In the News: Mercury Found in Corn Syrup


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

A few months ago, Tanya and I wrote about high fructose corn syrup, specifically the Corn Refiners Association's series of ads aimed at repairing the image of the economical but much-maligned sweetener.

Corn syrup, the "Sweet Surprise" campaign proclaimed, is "made from corn, doesn’t have artificial ingredients, has the same calories as sugar and honey, and like sugar, is fine in moderation."

As it turns out, there might be another sweet surprise in your corn syrup: mercury.

Mercury, which is a toxin that can have debilitating effects on the nervous system, has been found in almost half of tested samples of commercial high fructose corn syrup, according to two new U.S. studies cited in a USA Today article. In addition, mercury "was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where high-fructose corn syrup is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient."

"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," said the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Dr. David Wallinga, a co-author of both studies.

One study found that mercury was most common in dairy products, dressings and condiments that contained HFCS.

Why would mercury be used in HFCS? Mercury is used to produce chlorine and caustic soda, the latter of which is then used to make HFCS. Really whets the appetite, doesn't it?

The Corn Refiners Association says that the study is based on outdated information. “This study appears to be based on outdated information of dubious significance. Our industry has used mercury-free versions of the two re-agents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for several years," said the group's president in a release.

A key argument of the corn syrup industry is that its sweetener, like the more expensive sugar for which it's substituted, is fine in moderation. However, HFCS has become ubiquitous; it's found in processed foods from spaghetti sauce and French dressing to soda and cereal bars.

Find the list of the products that were tested by researchers here.

As a personal choice, regardless of the possible metal content, I avoid anything that contains HFCS. I started making a conscious effort to cut it from my diet more than two years ago. I like eating whole foods and don't like the taste of most processed foods. (I don't really have much of a sweet tooth.) I don’t like soda and mostly cook from scratch, so that helps. Do I still consume small amounts of corn syrup? Yes, I'm sure it sneaks in from time to time, but I do my best to avoid it.

If you're trying to limit or avoid the amount of corn syrup in your diet, here are some pointers:

Read labels. Before I put anything in my shopping cart, I check out the label. I learned long ago that most processed crackers, chips and cakes--all the junk food I don't need--contains corn syrup. If it contains HFCS, it goes back on the shelf. (This is a great example of how to vote with your fork.)

Here's a great list of foods that are free of corn syrup. More manufacturers, including many mainstream snack producers, are starting to realize that consumers want an alternative to HFCS, and they're prominently labeling products when they remove corn syrup.

Eat whole-wheat versions. I've noticed that while almost all the white versions of pantry staples (bread, crackers, etc.) contain HFCS, many of the whole wheat ones don't. (Be sure to check the label of breads, because this is not always the case.) You'll get more fiber, too!

Be willing to eat some fat. Have you ever read the labels on fat-free dairy or light bread products? They are often significantly longer than the ingredient lists on low-fat or regular versions of the same products. That's because when you omit fat, which adds moisture and richness, you have to add something else. Usually that means added stabilizers and "wet" ingredients. HFCS is commonly used for both.

Get cooking. Jarred tomato sauces contain HFCS, as do many premade meals. It takes almost no time to chop onions and garlic, sauté them in olive oil and add some canned tomatoes and spices. By the time your water boils, your sauce can be ready, with far less salt and no HFCS. It takes a bit more effort, but the end result is worth it.

Eat real fruit. Skip fruit-flavored products. From the filling in cereal bars and toaster pastries to the fruity bits in your cereal and the flavor in your yogurt, those "fruit flavors" are usually heavy on the corn syrup, light on the fruit. Choose brands that list real fruit as an ingredient.

I gave up flavored yogurts when I gave up corn syrup. Now I buy quarts of plain low-fat yogurt (cheaper than the little cups) and flavor it myself, sometimes with cinnamon and maple syrup or homemade jam, but usually just with some fruit.

Go organic. Organic foods use sugar or other sweeteners rather than corn syrup. If you can afford the organic version, go for it.

Does this news about corn syrup trouble you? Do you try to avoid products containing HFCS? Will you? Is there another food ingredient that you avoid?

