Thursday, January 29, 2009

HFCS=Mercury Poisoning

Get ready for a rant.

Most of you know that our oldest son, Kimball, is on the autistic spectrum. He has an autistic spectrum disorder called Asperger's Syndrome, which is similar to High-Functioning Autism. After coming to grips with the reality that our son was different and making peace with his diagnosis, we began to educated ourselves as much as possible about autism.

Much about what causes autism is a mystery, but many researchers have found links between autism and mercury poisoning--one big reason for the debate over vaccinations and autism. (We choose not to vaccinate our children, but that is a post for another day.) It is theorized that some people don't process mercury as well (although mercury is toxic to everyone), and that people on the autistic spectrum have weakened immune systems, which further complicates matters.

Until now, if we wanted to avoid mercury, we knew that the big risks were some seafood, the old amalgam used by dentists, and in some vaccinations. Because Jared & I also believe firmly that diet has an effect on behavior and overall health, we have really tried to eliminate processed foods from our family's diet. This is one reason that I make my own bread (including grinding my own wheat,) why I rarely buy cookies (although my food snobbery does play into that,) and try to make as much as possible from scratch. We, like the rest of you, have heard about the evils of High Fructose Corn Syrup--that it leads to obesity and diabetes, and have been reading labels madly to eliminate that as well.

But we haven't eliminated it completely. If you haven't read labels looking for it, you might not realize that HFCS is found as a main ingredient in lots of everyday items, like jam and preserves, yogurt, breakfast cereal (and not just the kind you think of as "sugary"), maple-flavored syrup (like Log Cabin), and even in nectars and sweetened juices. I have been gradually replacing the strawberry preserves in our food storage with organic preserves, in spite of the cost difference, but have been feeding my family the HFCS stuff until we wipe it out. And I have yet to bring myself to spend upwards of $20 on a bottle of real maple syrup for this family of 6, who goes through a lot of syrup in a year.

Imagine my shock, concern, and even outrage, when I read about two new studies that were published this week. It turns out that much of the HFCS out there has measurable amounts of mercury in it! Even worse, one of these studies was conducted by someone who left the FDA and became a whistle-blower over this issue--because the FDA knew about it over 3 years ago. But did the FDA insist that this type of HFCS be pulled from the shelves? Did they recall all the Kellogg's Raisin Bran and Nesquik? They did not.

Now I look at the Log Cabin in my cupboard and see poison. My poor little children, at least one of whom is even more sensitive to mercury poisoning than I am, and my unborn child, have been consuming mercury with their pancakes, waffles, and french toast. Yes, I knew the HFCS was not good for you, and we cut back dramatically, but I see no reason to give my children ANY mercury at all, thank you very much.

The second study, which tested 55 top food brands for mercury (and found significant amounts of mercury in 1 out of 3 foods tested), points out that HFCS does not require mercury. It is simply a less expensive way to produce it, and as the industry is unregulated, they have gone with the bottom line. It's disgusting, really, how irresponsible that is. Lots of kids out there practically live on processed foods (not that I support that), and think of what kind of exposure they have had now to this toxin.

So, I'm writing to get the word out. Parents need to know about this. And we need to stand up to these companies who are poisoning our children to save a few bucks. I plan to write to several companies, sharing my shock and concern. I will also be returning all my unused HFCS products to Costco (as long as that's where they came from), rather than using up those last few jars of strawberry jam before we go clean.

For more info on this, read:

USA Today
The Huffington Post (this one has links to the studies as well)
Washington Post

Now please, go through your cupboards and get rid of that stuff!


Joyful Noise said...

Since George is allergic to corn we have been really good about eliminating HFCS from our pantry for about the last 15 years. The way we make maple syrup is:

2 c. white sugar
1 c. water

(The way they process sugar probably isn't much better, but that is what we use.)

Heat until it comes to a rolling boil and add about 1/2 to 1 tsp. maple flavoring. Our kids prefer it. I know it is a lot of sugar - but definitely better than the HFCS (and a lot less expensive.)

We also found another fantastic recipe for a cinammon maple glaze type syrup that I will have to tell you about. It was easy to make and fantastic!!!

Rebecca said...

Oh, that makes me so ANGRY! Thank you so much for telling us about this. We don't use much that has it, but I have been buying the cheaper jelly. I won't anymore.

Those commercials lately promoting HCFS really get under my skin. And to think that they knew about this three years ago, and that it's not even necessary? That's criminal.

By the way, we also choose not to vaccinate our kids. Just another thing we have in common. My second one has had some developmental delays including speech, communication and sensory issues. He has cousins with autism. I certainly don't want my kids ingesting that stuff.

Sea Star said...

I have always wondered why we see so much more autism the last few years. HFCS is in just about everything you buy from the store. I have been reading labels closely to avoid it as well as MSG and colorings from our foods but it is so hard not to have it once in awhile since it is in just about everything. I have had to overcome my "buy the cheep stuff" mind set and buy what is more natural.
Now that you brought up those links showing that HFCS has mercury in it... wow... I am really going to make it even more of a priority. I already cook from scratch most of the time but we do have a few items that have those things listed.

