As bad as too much sugar is for you, its cousin from the wrong side of the tracks is even worse. I’m speaking of course about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the sugary goo that’s been added to soft drinks, salad dressings, cakes, cookies, and cereals for over 30 years. The darling of food manufacturers everywhere, HFCS made its debut as the ideal solution for extending the shelf-life and reducing the costs of producing commercially sweetened foods.
While it might have been a magic bullet for manufacturers and retailers, for the general public, it’s been a bullet of a very different kind. According to an excellent 2-part article by Jonny Bowden, HFCS has a veritable laundry list of associated health risks including raising triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, reducing insulin sensitivity, and causing dangerous intra-abdominal fat (the kind that’s a precursor to heart disease).
If that’s not enough to make you think twice about your food choices, there is now another frightening twist to the HFCS story — mercury contamination!
Mercury is the heavy metal that can damage the heart, kidneys, nervous system, and immune system. In pregnant women, mercury can cross the placenta and affect the neurological development of the fetus. (Is it any wonder we’re seeing so many cases of autism and ADHD?)
The latest news regarding the dangers of HFCS came to light in late January when several news outlets published the results of two eye-opening studies. 1 In the first study, it was reported that in 2005, an FDA scientist tested 20 commercial products containing HFCS and found that 9 of them were positive for mercury. If that wasn’t bad enough, the FDA, asleep on the job as usual, did not release these dangerous findings to the public until recently…
In the second study, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit watchdog group analyzed 55 commercial products containing HFCS purchased in the fall of 2008. That group found that nearly 1 in 3 of the foods and beverages it tested contained mercury.
At this point you might be wondering what a toxic heavy metal has to do with high-fructose corn syrup. Was it an accident or shoddy manufacturing practices that caused mercury to be found in these foods? The answer is no. In creating the corn syrup, a mercury reagent is typically used with a caustic soda to separate corn starch from the kernel. In the process, the mercury cells can contaminate the caustic soda, which is then transferred to the corn syrup.2
A spokesperson for the Corn Refiners Association claims that the industry has not used mercury reagents in the manufacturing of HFCS for several years and the study is therefore outdated. But can that really be true if the products tested in the second study were purchased off the shelf by IATP in 2008?
And even so, that feeble excuse cannot reverse the damage done to countless Americans who unknowingly ingested mercury-contaminated food for 30 or more years, clogged their arteries, and possibly affected the neurological development of their unborn children.
What’s the takeaway advice here? It’s obvious. Get high-fructose corn syrup out of your diet. The health dangers are just too alarming to ignore. Don’t wait for the FDA or food manufacturers to do the right thing. If their track record is any indication, the wait will be a long one.