“Here, Honey: Have Another Teaspoon of Mercury in Your Juice”

Posted January 30, 2009 by

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This week, it was reported that mercury is contained in half the tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup in our food— yes, that’s the sweetener that has replaced sugar in much of the stuff Americans consume every day. From catsup, juice and strawberry jelly to Coca-Cola, this substance laces uncountable items lining our grocery store shelves. And here’s the kicker — reportedly, the FDA knew about it and sat on the information. (This, coming on the heels of the news that the peanut butter factory behind the recent salmonella outbreak has a long rapsheet of health violations.)

According to the study, the average American consumes about 12 teaspoons of HFCS a day, while researchers have determined that teens (and other “high consumers”) take in up to 80 per cent more than that. Mercury has been linked to learning disabilities in children and heart disease in adults.Many experts are saying the amount of mercury we’re putting in our bodies is very low, and that we shouldn’t worry about it. Well, I don’t know about you, but any amount of a toxic chemical in my kid’s food is too much for me.

Said Dr. David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and co-author of the study, “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.”

And where is the mercury coming from? Here’s a direct quote from Medical News Today: “For decades, HFCS has been made using mercury-grade caustic soda produced in so-called “chlor-alkali” or industrial chlorine plants that use mercury cells. The caustic soda, which can thus contain traces of mercury, is used to separate the corn starch (that goes to make the syrup) from the kernel.”

I’ve been trying to limit HFCS for years anyway — I swear they make my son rabid when he consumes too much, as I’ve blogged about before — but this is just another reason to do so. I also can’t help but wonder: What effect are all the chemicals in our food having on our kids’ health — and behavior?

What do you think? Do we need to limit our intake of HFCS — and is it affecting our kids — or is this just a false alarm?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. Khar59 (Edit) Report

    It gets scarier by the minute and makes me wonder how anyone can deny that autism and mercury may have a connection. Autism is at epidemic proportions in this country. If we are all consuming mercury then how does that not transmit to our babies even when pregnant?

    The FDA is in place for what reason? Perhaps it’s a conspiracy to provide more patients for the drug companies?

  2. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Robert and Jan, thanks for the information about HFCS. I think I’m going to have to read that book now! It makes sense to me that it turns off our portion control ability. And Beth G., good for you for having your son tested for toxins and chemicals, and then working to improve his nutrition. Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes.

  3. Beth G. (Edit) Report

    Thank you for your eye-opening article. I think the general public (myself included!)has no idea how the proceesing of food is handled. It is alarming to hear that toxic materials are in our food without our knowledge.

    For anyone that suspects their child may be affected by these kinds of toxins, I strongly encourage you to seek the help of a nutritionist or other naturopathic based doctor. They can not only help identify if there has been exposure to toxins such as metals, but they can also help with the detoxing of these substances.

    My 6 y.o. son has had low attention and concentration as well as emotional outbursts. After testing for metals and other chemical toxins, he got on a detox and immmune support program with food changes and supplements and we’ve seen a big improvement with his functioning. I hope all partents have the courage to seek out whatever help is available and to stay informed!

  4. Jan in AZ (Edit) Report

    HFCS will either never be banned, or take MANY years of lobbying just to force companies to cut back. Follow the money. Now, there are all those ads on TV trying to make everyone who is against HFCS look stupid.

    Does anyone remember the cigarette ads showing doctors promoting the health benefits of smoking?? The tobacco industry fought tooth and nail to combat their bad press. Everybody knows smoking is bad for you, but there is no way it will ever be banned completely. Sure there are warnings on the packages, no more TV ads or billboards, and no smoking in public places, but tobacco is still a huge industry, and still making piles of money. At least it is more easily avoided. No parents are handing out cigarettes at kids birthday parties! HFCS is going to be so much harder to avoid since it is in our food. It’s cheap, it makes things taste good, and as Robert Rogers referred to in his post, it makes us spend more money because we have lost our sense of portion control. (I’m guessing Robert read the same book I did. It’s called “The Sugar Fix: The High-Fructose Fallout that is Making You Fat and Sick” by Richard J. Johnson. He explains all the science and the specific scientific tests behind his statements. Not just some crackpot.)

    I’m actually thrilled to hear that HFCS has murcury in it because it will make more people sit up and take notice. This is a big-deal, serious issue. I’d better stop before I really get going!! Thanks for letting me vent!!

