Awfully Sweet

It has been blamed for childhood obesity by Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, hyped by a famous food activist as the cause of environmental catastrophes, and casually called poison by people who want to police our dinner tables. It can be found gracing the ingredients portion of almost every soda can and potato chip bag. And it can now be seen promoted on television through clever ads to convince consumers that it is natural and actually the same exact thing as sugar. Due to mixed information and never ending news casts discussing the controversy over the scientifically made sweetener, consumers seem to be missing the actual facts. So what is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) anyway, and is it good for you or not?
[Pollock]The group of critics against the sweetner seems to be growing as the obesity rate continues to rise in America and around the world. Some say the sweetener has ingredients that trick the body into thinking it is hungry, even after large meals. Others wonder how a sweeter can be the same as sugar if it is artificially made, some going as far as calling it a toxic chemical concoction.
“There are a lot of people who just don’t understand. When it comes to corn, we’ve heard all different kinds of myths,” Jody Pollock, Executive Director of the Michigan Corn Growers Association, said. “Somebody says something and all the sudden its a legitimate concept. We need look at our diets and look at things in moderation. When considering a diet, it’s vital to look at the whole picture. In moderation products with high fructose corn syrup are fine, but consumers also need to incorporate a balance of exercise into their diets.”
Commercials featuring consumers being corrected about the effects of HFCS are now on television as part of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association. One commercial shows a concerned mother warning another mom that HFCS is not good for the kids but when asked why, she cannot quite give a reason for her accusation. Another gives the same scenario with a couple eating popsicles in the park, while yet another shows two brothers sharing bowls of cereal together in the morning discussing the facts of the ingredient. All of the commercials seem to take advantage of the fact that consumers are uneducated about the product and boast that HFCS is, “made from corn, doesn’t have artificial ingredients, and like sugar is fine in moderation.”

The president of the Corn Refiners Association, Audrea Erickson, said the campaign is to “set the record straight. Being led to believe that consuming sugar is better than high fructose corn syrup is not based on fact.”
Critics argue that sugar not being better than high fructose corn syrup is not the point. Some even say that the ads should advertise HFCS as just as bad as sugar, instead of saying it is just as good. “I think they’re hilarious, it reminds me of when big tobacco companies make half-hearted anti-smoking campaigns,” advertising senior Maren Jepson said. “The first time I saw the commercial, I was like is this for real? It seemed like a parody commercial because I didn’t think that HFCS producers would actually make a commercial supporting something that has been blamed for childhood obesity.”
As an advertising major, Jepsen has also learned what might motivate a company to promote a product that has been surrounded by controversy. “I understand the concept of puffery, jargon, and the idea of caveat em tore in ads being an advertising major, however, I also know that most consumers trust televised advertisements as they would trust the news so it’s definitely something that should be observed by advertising regulations boards or committees,” Jepsen said. She also said that HFCS is not something that she tries to avoid, but she does try to drink diet versions of things, because of the calories and not the corn syrup. “But that’s not to say that I don’t know it’s bad for me,” she said.
In an effort to offset the reach that the Corn Refiners Association has on consumers, other groups have sponsored spoof ads on YouTube to give their version of the facts on high fructose corn syrup. Besides making fun of the Corn Refiners Association, the commercials also give a new list of facts that contradict the facts from the televised commercials. For instance in one commercial, sponsored by TheHolisticOption.com, a brother and sister are eating breakfast together. The sister starts eating an apple and the brother warns her that it does not have HFCS in it and then goes on to say, “We need to do our part for the Corn Refiners Association, it’s only right. If we want to keep increasing the rate of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes, we’ll stop questioning its origin and the fact that by the time HFCS enters our bodies it’s already been genetically and chemically modified and bears no resemblance to the actual healthy corn plant that we’re told it initially came from. And since it’s in everything we eat, consuming it in moderation would be impossible.”

