, with fatty butter, and high fructose corn syrup, and fried potatoes, with catsup and its serving of high fructose corn syrup…

    Why do I trash high fructose corn syrup? Have you heard what it does to a cow’s stomach when they are in the feed lots? But on a more personal experience, the effects of high fructose corn syrup is in creating more appetite for the product, rather than satiating any hunger. Have a bowl of fruit loops. Have another: still feel like you’re hungry? Yes, I do. Its because our bodies don’t handle the high fructose corn syrup well, kind of like how the body has a hard time processing partially hydrogenated oils, it has a hard time with this stuff in chemical breakdown.

    The theory goes like this: The body processes the fructose in high fructose corn syrup differently than it does old-fashioned cane or beet sugar, which in turn alters the way metabolic-regulating hormones function. It also forces the liver to kick more fat out into the bloodstream.

    and more of a chemical approach can be found here:

    So, how do we feed our kids in light of the pressure from the community and the culture and their own strong voices, to continue to poison them??? That is where we have to find our strength, and pay both the financial price of better choices and the price of inconvenience.

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