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  • 113
    Although I don't make a point to avoid HFCS because it seems to be in almost everything processed, I am well aware of the negative health affects. Now that I'm aware about the mercury, I'm going to do my best to avoid those foods. In this case....ignorance is definitely not bliss.

    I avoid trans fats. That's one thing I'm adamant about not allowing in my home and always read labels. I also avoid baked goods and fried foods when dining out. You never know if the food establishment or bakeries are using trans fats. - 3/2/2009   7:58:09 AM
  • 112
    Thanks so much for this article! Just so people are WELL aware when mercury enters the body it does not leave. It builds up, particularly in the brain. High concentrations of mercury are commonly found in adults with Alzheimer’s and children with Autism. Please be careful of these foods for your own health but PLEASE KEEP THEM AWAY FROM YOUR CHILDREN!!!! There are countless factors in the rise in autism in our children (1 in 150 children today is affected by autism) but this very well may be one of them. Please Be Aware and pass this on to other mothers!!! - 2/2/2009   11:25:38 AM
    To be honest with you, I'm not too troubled about it. If you sat around all day and worried about what went into your food, you would eventually go nuts and stop eating all together. I checked out the list of things that were tested, and while I would say about 5 things that I eat are on there, I have used them in conjunction with my new healthy eating lifestyle, and have seen weight-loss results, so that is really all that matters to me. - 2/1/2009   1:54:17 PM
  • 110
    WOW!! Thanks!! My family thank God gave up eatting junk foods & all sugars. We use splenda or truvia. - 2/1/2009   6:42:04 AM
  • 109
    Read "The pH Miracle Diet" by Robert Young, PhD. It is on how to balance your diet and avoid to much acid in foods. - 2/1/2009   12:53:44 AM
  • 108
    I have to try and give up flavored youghurt - 1/31/2009   8:28:40 PM
  • 107
    oh - we dont have any artificial sweeteners in our home for at least 12 years now either. I am no food saint, but just trying to make better choices to give my kids the best possible start to their lives. - 1/31/2009   8:17:35 PM
  • 106
    for several years now we have avoided HFCS. We cant get away from it entirely, but we are pretty close. We also avoid any hydrogenated oils. With 2 boys - one with ADD & one with learning issues - we have found these 2 particular ingredients cause their abilities to focus to tank and their overall attitudes to truly suffer. We avoid them whenever we can. We allow sugar & fat in our diets in lots of ways, just not these.

    thanks for the article. i had read about the Mercury problem and it does freak me out a bit. - 1/31/2009   8:07:11 PM
  • 105
    I have really been diligent about reading labels, and will put the item back on the shelf if it contains HFCS. It's amazing how pervasive that stuff is! No wonder the standard American diet is making us fat; there's no "off" switch going off to let us know we're full, and thus keep on eating. I also stay away from so-called "light", "fat-free" and "low fat" foods, as they usually contain aspartame. This is something that the jury is still out on, in my opinion, and I'm getting to the point that if it ain't natural, I don't want it in my body. I've got enough problems without adding to it by eating hyper-processed artificial "food". - 1/31/2009   7:43:47 PM
  • 104
    Two words: eat fresh. You will never have that problem. - 1/31/2009   2:06:05 PM
    This doesn't surprise me. It's appalling, but not surprising. I cut out all foods with HFCS about two years ago and all of my PMDD symptoms "magically" disappeared. Coincidence? I don't think so. - 1/31/2009   9:52:46 AM
  • 102
    Interesting! I started eating a tablespoon of local honey daily (because the stuff is good for humans) and continue to be astounded that doing so makes me feel seriously FULL. 60 calories that'll flat wipe out a sweet tooth and are actually beneficial. Use it in place of other sweeteners...not in addition to. CAUTION: honey must not be given to babies as they lack the enzymes necessary to digest it - 1/31/2009   9:18:49 AM
  • 101
    This is a very interesting article - but it worries me that the title says mercury found in corn syrup, yet the article is clearly about mercury found in high fructose corn syrup. Corn syrup, and high fructose corn syrup are different - as is fructose, btw. It is ironic that in an article telling us to read labels we have to be cautious about relying on - the title. - 1/31/2009   5:46:34 AM
  • 100
    Thanks for this interesting article. We have tried to avoid HFCS and eat sugar-free for several years now. - 1/30/2009   10:32:24 PM
  • 99
    Yes, the news about HFCS is troubling, but 'corn syrup' is not the same thing.
    I'm really bothered by the recent spate of ads saying HFCS is 'just fine in moderation' when if you eat almost anything processed, you get more than 'moderate' amounts.
    I care for an elderly woman, whose diet is nothing to sing praises about, but she shouldn't have all the problems she does--90% of which are HFCS-based. Convince her to change? Ha!
    Corn is a great vegetable; corn syrup is an ok sweetener; HFCS is a chemical additive, pure and simple. - 1/30/2009   8:37:47 PM
    Please do not confuse corn syrup with HFCS. Corn syrup IS natural, HFCS (despite what the FDA says) is not natural. Corn syrup I could make in my home, HFCS I couldn't. - 1/30/2009   8:20:02 PM
  • 97
    Thanks for the information about corn syrup(HFCS) I will be watching out for HFCS. Plus MSG (I think thats what it is) The ingredients in the soups. - 1/30/2009   6:38:16 PM
  • 96
    My husband and I decided a while ago to cut HFCS from our diet - and discovered there wasn't much in there to begin with. We cook almost exclusively from scratch, barring our ice cream and tomato sauce. If you buy regular ice cream, it's easy to find brands that don't contain HFCS.

