Focusing on Weight Loss, Health and Nutrition from the Wasteland of Post-Katrina New Orleans, home of some of the best, unhealthiest food on the planet.
Monday, February 12, 2007
How Corny Are We?
I just started reading Michael Pollan's bestselling The Omnivore's Dilemma, and it has me thinking about corn.
I'm a Southern girl, but I did spend a few years living in the Midwest--north-central Illinois, to be exact--and I learned something there about corn. For one, I'm allergic to corn. Its pollen causes my eyes to water and swell, and I can't digest its kernals without problems.
So I don't eat corn as a rule, whether I'm following low carb or not. And yet, as Pollan points out, I actually DO eat it all the time, in some form or another.
So the book's early discussions of corn and its place in our modern food chain was fascinating to me. Here's an excerpt as Pollan tours the local supermarket:
"Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the steak. Corn feeds the chicken and the pig, the turkey and the lamb, the catfish and the tilapia and, increasingly, even the salmon, a carnivore by nature that the fish farmers are re-engineering to tolerate corn. The eggs are made of corn. The milk and cheese and yogurt, which once came from dairy cows that grazed on grass, now typically comes from Holsteins that spend their working lives indoors tethered to machines, eating corn.
"Head over to processed foods and you find ever more intricate manifestations of corn. A chicken nugget, for example, piles corn upon corn: what chicken it contains consists of corn, of course, but so do most of the nugget's other constituents, including the modified corn starch the glues the thing together, the corn flour in the batter than coats it, and the corn oil in which it gets fried. Much less obviously, the leavenings and lecithin, the mono-, di- and triglycerides, the attractive golden coloring, and even the citric acid that keeps the nugget 'fresh' can all be derived from corn.
"To wash down your chicken nuggets with virtually any soft drink in the supermarket is to have some corn with your corn. Since the 1980s virtually all the sodas and most of the fruit drinks sold in the supermarket have been sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)--after water, corn sweetener is their principal ingredient. Grab a beer for your beverage instead and you'd still be drinking corn, in the form of alcohol fermented from glucose refined from corn."
Pollan goes on to show the corn connections to modified or unmodified starch, glucose syrup, maltodextrin, crystalline fructose, ascorbic acid, lecithin, lactic acid, lycosine, MSG, polyols, caramel color, xanthan gum--all common techno-ingredients in our food. Corn, he notes, is in non-dairy coffee creamer (and dairy as well, since it fed the cows), cheese, frozen yogurt, canned fruit, ketchup, candies, soups, snacks, frozen waffles, mayonnaise..and on and on and on.
Of the more than 45,000 items in the modern supermarket, Pollan says, more than 25% now contain corn--even in produce, where corn produces the vegetable wax that makes your cucumbers and apples shiny and in the pesticides used to grow your veggies big and strong.
So, if there's corn in everything we eat and if you have a sensitivity to corn, what the heck is all that corn doing inside you? Low-level, chronic inflammation is increasingly cited as a big factor in developing heart disease. If you're constantly ingesting even small amounts of things that your system is sensitive to, then how much inflammation is that causing?