Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mercury in Corn Syrup

According to a recent Washington Post article "almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies."

HFCS is used as a sweetener in many beverages and foods such as candy, cereals, lunch meats, yogurts, soups, breads, and condiments - many which are marketed towards children.

"Mercury is toxic in all its forms" and has been linked to learning disabilities in children and heart disease in adults. "Given how much high-fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered."

Another report emphasizes that there is no established safe dose for elemental mercury, the type discovered in corn syrup. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says an average-sized woman should limit her exposure to 5.5 micrograms a day of methylmercury, the kind found in fish. If that same woman regularly ate corn syrup contaminated at the highest level detected in the study - 0.57 micrograms per gram - the researchers estimated that she could end up consuming an amount of mercury that is five times higher than the EPA's safe dose.

So how is this happening?

"The source of the metal appears to be caustic soda and hydrochloric acid, which manufacturers of corn syrup use to help convert corn kernels into the food additive. A handful of plants across the nation still make the soda and acid by mixing a briny solution in electrified vats of mercury. Some of the toxic metal ends up in the final product, according to industry documents cited in the study."

The good news is there are alternatives! This is by no means an all-inclusive list - just some products I have found in my shopping adventures:

-Arnold's Bread has 100% whole wheat bread that even states on the bag that it contains no HFCS (and it's not that much more expensive than a regular loaf of whole wheat bread).
-If you like juice, be sure to buy 100% juice - there are plenty of brands such as Juicy Juice and Welches that offer drink alternatives that are HFCS-free. And of course, there's always organic, though it's more expensive.
-You have to buy organic ketchup in order to skip the HFCS. If you have a Giant Food Store near you, their Nature's Promise brand is reasonably priced ($1.69 for a bottle).
-Bullseye BBQ sauce was the only "name brand" I could find that didn't have HFCS, but I was happy to at least find one!
-I was disappointed to find that sweet pickle relish has HFCS but dill pickle relish does not - guess I've got to acquire the taste of the dill variety on my hot dogs and in my egg salad.
-Kraft Light Mayo has no HFCS - yeah, I can't live without mayo!
-Hank's Root Beer and Jone's Sodas- and they are in glass bottles, too!

It's worth taking the extra time to read those labels so you aren't getting a little mercury with your meal!

Update: 3/3/09
To be fair and show both sides, the Corn Refiners Association, the group that runs the "Sweet Surprise" commercials, refutes the charges. Maybe if you have a degree in Chemisty, you can figure out who's right, but for now I'll be looking for products that have good old sugar!

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