The most recent reports on HFCS have helped to put to rest the correlation between the obesity rate in Americans rising and the sweetener. The latest report put out by the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy at Virginia Tech says, “there is no reason to think high fructose corn syrup is worse than regular table sugar or any other sweetener as a contributor to obesity.” Another study put out by the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal found high obesity rates correlated with several other factors, such as the amount of time in front of the computer or television, or the consumption of dietary fat. The studied then said, “those who frequently consumed sweetened beverages — usually containing high fructose corn syrup — did not have a higher risk of obesity. One other study performed by the Nutritional and Scientific Affairs Group found that those who frequently consume sweetened beverages, like soft drinks and punch, had similar obesity rates compared to infrequent users.
“One thing that people don’t often consider is that we have teams of people doing research on subjects relating to corn,” Pollock said. “The Corn Refiners Association wouldn’t promote something that they hadn’t taken the time and effort to research first.”
In another test, the Center for Science in the Public Interests, a consumer advocacy group said, “there’s no nutritional difference between typical table sugar and high fructose.” They instead blamed obesity on the massive quantities that are marketed and consumed by Americans.
Registered dietitian Amy Hanover, who has three young children of her own, said far more research needs to be done on the subject. “A lot of people speaking in the media don’t have a legitimate background in health, it’s time in dive into what the professionals have to say about it,” Hanover said. “What we really need it more research to find out what the definite dangers of it are before we report things and alarm the general public.”
Hanover said that the commercials are misleading some people. “I don’t think consumers should be so quick to run with their campaign, researchers need to look at this whole subject deeper. There used to be positive commercials about margarine saying it’s better than butter. The fact is just because something is from a natural existing product it doesn’t mean that it’s going to react to the body in a healthy way,” she said. “The fact is the body doesn’t handle large amounts of fructose well. Liver function worsens and there is also evidence of high levels of fructose elevating levels of fats, which can cause heart disease.”
The process for making the sweetener high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) out of corn was developed in the 1970s. Use of HFCS grew rapidly, from less than three million short tons in 1980 to almost 8 million short tons in 1995. During the late 1990s, use of sugar actually declined as it was eclipsed by HFCS. Today Americans consume more HFCS than sugar. The use of high fructose corn syrup has increased dramatically in recent decades. In 1974 Americans consumed 1.5 pounds of HFCS per year and in the year 2000 Americans consumed an average of 62.7 pounds per year.
[Hanover]HFCS is produced by processing corn starch to yield glucose, and then processing the glucose to produce a high percentage of fructose. It all sounds rather simple – white cornstarch is turned into crystal clear syrup. However, the process is actually very complicated. Three different enzymes are needed to break down cornstarch, which is composed of chains of glucose molecules of almost infinite length, into the simple sugars glucose and fructose.
HFCS is actually cheaper than sugar. It is also very easy to transport because it is just piped into tanker trucks. This translates into lower costs and higher profits for food producers. The development of the HFCS process came at an opportune time for corn growers. Refinements of the partial hydrogenation process had made it possible to get better shortenings and margarines out of soybeans than corn. HFCS took up the slack as demand for corn oil margarine declined. Today HFCS is used to sweeten jams, condiments like ketchup, and soft drinks. It is also a common ingredient in many so-called health foods. For a complete list of brand name products that HFCS can be found in visit http://www.accidentalhedonist.com/index.php/2005/06/09foods_and_products_containing_high_fruct.
If there is one fact that can be relied on, it is that high fructose corn syrup can be found in almost every processed food product on the market in America and consumers are ingesting more and more HFCS each year. Whether it is the same as sugar or not may not be the thing that consumers should immediately be concerned about. The heightening obesity rate in America seems to be more correlated to the amount of processed foods that Americans are consuming in general. If the true concern is getting healthier consumers should look to eating whole foods. If you are eating an apple instead of a bag of chips, you can be sure that whatever sugar your ingesting is natural.

