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Mercury, Sweet Mercury

A few years ago I wrote an article about the dangers of HFCS. I wrote it long before Pizza Hut started running TV commercials touting "No HFCS" and long before food labels started appearing on store shelves with "No HFCS" emblazoned on their labels.

Last week some new and disturbing news about HFCS came to light. It was covered in various newspapers (The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, and others). The news about HFCS generally unnoticed by the national cable news and broadcast networks. It should have been "breaking news", but it wasn't. You would think that the fact that mercury was found in over 50% of samples of HFCS tested would have been of great interest to most consumers. Unfortunately most Americans never heard a thing about it. Yet, we all know that we shouldn't eat too much tuna or salmon because of increased mercury levels. Those of us living near Lake Erie have already been warned not to consume too much fish from Lake Erie because of its high mercury content. Yet most of us don't know that a lot of the HFCS, ubiquitous in American foods, is contaminated with mercury as well. If you live in the United States, you cannot avoid HFCS as easily as you can avoid tuna or salmon. HFCS is an ingredient in almost everything you eat and drink.

Those of us living in the United States are slowly, too slowly, beginning to see HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) disappearing from our food supply. This is a good thing. And I hope that sooner rather than later we will see a return to the use of sugar as the main sweetener in our foods and beverages. It's going to be a rough road back to sugar though. For if ever there was an example of the power of money it's the long, not-so-sweet story of HFCS.

Sugar has been much maligned over the past few decades. In fact the first sign of this came some three decades ago when Kellogg's removed "sugar" from the name of some of its cereals such as  "Sugar Pops" which now known as "Corn Pops". Sugar was removed from the name but not the cereal -- at first. Later on though, Kellogg's removed the sugar all right, replacing it with HFCS.

The Corn Refiners Association has spent millions of dollars on advertising to convince you that HFCS is a natural product, the same as sugar is a natural product. Their claim is that since it comes from corn, HFCS is every bit as natural as sugar. This is somewhat true, however it leaves out a lot of things you might find interesting. How natural is a product that takes this many chemical reactions and reductions to make?

Indeed, corn is natural, but by the time the refining process is competed and the finished product is used in our food and drinks, it bears little resemblance to the corn from which it derived. In fact, fructose is not metabolized like sucrose (sugar). While fructose is found in many fruits and vegetables, HFCS is altered chemically so that it contains an unnatural ratio of fructose to glucose - a ratio that isn't found anywhere in nature. Natural foods are foods which are not chemically altered, yet the United States allows food processors to include the words "All Natural" on foods containing HFCS. There's nothing natural about HFCS except its source. By the time it ends up in your stomach there's nothing natural about it.

"...What does it matter that it was banned in Mexico and is rarely found in foods in New Zealand. Is it really that bad? Why should we care about HFCS?

There are several different names and forms of sugar, fructose, sucrose, and dextrose being three. Here we are focusing on fructose, which behaves differently than the latter two in regards to our metabolism.

Both sucrose and dextrose are broken down in our body before they ever make it to our liver, however fructose does not breakdown and reaches the liver “almost completely intact”. This feature of fructose (which in HFCS is of an even higher concentration) has been named “metabolic shunting” since the fructose is “shunted” or sidetracked towards the liver.

Fructose is used to build triglycerides in the liver, which it does by imitating insulin, causing the liver to release fatty acids into the bloodstream. The flood of fatty acids then causes muscle tissue to develop insulin resistance..." (Read the entire article here.)

If you think that quote was written by someone with their own agenda, here's a fact that even the Corn Refiners Association cannot refute: HFCS was never used in infant formula in the United States. Why do you think that is true?

I've written before about HFCS. I really believe it had a lot to do with making me more obese than I should have been, even though I was eating a lot more than I should have been. I have since tried to eliminate HFCS from my diet, but because I live in the United States, it's nearly impossible. I have almost cut out HFCS from my diet and never eat anything or drink anything where the main ingredient is HFCS (soda pop, Smucker's jellies, jams, and preserves, pancake syrup, Heinz Ketchup, et. al. ). I also never buy Kellogg's cereal, I buy General Mills or Post cereals instead. Too many of Kellogg's cereals contain HFCS. As far as I know, none of General Mill's or Post's cereals contain HFCS.

There was more bad news for consumers last week, particularly for consumers in the United States. Studies conducted by Environmental Health, researchers found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS.

According to a Washington Post article published in the January 28, 2009 editions Health section:

"...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 has replaced sugar as the sweetener in many beverages and foods such as breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups and condiments. On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80 percent more HFCS than average.

'Mercury is toxic in all its forms. Given how much high-fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply,' the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Dr. David Wallinga, a co-author of both studies, said in a prepared statement...."

In a second study, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit watchdog group, reported that nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods contained mercury. Mercury was found most often in dairy products, dressings and condiments containing HFCS. Heinz Ketchup, dairy products like yogurts and smoothies, Kraft salad dressings all contain HFCS.

Trade associations for the corn industry discounted these studies' findings by saying "it appears" that the test methods used were out of date and therefore the results were not accurate. HFCS is cheap to make and yields enormous profits for refiners in the United States. Once again, consumers are left in the middle not knowing who to believe.

How does mercury get into HFCS in the first place? It happens during the production of HFCS. A chemical called caustic soda is used in one stage of the complicated process that turns corn into HFCS. Some of the caustic soda used in the production of HFCS is manufactured using mercury cells which contaminates it. The IATP told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that four plants in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and West Virginia still use "mercury-cell" technology that can lead to mercury contamination.

For U.S. food manufacturers, the advantages of HFCS are many: It extends the shelf life of products in which it is used; it is sweeter than sugar meaning less of it is needed to obtain the same sweetness; products in which HFCS is used look "fresher"; it is cheaper than sugar, thanks to the artificially high government tariffs on imported sugar cane and sugar.

Once again, we learn that it's all about money -- not about the consumer. The FDA has known mercury contaminated HFCS for four years and has done nothing about it. The corn producers and refiners and their associated lobbyists and associations have mounted massive and expensive campaigns to convince you that HFCS is a natural product. Using the same logic, paint thinners and solvents made using peanut oil would be natural products too.

The whole truth about HFCS has yet to be revealed, but the evidence against it is mounting. There are many who are convinced that the introduction of massive amounts of HFCS into the human food chain in the 1970's, particularly in the United States, has led to increased obesity and a pandemic of type II diabetes.

HFCS is not a "natural" product. Take a look at the processes involved in its manufacturing. If you live in the United States, you'll find it nearly impossible to completely eliminate HFCS from your diet. But there's a reason that companies who manufacture infant formula are not permitted to use HFCS. There's a reason why countries like Japan and Mexico ban HFCS from food products. With all the money being spend by corn producers, refiners, and trade associations to obfuscate the facts and convince you that HFCS is a natural product, it becomes increasingly hard for consumers to get to the truth.

It seems to me that the less HFCS you consume the better off you'll be. Once again, it's not about you and me, it's all about the money. HFCS is cheaper and using it increases profits -they win and we lose. That's the truth as I see it.


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