Thanks for sharing!

Macy said...

Wow. Really amazed by this. Not in a good way. Thanks for posting this, Michal. I've been thinking I need to feed G-Man fewer processed foods. I don't do too much, but I'm going to try to eliminate it now.

Prudy said...

Shocking! It makes me want to move to Iowa and grow my own taters, or make it Alaska and we can be the Wilderness Family. As long as I can have my INternet. We don't do HCFS because Shane's mom is highly allergic, so I just figured there was a chance the kids would be too. YOu really have to be vigilant though-ketchup, soy sauce, crackers-stuff that even serious from-scratch cooks have around. I do make my syrup like joyful noise, but I will often splurge on real maple since it is supposed to have naturally good stuff for you.
Good luck avoiding it and thanks for the voice of warning. And remember in the 70s when people though plain old sugar was so bad for you! Hah!

Lisa said...

Michal- Thanks for the info. We too have been working on getting HFCS out of our lives but I am not as vigilant as I should be. And I was feeling good about buying whole grain bread without HFCS and you are making all the bread your family eats! That's awesome, and time consuming. How do you do it all?

As far as syrup goes, at the beginning of our marriage Jason laughed out loud when I tried to buy syrup at the store. His mom always made it and she taught him and he has always made ours. Instead of 2 C white sugar he does a cup of white and a cup of brown. It doesn't take long at all and tastes better (IMHO). I hope you convert. ;)

Erika said...

AND would you believe that in our latest Family Fun magazine, there was an ad for HFCS.
One kid says to another, "My dry cleaner says high fructose corn syrup is loaded with calories." other replies, "a registered dietitian presses your shirts?"
Caption below: there's a lot of misinformation out there about sugars made from corn. Truth is, high fructose corn syrup is nutritionally the same as table sugar. The same number of calories, too. As registered dietitians recommend, keep enjouying the foods you love, just do it in moderation. We welcome a healthy discussion. Get the facts. You're in for a sweet surprise." then
ad by the Corn Refiners Association.


I was going to put the recipe we use for maple syrup up but its the exact same as what Debbie does so never mind :-) She beat me to the punch.

Allison said...

The FDA needs to start doing thier job. It seems like a given to restrict the use of mercury in a food product!

Aly sun said...

I had not heard about this. Thanks for spreading the word.

Aubrey said...

Thanks for this info! I am not super careful about HFCS, but I am not a fan of it, no matter what those dumb commercials want us to believe. (Seriously, just because it has the same calories as sugar, does not make it ok to eat. It's like equating shortening with olive oil.) And I have been thinking alot about this and food dyes and artificial flavorings etc. the last few months. I am slowly trying to cut out all the processed stuff. This gives me more motivation to really be vigilant about what I feed my family. Thanks!

Van Woerkom Family said...

Yikes, I read this, too. Scary! You might be interested in the book I'm reading right now by Michael Pollan, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". It's a fascinating look at where our food comes from--makes you really think twice about what you're eating!

Hansen Family said...

The information you shared was very interesting. It gave me a lot to think about. I do have to say that I had a 1st grade boy in my class one year with Asbergers. He was by far my most favorite student I taught in my 6 years teaching. I don't think I will ever forget what a unique and fun little boy he was!

Vanisi79 said...

Hi, I am new to your blog, but I wanted to thank you for the post. I too avoid HFCS like the plauge. I found out for myself that it makes you hungrier because I did a simple test. I ate a piece of bread with it and felt desparately hungry. Later I tried a piece of bread without it and felt full. Same with ketchup and other stuff, once I got rid of it (the stuff with HFCS) I started to feel more satisfied. Amazing that another reason to avoid it is because manufacturers use mercury to process it (maybe mom and dad will listen to me now). Those commercials about HFCS make me sick. It's like watching kids giving each other a cigarette and saying "using it in moderation wont hurt you." What a joke!!


Mama Rachel said...

As another mother with two Aspie kids who tries to cut out processed foods (we don't vaccinate, either, due to our kids), I REALLY appreciate this post. In the Word of Wisdom, it talks about "conspiring men" in the last days, and the Lord wasn't just talking about the cigarette companies! (I'm assuming you're LDS, btw.) When food manufacturers can make their foods addictive, they earn much more money-- ingredients like HFCS are highly addictive. Gee, I wonder why obesity is on the rise???

Thanks again for your post...

Kara said...

I have been reading your blog for some time but I think this is the first time leaving a comment. This is a great post about HFCS and explains everything well. After this "announcement" was in the news I was very relieved we removed all HFCS from our diets years ago. And we are vigilant. Even our kids know how to read labels and won't get near it. They are also allergic to food colors and preservatives so we steer clear of those, too. We make just about everything from scratch. We don't do vaccines either. Thanks for the great post.

Tamlynn said...

That is crazy. Another incentive for my strawberries to do well this year -jam!

An Ordinary Mom said...

