Toxins, toxins everywhere
Mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup
Toxins are everywhere. There are small amounts of toxic fuel oils in alcoholic beverages and neurotoxins in potatoes that have been stored too long. As consumers, we need to make choices that lower the amounts of toxins we eat or drink. Let me add two extemely dangerous toxins to your list: mercury and arsenic.
When a friend of mine mentioned that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has mercury in it, I was skeptical. Fortunately, the scientist part of me pushed me to look into her claim. As a result of the manufacturing process, HCFS contains trace amounts of mercury.
Mercury is a highly toxic element; there is no known safe level of exposure. Ideally, neither children nor adults should have any mercury in their bodies because it provides no physiological benefit.  It is a neurotoxin and is fat-soluble. Since our brains are 60% fat, acute or chronic mercury exposure can cause adverse effects during any period of development. In children, it affects memory, attention, language, fine motor skills, and visual spatial skills. In adults, mercury poisoning may result in lack of coordination, speech impairment, problems with hearing, difficulty walking, and muscle weakness. Mercury exposure changes the functions of neurons in children with autism.
So, how does mercury end up in HFCS? Products developed with mercury chlor-alkli technology are used in the food industry, including citric acid, sodium benzoate, and high fructose corn syrup. In one study, mercury was found in 45 % of samples of HFCS from three different manufacturers. The amount of mercury in HFCS ranged from 0 to 0.57 μg/g of HFCS. The average daily consumption of HFCS is 50 g per person each day. Doing the math, one can estimate daily mercury exposure to be 28.4 μg, much more than the recommended zero!
Photo credit: Mrs. Pugliano on Flickr
Arsenic in organic brown rice syrup
"That's all right," you say. "I only eat organic foods." I've got some bad news for you. If you think mercury is bad, try some arsenic. Many organic foods and energy bars are sweetened with organic brown rice syrup. Unfortunately, organic brown rice syrup contains arsenic.
Photo credit: topquark22 on Flickr
Arsenic is present in food, soil, and water, and everyone is exposed to it. Research has demonstrated a link between arsenic exposure and many types of cancer, inclduing skin, bladder, lung, liver, kidney, and prostate. Arsenic can also increase the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. Finally, it causes a number of neurological effects: numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis, and blindness.
The US Environmental Protection Agency's standard for arsenic levels in drinking water is 10 parts per billion. Let's see how organic brown rice syrup (ORBS) measures up to the EPA standard. In one study, organic toddler milk formula sweetened with ORBS had arsenic concentrations six times as high as the EPA standard. In that same study, cereal bars and high-energy foods with OBRS also had much higher concentrations of the toxin than equivalent products without OBRS.
How does arsenic get in OBRS? Simply, through the rice. Rice has a special affinity for arsenic, and absorbs it more readily than other plants. Concentrating the sugars in the rice will concentrate the arsenic.
So, what are we as consumers to do? Eat a varied diet, that will lessen the exposure to mercury, arsenic, fuel alcohols, other neurotoxins, harmful pathogens, and other nasties. Finally, eat real food, not processed, as much as possible.