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Drink Responsibly

Alongside notebooks, pencils and pens, the next essential classroom accessory seems to be a water bottle to sip on in between scribbling down notes. Water bottles are the first choice among students who are trying to stay hydrated during a dry lecture. “It’s the last thing I grab before I leave my apartment,” nursing senior Rachel Abbott said. “I empty it from the day before and add new ice and water.” Abbott also carries her 20 ounce pink reusable water bottles with her to work and the gym. “By the end of the day I’ve probably refilled it about three times, at least.”
Water bottles come in many shapes, sizes and materials. Some can be used over and over while others should be thrown away after one use. Outside of the bottles themselves packaging and advertising campaigns entice consumers into thinking that if they drink from their disposable water bottle they will be getting the purest, freshest water straight from a distant spring. “Most of the time that water comes straight from Michigan,” plant biology senior Nick Batora said. “It’s all about reading the fine print. Sure there may be a glacier on the front wrapper but that doesn’t mean the water came from around the world.”
The truth about these thirst quenching accessories is that they were not all created equal. But that does not mean none of them came from a freshwater spring in Fiji. The bottom line is consumers should be aware of the facts when it comes to the numerous different kinds of water bottles that line store shelves. They should know not only how the bottles affect their environment, but also how they affect their health.
Disposable Water Bottles and Waste
Abbott recently switched over to the pink reusable water bottle after hearing reports of the toll disposable water bottles take on the environment. “It’s such a waste, but you still see people everyday using plastic bottles once and then throwing them away. At the end of the day there’s nothing you can do about it but make a change for yourself,” Abbott said.
[Batora]With news reports focusing mostly on what water bottles can do to your health, their impact on the environment are often overlooked. About 86 percent of the empty plastic water bottles in the United States land in the garbage instead of the recycling bin, according to Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer rights organization. That amounts to about two million tons of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles piling up in U.S. landfills each year. But that is not the only reason disposable water bottles are wasteful.
Just to make the amount of water bottles that U.S. consumers demand it takes the equivalent of about 17.6 million barrels of oil a year. This is on top of the amount of oil it takes to transport the bottled water to consumers. All is equivalent to the amount of oil required to fuel more than one million vehicles on U.S. roads each year. Worldwide bottling of water uses about 2.7 million tons of plastic each year. In addition, many plastic bottles of all types and sizes will be incinerated, which releases toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash laden with heavy metals into the air, according to Food and Water Watch.
“Don’t ask me when or how it happened, but it’s like there was a point when tap water just went out of style. People got sucked into the notion that tap water was second best to water that is basically no different besides it comes prepackaged and costs more,” Batora said. A study conducted by the Swiss Gas and Water Foundation found that a direct comparison of drinking water from the tap with unrefrigerated bottled water shows that tap water has less than one percent of the environmental impact that bottled water has, according to a study completed by the Swiss Gas and Water Association in 2006. Even when refrigerated and carbonated, the environmental impact of tap water is approximately only one fourth of that of bottled water, according to environmental issue website www.treehugger.com.
The cost of purchasing disposable water bottles is alarming when compared to the tap water alternative. Name brands in small bottles instead of jugs can easily cost more than $10 a gallon, especially if purchased individually, according to www.treehugger.com. By comparison, tap water typically costs about a half-cent per gallon. For what some Americans spend on bottled water in a year, they could buy a refrigerator with a filtered-water dispenser, the Web site says.
Disposable Water Bottles and Bacteria
Besides the damage that consumers may be doing on their pocketbooks, they should also be aware of the dangers of bacteria that come along with reusing disposable water bottles. Harmful bacteria and potentially toxic plastic compounds have been found in the types of water bottles that are typically made for a one-time use.
The mouth is a natural breeding ground for bacteria, fungi and viruses. These microbes get passed from lips to bottle in search of another moist environment to invade. To reduce the threat of bacteria, both single-use and reusable water bottles should be thoroughly cleaned and dried in between uses. Reusable water bottles generally have wider mouths, making them easier to clean. Dishwashing soap and hot water are acceptable to use for cleaning out water bottles.
[Conner]The risks of bacterial and fungal growth are higher if a consumer uses the bottle with a drink that contains sugars, microbiology professor Tom Corner said. These bacteria can cause colds, the flu, or diarrhea, said Charles Gerba, co-author of The “Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu. Consumers should immediately drain, rinse, and wash their water bottles after they have been filled with juices or flavored sports drinks. “Liquids containing flavor also contain more nutrients. When there are more nutrients available it gives bacteria the opportunity to grow more rapidly,” Corner said.
If consumers have visible bacterial slime or mold in their bottle they should sanitize the bottle with a dilute bleach solution containing one teaspoon of bleach and one teaspoon of baking soda in one quart of water, Corner said. They should allow the solution to sit in the bottle overnight, then thoroughly rinse and dry the bottle before continuing use. If not cleaned properly, bottles containing this bacterial slime and mold could make consumers sick.
BPA in Reusable Water Bottles
Media hype regarding the effects of bisphenol A (BPA) in water bottles has made it harder for consumers to absorb the facts about how their health can be affected by certain kinds of plastic. “Every other week the news says something else about the chemical. The reports all say something different. It’s hard to be concerned about something that scientists can’t even agree on,” communications junior Scott Campfield said.
Recent studies have shown a link between BPA, a compound in the plastic used in some reusable water bottles, and a variety of cancers, premature puberty and lowered testosterone levels. The BPA molecule can also disrupt the endocrine system, which affects brain development, therefore putting unborn children at risk, according to thegreenguide.com.
One study conducted at the University of Idaho suggested that chemicals leeched from the plastic used for water bottles into the water if the bottles were reused regularly and subjected to light, heat and time. So, letting a water bottle sit in a hot car or placing it on the bottom rack of the dishwasher can increase the amount of leeching it experiences.
Although there is some debate about whether the amount of BPA that ends up in the body is harmful or not, the manufacturers have acknowledged that over time BPA can leech into the contents of water bottles. Consumers have options to bypass the BPA debate entirely. The majority of bottles with a number 7 on the bottom contain BPA. Safer alternatives are bottles that have the number 1, 2 or 4 on the bottom. (See water bottle guide below for more information.)
To keep with the fad of keeping hydrated throughout the course of the class period without endangering your health or the environment, invest in a reusable water bottle made out of a proven safe plastic and remember to clean it thoroughly in between refills from the tap. On the upside, just like Rayban sunglasses and Converse All Stars, tap water will never go out of style.

