Michael Pollan‘s books are practically the bible for socially-, eco-, and nutrition-conscious shoppers; Omnivore’s Dilemma practically taught all of America’s liberal, upper-middle class how to eat. And it also spawned the now-widely-held belief that high fructose corn syrup is the biggest evil in the American diet (also: a really hilarious SNL skit). So it’s surprising that the author and food industry expert is backpedaling on his stance that HFCS is worse than sugar; now, he thinks it’s all a wash.
In a recent interview with the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, he said:
I’ve done a lot to demonize it. 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. They started giving products made of real sugar health claims and [are] trying to make sugar look good.
But in general, he thinks our biggest nutritional problem is a tendency to fixate on ingredients as either good or evil, which turns into fads that the food industry leverages to sell more products: “We obsess about a small group of evil nutrients, and a small group of blessed nutrients, and every generation has an evolving cast of characters,” he told the Plain-Dealer. “And eventually, the fates of those nutrients will completely reverse.”
Really, he’s plugging the same principals he always has: Pay attention to what you eat and don’t eat too much processed food.
And if you are worried about what your diet does to the environment, and not just your body, then remember what he told the Washington Post earlier this year:
[High-fructose corn syrup] may be cheap in the supermarket, but in the environment it could not be more expensive. The environmental footprint of HFCS is deep and wide. Look no farther than the dead zone in the Gulf [of Mexico], an area the size of New Jersey where virtually nothing will live because it has been starved of oxygen by the fertilizer runoff coming down the Mississippi from the Corn Belt. Then there is the atrazine in the water in farm country — a nasty herbicide that, at concentrations as little as 0.1 part per billion, has been shown to turn male frogs into hermaphrodites.
Time to go brush up on the new illustrated version of his Food Rules.