“How did I ever survive?” A common rhetorical question I receive during my heated discussion of High Fructose Corn Syrup, artificial colorings and artificial sweeteners.  I politely try to explain things are different today- very different.  Food is not what it was 100, 50 or even 25 years ago.  When my grandmother and her mother ate, it was for the most part “clean” eating.  Today our food is riddled with many additives that are very controversial.  So, the next time you are asked the annoying question- “How did I ever survive?”-here is some data to back up your argument.

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Mercury is in High Fructose Corn Syrup 

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is the end product from the corn wet-milling process that yields corn oil, animal feed, starch products and corn sweeteners.  It is commonly used by food manufacturers as a sweetener to stabilize food products and enhance the self-life of many products.[i]  The chemicals needed to make HFCS include caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, alpha-amylase, calcium chloride and magnesium sulfate.[ii]

In 2004, an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) at the FDA conducted an investigation on mercury levels in the chemicals used to manufacture HFCS.  The EHO found mercury residue in the ingredients used to make HFCS (caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, chlorine and potassium hydroxide).[iii]

In January 2009, Environmental Health published the findings on the amount of mercury found in HFCS. They concluded the average daily consumption of HFCS is approximately 50 grams with a potential source of mercury ranging up to 28 micrograms. [iv]  Based on the average consumption, individuals could be eating 200 micrograms of the neurotoxin per week which 125 times the amount recommended by the World Health Organization.  The World Health Organization, recommends a minimum ingestion of 1.6 micrograms per week (.23 micrograms per day) to protect the fetus.[v]

Mercury, High Fructose Corn Syrup and Labels

The FDA requires food manufactures to list ingredients on the label in descending order of weight from most to least.  For example, HFCS is commonly listed as the first ingredient in chocolate syrup making HFCS the most abundant ingredient in chocolate syrup.  Product labels listing HFCS as the first or second ingredient may contain detectable levels of mercury.[vi]  Mercury exposure can add up when children and adults eat foods high in HFCS (yogurt, juice, nutrition bars, cereals, breads – aka: processed foods).

Mercury and Brain Development

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a minimum exposure to mercury in any form for optimal child health and nervous system development.[vii]  As you may know, mercury is a heavy metal that is neurotoxic, [viii] making it a danger to unborn children whose developing brains and nervous tissue can be damaged if they are exposed to low dose micrograms in the womb.[ix],[x]  Mercury is also thought to be a risk factor in causing neurological learning disorders, including autism.[xi]

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Connection between Zinc and Mercury

Consumption of artificial food color additives has been determined to cause a zinc deficiency.[xii]  This is important to understand because dietary zinc is essential to eliminate mercury from the body. Just look at most processed, “kid friendly” foods and you will discover HFCS and artificial food colors are commonly used as additives. Not only are they added to foods but they are usually added together.

As for my family, we do eat HFCS but in moderation.  I do let my children participate in birthday parties and snack celebrations at school.  I just make sure we do not eat staple foods that contain HFCS or artificial colorings and sweeteners.  Please read Why I Offer Unhealthy Food to My Child.

**It is important to note that mercury does naturally exist in our natural environment and food.  Also, more research is needed on mercury levels in HFCS.


[i] Corn refiners Association (http://www.corn/org/HFCSBrochure/pdf)

[ii] Lurgi Life Science GmBH; High fructose syrup production-process and economics.  In Proceedings of International Conference on Value-Added Products for the Sugar Industry Baton Rouge, LA; 1999.

[iii] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp46-cl-b.pdf)

[iv] Dufault R, LeBlanc B, Schnoll R, Cornett C, Schweitzer L, Wallinga D, Hightwoer J, Patrick L , Lukiw WJ:  Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measure concentrations in food product sugar.  Envin Health 2009:2

[v] Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives: June 2003 (ftp://ftp.fao.org/es/esn/jecfa/jecfa61sc.pdf)

[vi]Dufault R, LeBlanc B, Schnoll R, Cornett C, Schweitzer L, Wallinga D, Hightwoer J, Patrick L , Lukiw WJ:  Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measure concentrations in food product sugar.  Envin Health 2009:2

[vii] Goldman L, Shannon M:  American academy of pediatrics technical report” mercury in the environment: implications for pediatricians.  Pediatrics 2001, 8:97-205.

[viii] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp46-cl-b.pdf)

[ix] Goldman L, Shannon M:  American academy of pediatrics technical report” mercury in the environment: implications for pediatricians.  Pediatrics 2001, 8:97-205.

[x] Langford N, Ferner R: Toxicity of mercury. J Hum Hypertens 1999, 13:651-656.

[xi] Institute for Children’s Environmental Health (http://www/iceh.org/pdfs/LDDI/LDDIStatement.pdf)

[xii] Ivaturi R, Kies C: Mineral balances in humans as affected by fructose, high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose.  Plant Foods for Hum Nutr 1992, 42 (2): 143-151.

About the author: Clancy Cash Harrison MS, RD, LDN

6 Comments

  1. Wonderful and sad post. It’s depressing how our world has spiraled- these things are all acceptable and most parents don’t even stop to consider what they’re putting in their bodies, what they’re putting in their child’s bodies. This is scary and revealing.

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  2. This is why I’ve really been trying to pay better attention to what I feed my children. It’s scary stuff.

    Reply

  3. It makes me so mad how much scary stuff is going on with our food supply & no one is giving out the real info – THANK YOU for sharing some real facts.

    Reply

  4. I too have been studying trying to get my family to eat better, the more I learned, the more I am glad I am growing my own garden this year, Most people do not care if there is any nutritional content, just as long as it tastes good.

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  5. Woah…scary stuff. This is why I try to make me son all natural meals instead of using anything pre-packaged or contains chemical preservatives.

    Reply

  6. Thanks for sharing this. It is unfortunate that unhealthy eating has become so engrained in our culture. It is SO hard to convince people that processed foods are detrimental to our health.

    Reply

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