Tuesday, February 3, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Have you heard about mercury in high fructose corn syrup?
This is something I heard about recently- there was an article in the Washington Post that was posted on a homeschool list I read. Apparently it's now being circulated in email as well, because my sister in law recently wrote me:

"Hey, Kit, I see that [name removed] forwarded this same article to you also. I wasn't able to read the whole thing because it trailed off into a ....................., and I could not find some link or something to open up to read the rest of it, but I assume you can, cuz yer a cumm-puter wizerd. But you always verify things on some sight, that I forgot the name of, so I have 2 questions. Are they full of sh*t? Does High fructose corn syrup have mercury? Also, I have heard opposing arguments about high fructose corn syrup being the reason all of america is getting fat as sh*t, basically, the other side is saying it's a lie, because it's made from corn, and corn can't be bad for you. But what about the "High fructose" part? What's that about? Is there some kind of sugar released when corn is processed a certain way that makes it fattening?"
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(Disclaimer: I'm no computer wizard; I simply use them more than sis-in-law does, and have the patience to fiddle with them until I figure out what I need to know. So I've become a go-to source of computer information for some family members. Basically, I'm just a proficient googler.) :)

I spent a little time on my response, and thought some others might find it informative as well. It's a combination of quick online research and my own bias, so take it for what it's worth. Here's what I wrote:

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Yes, it is true. The article was indeed published in the Washington Post, and in several other publications as well. Here's the Washington Post article:
US News and World Report:
FOX News:
And a webmd.com article which lists the foods that were found to contain mercury:
From the webmd article:

"Overall, we found detectable mercury in 17 of 55 samples, or around 31%," write Wallinga and colleagues.

Here is the list of those products:

* Quaker Oatmeal to Go bars
* Jack Daniel's Barbecue Sauce
* Hershey's Chocolate Syrup
* Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce
* Nutri-Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars
* Manwich Gold Sloppy Joe
* Market Pantry Grape Jelly
* Smucker's Strawberry Jelly
* Pop-Tarts Frosted Blueberry
* Hunt's Tomato Ketchup
* Wish-Bone Western Sweet & Smooth Dressing
* Coca-Cola Classic: no mercury found on a second test
* Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt
* Minute Maid Berry Punch
* Yoo-hoo Chocolate Drink
* Nesquik Chocolate Milk
* Kemps Fat Free Chocolate Milk

Wallinga and colleagues caution that their list was "just a snapshot in time; we only tested one sample of each product. That clearly is not sufficient grounds to give definitive advice to consumers."

Apparently the reason (they think) that high fructose corn syrup can contain mercury is that some of the plants processing it use contaminated caustic soda. Caustic soda is needed to produce high fructose corn syrup, and some plants that produce caustic soda use "outdated" mercury cell technology to do so- which can produce caustic soda that's been contaminated with mercury.

Of course, high fructose corn syrup has been under fire for some time now, as many nutritionists and scientists have begun to point to it as a significant contribution to the high levels of obesity in the US. I learned more about it here:


To sum up, they're not sure precisely why there's a correlation, though there are some ideas. One theory is that due to the nature of the sugars in high fructose corn syrup, it's digestion is not regulated by the body as well as the digestion of natural sugars. Another idea links high fructose corn syrup to harmful carbonyl compounds (which are elevated in people with diabetes). Another study shows that large quantities of fructose can cause insulin resistance- another link to diabetes. Yet another study suggested that a diet rich in fat and high fructose corn syrup can suppress the sensation of fullness (leading to overeating), and cause leptin-resistance- which can lead to weight gain.

Yes, the corn industry refutes all these studies for various reasons. High fructose corn syrup is simply a sweetener made of lots of fructose ("fruit sugar") and a little sucrose (like cane sugar). Sounds pretty benign, doesn't it? However it's not a naturally occurring sweetener, and studies do seem to indicate that for whatever reason, it's bad for us. We are apparently just not built to be consuming THAT much fructose. Besides, it's so highly processed (including using at least one GMO ingredient necessary for production) that I view it as highly suspect. (Just as I view artificial sweeteners like splenda.) I try to stick with honey or plain old sugar, and simply limit how much sweet stuff we eat. (I read lots of food labels.) Never trust an ingredient that sounds like a chemical compound.

So, does that answer your questions? :)



Anonymous said...

Do you know if this is just for High Fructose Corn Syrup? What about regular old plain Corn Syrup??

Kit said...

The mercury issue is only with the high fructose corn syrup- regular corn syrup isn't processed with caustic soda, which is how the mercury got into the high fructose corn syrup. So I don't think there is a risk of mercury in regular corn syrup.

Plain old corn syrup is mostly glucose, so I am guessing it would not have the same health issues that high fructose corn syrup has, either. Studies seem to suggest that it is the large amount of fructose that is causing the health issues. . . but I am only guessing, here!

Again though, be sure to read labels- I was just checking the Karo brand website (http://www.karosyrup.com/faq.html)- Karo makes plain old corn syrup- and their pancake syrup actually has some high fructose corn syrup blended in. So, you just never know where it will show up!

Anonymous said...

Gross. I'm glad I don't like many processed foods - mass produced food tastes only of sugar and salt to me. Good for you for passing this on, it's important that people think about what they are eating.

Kit said...

Processed foods are the devil.
(OK not quite, but I think you're on the right track- avoiding them goes a long way toward improving one's health.)