    I hate sweetened spaghetti sauce, so for years I've been scouring labels on the lookout for HFCS or sugar in spaghetti sauce.

    Not all spaghetti sauce brands contain HFCS. Classico brand reliably produces tasty sauce with no HFCS or sugar added, much healthier! - 1/30/2009   4:26:48 PM
  • 95
    I think this is why I'm so grateful to have a Trader Joe's nearby... I can buy the fruit bars that my boys love... no hfcs, mayo... even light, no hfcs, flavored yougurt... same. This news is really scary. - 1/30/2009   4:23:27 PM
  • 94
    Oh my! Mercury is so bad for pregnant women, and developing babies. I wonder if they are doing any studies on HFCS and birth defects/developmental disorders in children. Wow, all the chemicals that are put into an on our foods. - 1/30/2009   2:19:23 PM
  • 93
    HFCS is used widely where I come from (Philippines). In fact, one product here called "Magnolia Health Tea" (note the word "health" on the label) actually has HFCS in it, but it is so popular here because it is really cheap. - 1/30/2009   12:42:43 PM
    My husband and I started avoiding HFCS a few years ago after I read a couple of articles in a science journal about it. One thing I thought was horrible was that HFCS shuts down the enzyme your stomach produces that lets your brain know you're full. You can just eat and eat. That's the last thing we need. We also started reading ingredient labels to avoid partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils. My father in law has severe heart trouble and we figured my husband didn't need to wind up the same way. We found out that you have to read ingredient labels because if the amount per serving for trans fat is below a certain % they can legally put 0% down, and yet the oils will be one of the first ingredients. He had to quit eating CheezeIts because of it. Won't give them to my stepson either, which he hates but we keep telling him its because we want to keep him around for a while. - 1/30/2009   12:13:59 PM
  • 91
  • 90
    I've tried to eliminate HFCS for the last couple of years. I also won't use carrigenan or artificial sweeteners except for Stevia. It has become a real challenge to find ANY processed foods that are healthy. Thanks goodness for fresh fruit and vegetables! - 1/30/2009   11:28:30 AM
  • SBATES63
    The older I get, the more I am concerned about all the "stuff" that is put in manufactured food. I have always cooked 99% from scratch so avoiding unhealthy food additives and ingredients is fairly easy for me. - 1/30/2009   11:18:42 AM
  • 88
    This is why we are trying to go back to a more natural eating plan rather than filling up on prepackaged foods. Most everything we buy we first read the ingredients list to make sure there is no HFCS, Soy, TBHQ and so on. This is a great concern of mine ever since those commercials came out and the lies that are being spread about how good it is in moderation. Here's a question, would you let your children play in a busy street in moderation? I doubt it. So why pollute our bodies with these chemicals that can have lasting side effects? Just some food for thought :) - 1/30/2009   10:55:41 AM
  • 87
    I can't believe how many foods contain HFCS. I am making an effort to cut it out of the foods I eat. Aftrer reading this I remembered an email I got from my cousin about butter vs. margarine. Not sure if this is true, but it was quite interesting to read.

