A recent headline says, “High-fructose corn syrup is as addictive as cocaine.”
The headline is about a study of rats fed high fructose corn syrup. It suggests that, because rats responded to large amounts of high fructose corn syrup in the same way that cocaine addicts respond to the drug, foods with high fructose corn syrup could partly explain the global obesity epidemic.
Okay—rats eating high fructose corn syrup point the way to solving the crisis of obesity in humans all over the world. Hooray for science!
But this isn’t how science works. Science is a process. For a good example of the process, see this article in the June 1 Science News. It mentions an article written in 2004, pointing out that use of high fructose corn syrup and obesity had been increasing at the same rate. (The SN article also says that, since 2004, the use of high fructose corn syrup has been decreasing, while obesity has continued to increase.)
I’m willing to believe that high fructose corn syrup is horrible stuff. I read ingredients, and I avoid “food” that includes it—but then, I avoid most processed food anyway.
And I am fascinated by the way research is illuminating the complex affects of food on the brain. But let’s not forget that nutrition is a young science. It’s certainly not advanced enough to tell us how to live well. Far better to rely on what we already know about living well: eating healthy food that tastes good, getting good exercise that feels good, spending time with people we care about, and doing things that really matter to us. I’m not saying it’s easy to create that kind of lifestyle these days, but if we can do it, there’s no way an occasional encounter with high fructose corn syrup is going to turn us into addicts.