Thanks for the information! I often try to read labels, but this gives me even more of an incentive!

My Ice Cream Diary said...

Yowsers, thank you so much for the info. We constantly try to reduce our HFCS intake but this is a good reason for being more active about it.

Ha ha. I was ust typing about making your own syrup, but others beat me to it.

Ashley said...

This is definitely eye-opening. I have been thinking a lot lately about trying to be more resourceful and also just feeding my family in a more healthy way, in a timely fashion and on a half-decent budget. What an example you are. I would love to hear how you make it all work.

Rebecca said...

Well, thanks for the stress inducing post. I had to buy organic ketchup today instead of the regular stuff.

Anonymous said...

With regard to the gluten-free diets to prevent autism:
While there were some anecdotal parent and teacher reports of positive dietary effects on language and behavior, group analysis data indicated no significant differences in the behavioral data or urinary peptide levels of gluten and casein. It is also interesting that parents of 9 children decided to keep their children on the GFCF diet even though there was no empirical support for continuing the diet. This project demonstrates that it was possible to develop and implement a double-blind condition using GFCF and placebo diets since 8 of the parents could not distinguish between the placebo and experimental diets.
Jennifer Harrison Elder, “The Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet in Autism: An Overview With Clinical Implications.”
Also see:
Research has shown of high rates of use of complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) for children with autism including gluten and/or casein exclusion diets. Current evidence for efficacy of these diets is poor. Large scale, good quality randomized controlled trials are needed.
Millward, Claire, et. al., “Gluten- and casein-free diets for autistic spectrum disorder.”

Anonymous said...

On topic of HFCS:
Based on the currently available evidence, the expert panel concluded that HFCS does not appear to contribute to overweight and obesity any differently than do other energy sources.
Forshee, Richard, et. al. "A Critical Examination of the Evidence Relating High Fructose Corn Syrup and Weight Gain."
the increase in consumption of HFCS has a temporal relation to the epidemic of obesity, and the overconsumption of HFCS in calorically sweetened beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity.
The author notes directly that there is a TEMPORAL relation (non-causative correlation) between HFCS and obesity, but that the real problem is the OVER-consumption of HFCS (which can be read as any sugar).
Finally, HFCS does not equal mercury poisoning. While there is some mercury intake, which is unnecessary, the concern is OVER-consumption of HFCS by children. Less than half of the samples of the first test contained mercury, and only 1/3 of the next. (for you statisticians, those sample pools are unusually small). So, while there are trace amounts in some foods, most do NOT have mercury, and those that do do not contain toxic. Again, the concern is OVER-consumption.
Disclosure: I am not financially or involved in any way with any nutrition industry, including HFCS, nor am I so involved with any author or organization cited.

Rebecca said...

Ok...I just have to say here that I have talked with 3 pediatricians on the subject of mercury and vaccinations and they have all told me that there isn't a proven link. Devil's advocate in me has to agree with anonymous's comments. This seems to be more of the next bandwagon to jump on. Hey...I'm all for eating healthier foods, but not so sure that HFCS=Mercury Poisoning. Just my two cents. But, you did manage to influence me to buy that organic ketchup.

Ahhh...The stress of life is getting to me!

Michal said...

There is much controversy over the link between vaccinations and autism. The doctors that you talked to are right: there is no proven link at this point. But all of the studies that have been done to date (because it takes a lot of money to fund good sized studies) have been done by those who stand to gain from immunizations or lose big time if they are proven to be dangerous to even part of the population.

Within the autism community there are thousands of parents who will tell you that everything changed for their child on the day their child was vaccinated. I can't way whether or not the immunizations caused the autism (my own personal theory is that those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to the live toxins and the agents that the pharmaceutical companies use to transmit the toxins, and that they react more violently than the average child). I think it is an individual/family decision if and when to vaccinate--but it is important that parents realize that there are risks on both sides, and the powers that be will have you believe that the only danger lies in not vaccinating. In our family, we have decided that the risk of our child getting the measles, for instance, (let alone dying of them) is one we are willing to take vs. the risk that our children will be one of those who suffers some of the terrible proven or unproven side effects of the vaccinations. Again, I think it is a personal choice, but I think that those using scare tactics are the AMA, the pharmaceutical companies, and the government who has made these shots mandatory, and thus has a big liability if they are proven to be dangerous. This may sound cynical, but money talks, and we're talking about billions of dollars here.

In terms of HFCS, I'm sure that as with most other poisons, it is a cumulative effect. But we need to be aware of how much we are accumulating. As I noted, it is found in everything from ketchup to graham crackers to jam to yogurt. That can add up if you're not paying attention. Additionally, if, as in my case, your child already has a difficult time processing and eliminating trace metals in their body, the mercury offers a greater threat. I did not intend to frighten, only to give parents the information that these food companies are not mandated to give.

If we really want to avoid anything chemical that might poison us, I guess we'd have to move to the wilderness, where we would grow and hunt our own food. But that's not really practical, is it? So we each need to make decision for our family based on the balance of what is practical for our family and what poses the most danger to our family.