We already know that we should pay attention to type of fish we eat regularly because of the mercury, a naturally occuring, yet toxic element, found in air, water and food. But have you ever thought that sweetened processed products (like cookies, chocolate and breakfast cereals) could be even a better source of mercury than fatty fish?
This is because the most common added sugars in processed food are the corn sweeteners that could be contaminated with mercury during their manufacturing process. Mercury can enter the corn sweetener product line in one of 2 ways: either with the use of mercury cell chlor-alkali chemicals in the manufacturing process or with the intentional addition of mercuric chloride to the corn starch mix at the front end of the manufacturing process to inhibit naturally occurring degrading enzymes produced by bacteria and therefore to enhance shelf life of a product.
Although the total mercury levels and the potential levels of exposure in highly processed food with the corn sweeteners seem to be extremely low, we can’t ignore the fact of its accumulation in our body. Mercury doesn’t stay in the body forever, but it takes between 6 months and 1 year to leave the bloodstream once exposure stops! Till then it can damage our nervous system.
The most popular representative of the corn sweetener in processed foods is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A study found that each gram of HFCS can deliver from 0.005 to 0.570 μg of mercury. Average daily consumption of HFCS is about 50 grams per person in the United States. That is up to 28.5 μg of daily mercury intake only from sweetened food with HFCS! Add fish, beverages sweetened with HFCS (f.e. soda, some fruit juices) and other high processed food (like vegetable oils or refined white flour) and you’ll easily reach the safe daily limits of mercury for your body!
The good news is that if you eliminate food with corn sweeteners from your diet, you’d not only lower mercury levels in your blood but also your fasting glucose levels as demonstrated in one study. A win-win situation!
So, how do you recognize the corn sweeteners in your products? Look at the list of ingredients and search for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn syrup, modified corn starch, dextrose, maltodextrose, maltodextrin, and fructose.