Are grains, not fructose, the new Public Enemy #1?

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • Fructose, especially high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been trending for some time as a significant contributor to obesity.  In fact, many consumers and some food experts insist that the way the human body processes HFCS, it does cause some kind of negative metabolic impact, that in turn fuels obesity.  There is no doubt that processed and refined foods have significant amounts of this specific sweetener.  And there is no doubt, that in an effort to reduce consumption of trans fats and saturated fats, we use salt and sugars to bump up flavor.  In general, Americans also eat a lot of grain carbohydrates – cereals, pasta, rice, baked breads, cakes, cookies, crackers.  We consume many servings of these foods on a regular basis.  And even when choosing the so-called healthier versions of these grain foods like brown rice, high protein pasta, oatmeal and other nutritious grain-based foods, you are probably eating too many servings daily, in the name of health and let's face it, satisfaction.  In fact, experts suggest that eating baked goods in lieu of fats and putting a health halo on foods like brown rice, whole grain breads and high fiber cereals, may in fact be a huge weight booster and fueling the ongoing obesity trends.  Maybe even more so than the enemy called fructose.

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    I remember when the fat ban began, back in the 80s.  I can recall the first Snackwell boxes of cookies on the shelves – fat free and delicious – and seeing women leave the supermarkets with entire cartloads of the fat-free, baked treats.  It was obvious that the “fat devil” was being replaced by “the fat free devil.”  What’s now become more insidious? The healthy grain market and the gluten free market.  Grains, even healthy ones or those with gluten removed, still have calories and still require portion control  What's also required is some attention to the number of servings one has daily.  Exercising can allow you to eat a few more calories, but exercise and healthier labels do not counterbalance overeating.  And researchers suggest that the easy availability of grain carbs, and the fact that they are easily portable and non-perishable, cheap to make and buy, and especially momentarily filling make them the go-to foods for comfort.  It is conceivable that to some extent we have been fingering fructose as a unique culprit, when in fact, it’s the over-consumption of grains that is the bigger deal in our growing waistlines.  And to broaden the discussion even further, it may be simply too many calories, whatever their source, that is fueling obesity to a large extent.  Sure it helps to identify the specific foods we may be over-eating, but at the end of the day, it is just too much eating.



    The researchers point out that fructose should not be regarded as benign, nor can it specifically be consumed without regard to its lack of nutrients or its calories, but consumers are seriously n denial regarding how much they are eating and how little they are moving.  That energy imbalance is what causes weight gain.  So despite assertions that HFCS may be addictive, present in too many foods, and basically not a healthy ingredient, we need to recognize that HFCS use has declined in the food sector, with Americans consuming 25% less in 2012 than they did in 1999, but obesity rates did not shift.  The food category that grew most in that decade was grain-based foods, and more recently, healthier grain-based foods.  We do need to digest that reality!!


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    So the message needs to be an overall emphasis of healthier food choices, avoiding deprivation by positioning treat foods in a week’s worth of eating, using portion control for all foods, and determining how many calories you personally need daily in order to lose weight if you are overweight, or in order to maintain your weight, if you are currently at a healthy weight.


    Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch?  Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103.  Catch her guest appearances on local and national news and talk shows, and check out her website.  Follow her blogs.


Published On: November 12, 2013