Water Bottle Guide

The plastic bottles and container that are used for packaging food should all be labeled with a recycle code. This is a number between one and seven that is surrounded by a small graphic of three arrows pointing at one another in a triangle. These numbers tell the recycle center what kind of plastic the container is made of and they also tell the consumer whether there is a known potential health hazard.
The following plastics have no known health hazards:
Code 1: Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PET/PETE
Code 2: High Density Polyethylene, or HDPE
Code 4: Low Density Polyethylene, or LDPE
Code 5: Polypropylene, or PP
The following plastics do have known potential health hazards:
Code 3: Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC/Vinyl. This material is often used in flooring, shower curtains and water pipes that should never be used to bring fresh water into the home. These phthalates may still be present in PVC bottles and toys. PVC or vinyl items should never be given to a baby or child who may put them in his or her mouth.
Code 6: Polystyrene, or PS/Styrofoam. As well as being another endocrine disrupter, styrene is also believed to be a carcinogen. This plastic is used to make some types of disposable forks, spoons and knives and also the “foam cups” such as those sold under the name Styrofoam. Hot liquid can cause the styrene to leach out of these products, as can fatty oils or alcohol.
Code 7: Other “resins” and Polycarbonate, or PC. High heat is required for the endocrine disruptor, Bisphenol – A (BPA), to be released. BPA is a primary component of PC plastics and is a verifiable dangerous compound. PC is largely used for water bottles of the type used for delivery services (multi-gallon containers) that fit on the water cooler in homes or offices. Many clear baby bottles are also made of PC, which is of large concern because many people boil the bottles with formula or milk inside them. PC is also used in food cans with plastic lining.

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Not Hankering for the Hanky Panky