  5. Laurie (Edit) Report

    My daughter works at a grocery store and says that most teens that come in at lunch buy coke or high energy drink and a doughnut. I was recently reading about the high acidity of these drinks as well, when our bodies are already so out of balance with acid/alkaline. One can of soda takes 32 equal amounts of an alkaline water like Kangen to balance! Then add the mercury…which never leaves our bodies. How can even a minute amount be safe when it is so dangerous and is stored forever?! The FDA seems more like the mafia. We need to take charge and teach our kids what this is doing to them. Ditto Elisabeth regarding direct link of food and our health!

  6. andrea (Edit) Report

    wow! this is all great news. i have been at it with the school for 2 yrs. “we think your son has ADD” i had him tested twice the doctor said no he does not have ADD. then this year they came up with ODD. i have been to the doctor many times now and we are doing a series of tests to rule things out and today we are doing the heavy metal toxin test and lead test. he also went for a n eeg today. he has 9 food allergies and im up to my ears in the internet and doctors visits and when i researched heavy metal toxins i was dumbfounded
    all of my son’s symptoms were their (mercury,lead,&arseinc)were the main toxins. so we’ll know soon whats going on. i recommend that everyone check it out and get the kids tested for these poisons we have to start some where and foood is #1
    thanks andrea

  7. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Thanks for your comments everyone. And yes, I think it is scary.
    By the way, not only are they more stringent in Europe and Japan, but the supermarket produce tastes better, too. (My husband and I lived in Japan for quite a few years, and the fresh fruit and vegetables there are wonderful. The only way you can get the same quality here is if you buy directly from a farmer or go to a farmer’s market, which we try to do as much as possible in the summer.) Lastly, I think there is a real connection between what our kids are eating and some of the behaviors/health problems we’re seeing today. I’m not saying it’s the only cause, but I do think that HFCS, additives and preservatives, mercury, etc. have to have an impact on kids energy levels and health.

  8. petral (Edit) Report

    I am so glad to see this info reaching more people in the U.S. We, as a country, think our government is there to be our Mommie, and nothing could be further from the truth. Corn syrup in any form is NOT GOOD for any human being (it is not even actually food), and this is well-documented scientifically if anyone will just take a look. Our government allows things into our food supply that are simply frightening. We have zero tolerance for corn syrup at our house (my four year old and I, though not, unfortunately, my husband), not only because of the health risks, but also because my son’s behavior goes nuts when he consumes any corn syrup. I am now militant with this rule with my own family and my in-law family because I know it is damaging my son. Who in their right mind would willfully allow this to happen? I think we need to take a hard look at what our “food” is made from. Then we need to start buying organic and stick to only perishable foods. If it comes in a box and has a long shelf life (or none at all!), it’s unlikely to be conducive to good health. Fresh food, only, America!

  9. Cathy (Edit) Report

    Not only is the processing of HFCS unhealthy, but the source of most of the corn is a genetically modified species. GMO foods in the human diet are new – only since 1996 and the long term effects are not known.

    They are banned in Europe and Japan for this reason.

  10. canuckatheart (Edit) Report

    What an eye opener! I have always limited the sugary snacks in my house – no cocoa puffs or fruit loops, and soda has never been free flowing. It just seemed to make my son, and stepdaughter before him, too wild and overemotional. I’m glad now, reading this, that I did that early on. Of course now that my son is in middle school I have no control what he buys from the vending machine…why do middles schools have vending machines that sell soda anyway?!

  11. Robert Rogers (Edit) Report

    Another aspect to HFCS is the affect that it has on the brains ability to discern portion control. When I was a kid (I’m 50) most products were made with real sugar. If you had sat down and ate a box of fig newtons or drank more than 2 coca colas you would have been sick as a dog all day.
    Since the advent of HFCS, our brains have had the portion control switch turned off. HFCS prevents our brains from determining when we are full. That’s why there wasn’t a 64oz. super-big gulp in 1964. It wasn’t physically possible to consume that much sugary liquid in one sitting. And HFCS is in every product from Pizza Hut to Baskin-n-Robbins. It’s everywhere….if you thought the auto industry bail out was big wait till they ban HFCS.

  12. Gina (Edit) Report

    Great article albeit a little frightening. Theres a bottle of cola in the fridge and only because it came free with the pizza.. I know what will be cleaning my toilet today.
    Its just scary tho …what you think is normal and ok to consume really is not. I dont even like the sound of the separation technique for the kernals and the fructose. I will be eyeing all the ingredient labels scrupulously and really whats wrong with a glass of water these days. Its actually my sons favorite drink



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