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The complexities of eating in today's world.

Eating and sleeping are so basic to our survival, you would think they would be pretty instinctual. But by all accounts, we in the United States sleep too little and eat, if not too much, then at least unhealthily (think salt, trans fats and sugar). Considering the many thousands of years our species has existed, you might expect humans to do better.

But we live in a vastly different world from our hominid ancestors. The night, now lit by electric lights, televisions, computer screens and all kinds of gadgets, is not the same place where people slept long ago. And mealtime isn't the same, either. A new report on Page 13 shows that by 2 million years ago, early hominids were hunting gazelles and snatching antelope heads from the abandoned kills of other predators in order to eat the brains.

Today we have forsaken purloined brains for a plenitude of processed delights. Grocery shelves are chock-full, stocked with formulations of food like nothing ancient people ever ate: Mountain Dew, Twinkies, PowerBars. As Laura Beil's story on Page 22 reveals, a central ingredient in many of these products, high fructose corn syrup, began its life as a scientific achievement. Starting with cornstarch, scientists were able to alter the ratio of glucose and fructose, upping the fructose to make a sweeter sweetener. Corn syrup is also cheaper and easier than cane sugar for food companies to work with. So today, HFCS is what gives most sodas and a lot of other processed foods their sweet taste.

But then there was a backlash. As obesity rates climbed in tandem with HFCS consumption, some wondered if this "unnatural" sweetener could be making people fat. Thus began a movement against HFCS. That controversy has led to some careful science designed to look for any health effects specific to fructose, as Bell describes in her story. There are some, it turns out, but the overwhelming consensus is that it is the overall consumption of all things sweet--whether flavored with cane sugar, honey, HFCS or regular corn syrup--that most threatens health. In the body, excessive amounts of sugar turn into fat, whichever type you eat. And, in some people, too many sweets can cause serious problems with the insulin system, putting them at higher risk of type 2 diabetes. To keep eating and sleeping simple, the best policy may be moderation.

--Eva Emerson, Editor in Chief

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Title Annotation:FROM THE EDITOR
Author:Emerson, Eva
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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