While Miranda, Samantha, Charlotte and Carrie may have perfected it, they were not the only ones who spent lunches gossiping about their sex lives. College students and young adults are almost expected to be sexual. And if they are not, even then they are just waiting until marriage to hop in the sack. That is why awkward looks are not uncommon to Andrew Gray, a 27-year-old Lansing resident, who gets them every time he tries to explain that he has never had sex and he has no desire to.
Throughout both high school and college Gray felt completely alone while his friends dated and formed sexual relationships. While searching for answers to his disinterest toward those activities, Gray found a forum on the Web addressing the topic of asexuality. “It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” Gray said. “I suddenly had a community of people that I could relate to, many of them having had the same feelings of aloneness growing up. The forum gave me a group of people that I could confide in while not having to answer a million questions.”
[Gray]The Web site that Gray stumbled upon was www.asexuality.org, which currently hosts the world’s largest online asexual community as well as a large archive of resources on asexuality. The Web site also known as the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, or AVEN, was developed in 2001 to help create an open, honest discussion about asexuality among sexual and asexual people alike. Gray and those like him are a newer phenomenon of people who are asexual – that is they feel no or very little desire to engage in sexual activity.
The founder of the AVEN Web site, David Jay, 24, started the site because like Gray, he wanted to find other people like him. “Before I started the Web site there was no place for asexuals to go and feel like they weren’t completely alone,” he said. “This isn’t an easy society to go asexual in unless there is a place to say, this is OK, such as the site, where people can talk about their experiences.”
Gray said living in a society where marketing often centers around the ideas of lust in relation to sex can make it hard for asexuals to feel like their desire not to have sex is normal. “Society depicts sexual desire as a common interest that everyone has,” he said. “This makes it extremely difficult to come out to someone, letting them know that sex isn’t something that you’re interested in. People just don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to have sex because they’ve grown up with the assumption that it’s something everyone does and everyone enjoys.”
The AVEN Web site makes it clear that sex is not something everyone does and enjoys. Jay’s site boasts over 12,000 members who create a dialog around the subject of asexuality. The site also helps to answer some questions about asexuality. “I think the biggest misconception about asexuality is that we aren’t capable of forming intimate relationships,” Jay said.
Sexual or nonsexual, all relationships are made up of the same basic stuff, according to the AVEN Web site. Communication, closeness, fun, humor, excitement and trust all happen just as much in sexual relationships as in nonsexual ones. Many asexual people experience attraction, but feel no need to act out that attraction sexually. Instead they feel the desire to get to know someone, to get close to them in whatever way works best for them. Asexual people, who experience attraction will often be attracted to a particular gender and like those who are sexual, will identify as gay, bi or straight.
Jay, who has been involved in both gay and straight relationships, has never felt the need to have sex, and developed a sense of connecting with people in other ways, he said. “Sex is one way to show you love someone, one way to have fun with someone, one great thing that you can do in a relationship,” Jay said. “But it’s not the only thing you can do.”
Even though Gray is not attracted to women sexually, he is still attracted to them in a romantic way. “I still like to be affectionate with people,” he said. “I still hug, kiss and cuddle with the people that I date, but I never feel the urge to take it to the next level.”
Dating can often be challenging to asexuals, according to the AVEN Web site. “When asexuals date the friendship and dating lines can get really blurred,” Jay said. “You don’t have the sexual relationships here and the nonsexual relationships there, to define who you are or aren’t dating. So it tends to be a fuzzy line with relationships somewhere in the middle.”
The possibilities for non-sexual intimacy are vast. Some asexuals enjoy physical closeness, perhaps cuddling or stroking, while others express intimacy through talking, and making each other laugh, according to the AVEN Web site.
Some asexuals, instead of establishing one-on-one romantic relationships, prefer to connect with the people around them in a community-based intimacy framework, establishing emotional intimacy with other people (including sexuals) without forming expectations of sexual or emotional exclusivity. For asexuals who are comfortable with this setup, it can alleviate the biggest source of tension in a standard mixed relationship because the sexual person can have their sexual needs met elsewhere.
Gray, who hopes to find someone to spend the rest of his life with, finds it hard to create long term relationships because there is so much emphasis on a healthy relationship involving sex, he said.
Gray is currently dating Lansing resident Rachel Erikson, 25, who respects the fact that Gray is asexual, but isn’t asexual herself. “Andrew and I have been dating on and off for about three months now but we aren’t in an exclusive relationship,” Erikson said. “He is definitely someone that I could see myself settling down with but there would have to be give and take on both of our ends to make something long term work.” She admits that at some point they may need to discuss how his asexuality and her needs will play into their relationship, but for now, they are taking things slow.
The tension between the sexual partner’s expectations and the asexuals partner’s needs can be very difficult to work with in some relationships, and many asexuals consider success so unlikely that they prefer not to date sexuals at all. But successful mixed relationships do exist, according to the AVEN Web site. Some of these relationships are completely sexless; in others, the asexual partner ‘compromises’ by having sex occasionally under certain circumstances.
[Jay2]Another point the AVEN Web site stresses is that unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is a sexual orientation. The site also notes that people do not need sexual arousal to be healthy, but in a minority of cases lack of arousal can be the symptom of a more serious medical condition. It warns readers that if they do not experience sexual arousal or if they suddenly lose interest in sex they should probably check with a doctor to be safe. Very little research has been done on asexuality as opposed to the other sexual orientations so much speculation exists.
The definition of asexuality does have it critics, most of whom work in the medical field. Although psychologists cannot argue with the fact that the amount of people who identify as an asexual is on the rise, some do question whether it is their sexual orientation that makes them have no desire for sex or an imbalance of hormones, which can be adjusted. Others in the medical field worry that the body could be sending a message that is being slipped under the radar because many illnesses have symptoms that that include loss of sexual appetite.
Critics of asexuality say that not enough research has been done – and place blame on a number of factors including repression, physiology, psychology or something as simple as waiting for the right person. But asexuals say that they are happy being who they are.
Sex sells. Everyone knows that. So that is why asexuals often have a hard time selling themselves to a society that has barely heard of them. Asexuals only ask for a little open-mindedness when considering their position on sexuality – even if their position does not technically include a sexual one.

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