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One more excellent reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup

Dangerous Dining

Traces of peanuts seem to wend their way throughout processed foods, as we’ve discovered with the recent recall of so many products containing peanut butter and peanut oil.

But that’s nothing compared to the products that contain high fructose corn syrup. HFCS is used to sweeten thousands of popular products – soft drinks, cereals, baked goods, candy, yogurt, salad dressings, and even soups.

And now – yep – HFCS joins peanuts and honey in the spotlight of potentially contaminated products.

And the contaminant this time? It’s only our least-favorite neurotoxin: mercury.

She said, he said

Here are two unsettling HFCS notes: According to HealthDay News, the average American consumes about 12 teaspoons of HFCS every day. And young people who guzzle soft drinks along with plenty of snacks consume considerably more.

Two new studies show they may also be increasing their mercury load.

In study number one, researchers found measurable amounts of mercury in nearly half of the 20 HFCS samples tested, collected from three different HFCS manufacturers. This study was followed up by similar research from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. The IATP team examined 55 brand name food products that listed HFCS as the first or second ingredient. Almost one-third of the products contained mercury.

As we’ve seen in the past, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) doesn’t stand idly by when someone starts casting aspersions on HFCS. CRA president Audrae Erickson quickly released a statement, noting that the study “appears to be based on outdated information of dubious significance.”

Her statement was countered by an IATP spokesman who told HealthDay that the information in the first study was gathered from the FDA in 2005, while the second study examined food products purchased from grocery stores in late 2008.

The IATP also notes that the “mercury cell” technology that prompts mercury contamination in HFCS is still used in four HFCS manufacturing plants in the U.S.

Good news, bad news, worse news

The IATP study found the highest levels of mercury in some snack bars, barbecue sauce, sloppy joe mix, yogurt, and chocolate syrup. And the brand names are all very well known: Kraft, Hunt’s, Quaker, Hershey’s, Smucker’s, Yoplait, and others. Lesser amounts of the toxin were detected in soft drinks, jelly, catsup, and chocolate milk.

Dr. David Walling of the IATP worked on both studies and noted that the “good news” here is that some of the HFCS we consume is mercury-free. Which is like saying the good news about Vioxx is that some people didn’t have heart attacks while using it.

As I’ve noted in past e-Alerts, HFCS – with or without mercury contamination – qualifies as junk.

In the e-Alert “Back to the Garden” (11/19/02), I told you about a University of California, Davis (UCD) animal study that showed how HFCS consumption might contribute to insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and elevated triglyceride levels – three of the core symptoms of metabolic syndrome – a cluster of symptoms that put a patient at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Five years later, a study of human subjects confirmed those conclusions.

In addition, studies have linked increased body weight, fat storage, and symptoms of irritable bowl syndrome to HFCS consumption.

Mercury? That’s just the toxic frosting on an already unhealthy HFCS cake.

“Mercury from Chlor-Alkali Plants: Measured Concentrations in Food Product Sugar” Environmental Health, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1/26/09,
“Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup” The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, January 2009,
“Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury” HealthDay News, 1/28/09,
“Consumption of Fructose-, but not Glucose-Sweetened Beverages Produces an Atherogenic Lipid Profile in Overweight/Obese Men and Women” American Diabetes Association 67th Annual Scientific Sessions, Abstract 0062-OR, June 22-26, 2007,