    Truth about margarine? Pass The Butter .. please.

    Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to figure out what to do with this product
    to get their money back. It was a white substance with no food appeal so they
    added the yellow coloring and sold it to people to use in place of butter. How do you like it?
    They have come out with some clever new flavorings. DO YOU KNOW.. the difference between margarine and butter? Read on to the end...gets very interesting!
    ~ Both have the same amount of calories.
    ~ Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams compared to 5 grams.
    ~ Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard Medical Study.
    ~ Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods.
    ~ Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few only because they are added!
    ~ Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavors of other foods.
    ~ Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years.

    And now, for Margarine...

    ~ Very high in trans fatty acids.
    ~ Triple risk of coronary heart disease.
    ~ Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol).
    ~ Increases the risk of cancers up to five fold.
    ~ Lowers quality of breast milk.
    ~ Decreases immune response.
    ~ Decreases insulin response.
    ~ And here's the most disturbing fact....


    Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC

    This fact alone was enough to have me avoiding margarine for life and
    anything else that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is added, changing the molecular structure of the substance).

    You can try this yourself:

    Purchase a tub of margarine and leave it in your garage or shaded area.
    Within a couple of days you will note a couple of things:

    * no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something)
    * it does not rot or smell differently because it has no nutritional value;
    * nothing will grow on it. Even those teeny weeny microorganisms will not find a home to grow. Why? Because it is nearly plastic.

    Would you melt your Tupperware and spread that on your toast?

    I'm beginning to wonder if anyting is safe to eat anymore.
    - 1/30/2009   10:18:28 AM
    Oh my GOD, LOOK at the list where mercury was found, it's shocking and 3 of my grandson's favorite are high on that list........ok, I've got to get smarter. - 1/30/2009   9:56:58 AM
    I have never been so thankful that I am allergic to peanuts and corn! - 1/30/2009   8:55:19 AM
  • 84
    Moderation is key but what do you do when moderation has been made impossible? - 1/30/2009   8:44:45 AM
  • 83
    Well the Corn industry is on the run, they know their days are numbered, in that consumers ARE reading labels, and are avoiding HFCS more now than ever. Their commercials to say "it is natural" do NOT fool us for one minute. It is about the all mighty dollar that they are seeing cut because we don't want their JUNK in our foods.

    The other ingredient I avoid as much as I can, is aspartene. That one I don't need either, and hope to see all of that eliminated from all foods in the future.

    Lets home that happens with HFCS SOON as well! - 1/30/2009   8:28:29 AM
  • 82
    I'd like to know more about this study. From what I read in the blog, mercury was found in a lot of food, however, according to the corn processer's industry, mercury hasn't been used in creating HFCS for years. How can this be? Was the test done years ago? Did it use old food? I'm picky about all "odd" or manufactured ingredients. But, more than the fact that it's manufactured, the idea of containing mercury will keep me away from HFCS. - 1/30/2009   8:27:04 AM
  • 81
    I think my stand is that like everything else, moderation is the key. - 1/30/2009   7:45:37 AM
  • 80
    Thanks for the article. - 1/30/2009   7:23:24 AM
    I have been a label reader for years and will not do any artifical sweetners either. - 1/30/2009   6:29:52 AM
  • 78
    I'm trying to read more labels and faze out the HFCS, I've noticed new labeling on the front of packages stating No HFCS, it helps but I still read the back. - 1/30/2009   1:04:39 AM
  • 77
    The whole HFCS thing infuriates me. I stopped eating it over a 12 years ago when I became pregnant with my first child. Besides all the other things mentioned, it's not processed by the body in the same way that regular sugar is and so therefore does not send the signal to your brain that, "hey I've had enough sugar." You could go on eating it forever because your brain never gets the message that you've eaten too much. HFCS is addictive. Being that it's in almost everything at the regular grocery store, is it any wonder that people overeat?! Then when I saw the commercials making the kid that thought HFCS was bad look like a dufus, I was seeing red. I called my kids in and explained to them what it was the refiners were trying to achieve with these ads and that they should not be fooled by it. The same for the Dairy Council. - 1/30/2009   12:14:58 AM
  • 76
    Just tonight I received some sort of dutch cake from a friend (it's called ontbijtkoek in dutch) and I took a bite and it was really tasty! And zero fat, wow. Then I took a look at it's ingredients and I was 'shocked' it's main ingredient was... high fructose corn syrup! It's second ingredient rye and the third sugar. My goodness, I was eating more sugar than anything else!

