I’m a touch late posting this, but for the month of January, I’ve given up two things: Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Here’s why (and I'll try to take out all the complex chemistry and make this super-simple):

Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) are formed by passing hydrogen- through liquid oil. By “partially hydrogenating”, the oil develops into a butter-like consistency—but at a fraction of the cost of real butter. It’s gives food a richer texture, but very cheaply. It also serves as a preservative; have you ever wondered why some processed foods (especially things like Twinkies and those delicious little white powdered donuts) can stay fresh forever? It’s because they are loaded with PHOs. Food producers get a double dose from PHOs: food is cheaper to make, and it can stay on the shelf longer, both of which add up to more money for the producer.

PHOs have been linked to increases in multiple types of cardiac disease, diabetes, obesity, and a myriad of other health problems. There’s no good reason why you should eat anything made with PHOs, but the reality is that they are everywhere—a huge majority of breads, cakes, pies, crackers, soups, and cereals are loaded with PHOs.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a little trickier. Here’s what happens to your body when you consume “normal” sugar. Your body produces insulin, and a side-effect of insulin production is appetite suppressant (technically a chemical called “leptin”). In other words, when you eat something sugary, you “feel” full and you eat less. This is where HFCS comes in. Since HFCS isn’t sugar, there’s no insulin production—and as a result, there’s no natural appetite suppressant. So why do candy and food makers use HFCS? It’s simple---so your appetite will not be suppressed and you’ll eat more (translation: you will buy more). An added economic bonus is that HFCS is cheaper than sugar, so producers save on the initial food production.

HFCS has been tentatively linked to the rise of obesity in the United States (especially childhood obesity), poor dental hygiene, and a list of other health problems. In the 40 years since the introduction of HFCS into the American diet, rates of obesity in the U.S. have skyrocketed (In 2010, roughly one-third of the American adults are considered obese). It certainly isn’t fair or accurate to place all of the blame at the feet of HFCS, but that certainly is a factor.

When you start reading labels, you’ll find HFCS in lots of things you would expect (candy, ice cream, sodas, fruit drinks, condiments) and some things you wouldn’t expect (bread, yogurt, and even some lunch meat!)

Both of these are small ingredients that are easily lost in the list of other ingredients. But they can have a lasting impact upon all of us, and I’ve decided to begin this year by cutting out all foods made with those ingredients. Stay tuned for an update.

A Year of Months

Many of you know that for many years, I have chosen a year-long project for the New Year. From the mundane to the exotic, I have met with varying degrees of success (a pic every day of 2007) and failure (a ban on ice cream back in 2004.) For 2011, I’ve decided that rather than having one project for the year, I’m going to have 12 different projects, one for each month of the year.

It might be something culinary (vegetarian for a month), social (being a spontaneous extrovert) or something in the community (volunteering with a local organization). Stay tuned for January’s quest.