    I threw it away. I remembered this article and the other one. I also found on the internet the ingredient is often called 'isoglucose' in Europe. So watch out for that one as well. - 1/29/2009   11:31:52 PM
  • 75
    After reading this article..WOW I am happy to say I am allergic to corn products and this makes me even smile more. If you read the labels like I do and have a book for all those strange names 85% percent of our food is made with additives from corn.. I have to eat organic.. Some days when I am out and forget to bring
    a snack, I can not grab just anything to eat. Oh well - 1/29/2009   10:03:55 PM
  • 74
    I haven't used products containing HFCS for many years. Now I have another reason for avoiding it. Thanks for the info. - 1/29/2009   9:45:39 PM
  • 73
    Since the 50's we've been duped into believing that cooking is hard and that we need to buy all kinds of convenience foods in order to survive. Why spend hours "slaving" over a hot stove cooking something from scratch when you can open a box, put a slit in the plastic, pop it in the microwave and presto you have dinner. You'd be stupid to not choose the easy answer, right? Well look at where that's gotten us. To any one who says they can't cook or they don't have the time, pick one of your favorite things to eat and learn how to cook it. It's not rocket science and it's been done since the beginning of time (actually they didn't use heat way back then but you get my point). Take ACTION because you are what you eat and OMG in this country that's a baaaaaaad thing. - 1/29/2009   9:43:41 PM
  • 72
    HFCS should be banned by the FDA. Unbelievable that they haven't take the stuff off the market. - 1/29/2009   8:28:36 PM
  • 71
    Yes it does startle me. I stay away from all the"toses"! I also cook from scratch and read labels like crazy!!! Even ones that are so called healthy . Trans fats and saturated fats are ones that I stay away also. - 1/29/2009   7:16:54 PM
  • 70
    This was a great article that reminded me why I have cut out HFCS as much as possible out of my diet. - 1/29/2009   6:09:07 PM
    I have started to use stevia instead - 1/29/2009   6:00:49 PM
    Every food has a potential to have mercury or something else in it ... sugar cane grows in water and you could get ecoli from it ... or cholera ... typhoid.
    I think HFCS is much maligned ... it has no more calories than sugar --- eating TOO MUCH OF IT OR ANY OTHER CALORIED SWEETENER will make you gain weight ...its calories, not origin! - 1/29/2009   5:39:33 PM
  • 67
    Great info. Thanks so much for these enlightening articles. I haven't purchased corn syrup items in years, but it helps to know it's more deadly than we thought!!! - 1/29/2009   5:11:02 PM
  • 66
    Thank you for this article. I have been avoiding anything with HFCS as much as possible. I read lables. I really irratates me to see so many things with it still there. I really have to search for bread w/o the HFCS; even labels that say 100% whole wheat. Even WW and South Beach products contain that stuff. And many of the foods suggested on Best Life Diet plan and other good plans, those foods do have HFCS in the ingredient list. I try to go for organic more and more, when I can afford it. I believe that the obese epidemic among CHILDREN/TEENS is related to this HFCS along with no recess at school...That should be stopped. Adults who buy and cook their own foods is responsible for what they put in their own mouths, But children don't really have much choices. They don't buy or cook the foods that are given to them from the time they are babies...

    Sorry this is so long...I just Hate a system where the Food & Drug Authorities will allow this stuff to be put into our foods without telling us or giving us much of a choice. - 1/29/2009   5:09:38 PM
    I do try to avoid corn syrup and do read labels but I found the information on mercury very disturbing, thank you for the info. - 1/29/2009   4:31:21 PM
  • 64
    Rather than wasting our tax dollars on suspicious advertisements, how about the corn refineries spend R&D on healthier alternatives? (Haha... yeah right). The news about mercury serves them right. - 1/29/2009   3:13:34 PM

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