If you’ve been a part of the natural health community for long, you probably already know that sugar is bad news. It undermines immune function, triggers inflammation, depletes the body of nutrients, increases the risk of cancer (cancer cells feed on sugar), worsens high blood pressure, and more.
We’re not talking about whole grains and raw fruits. The trend in recent years has been to demonize these foods. The reasoning goes something like this: they’re all processed as sugar by the body, and sugar is bad, so you should avoid these foods at all costs; instead, fuel the body with healthy fats and protein.
While there’s certainly value to paleo and other high-fat diets, vilifying fruits and whole grains is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The body needs glucose to function. As long as you balance your consumption of fruits and whole grains with plenty of vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats, you’ll stay on the right track.
What you should avoid, however, is any kind of processed or refined sugar. As we covered in another article, refined sugar hides under many names and guises, so always remain vigilant when purchasing any kind of packaged foods.
Perhaps one of the worst kinds of processed sugar is high fructose corn syrup
Perhaps one of the worst kinds of processed sugar is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Fructose is another type of sugar—it has all the drawbacks of glucose, and it’s completely useless to the body as an energy source. This means that all your body can do is store it as fat. Furthermore, because it’s not used as fuel for your metabolic engine, it’s processed directly by the liver. It severely taxes (and can even damage) the liver, and disrupts immune and endocrine function in the process.
As bad as all this sounds, high fructose corn syrup just got even worse: a recent study published in Environmental Health discovered that nearly half of all tested HFCS samples are contaminated with mercury.
Why you must avoid this dangerous toxin (and how it got there in the first place)
If you still needed any more reasons to steer clear of high fructose corn syrup, consider this data the straw that broke the camel’s back.
After the Environmental Health study was published, a second study was conducted by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. They tested an even larger array of HFCS samples, this time in the form of popular packaged foods ready for sale—one third was contaminated with dangerous levels of mercury.
Dairy products, dressings, and condiments were among the worst offenders, and the sampling included products manufactured by Quaker, Hershey’s, Kraft, and Smucker’s.
So what’s mercury doing in high fructose corn syrup anyway?
The answer is simple: toxic manufacturing processes and poor food regulations. In order to make high fructose corn syrup, manufacturers use caustic soda, which separates corn starch from its kernel. Because caustic soda is made from mercury cells, mercury can fairly easily make its way into the final HFCS product. And, of course, manufacturers are not required to test for mercury (or many other toxins, for that matter).
And in case you need to be reminded just how bad mercury is for you, experts now agree that it is one of the most toxic and health-disrupting elements known to man. It is more toxic than arsenic or lead, and is harmful to human health in all its forms.
And contrary to what the fishing industry sometimes tries to tell us, there is no safe level of mercury.
Even miniscule amounts can be disastrous, and research has demonstrated that mercury severely disrupts neurological development, increases the risk of Alzheimer’s and general cognitive decline, and leads to mood issues, immune dysfunction, headaches, chronic fatigue, insomnia, tremors, digestive issues, and many other health problems.
The good news and the bad news
The good news is that all you need to do to avoid this prevalent source of mercury is cut HFCS-containing foods out of your diet.
It’s worth saying again: there’s no safe level of mercury, and HFCS has plenty of other health risks to make it worth quitting anyway. You’ll still be at risk for mercury contamination through some of the other societal sources, such as fish and dentistry, but avoiding high fructose corn syrup is the single most powerful step you can take toward avoiding mercury toxicity altogether.
The bad news is that, as you may have noticed, HFCS is in everything. Packaged foods, snacks and sweets, yogurt and other dairy products, condiments, dressings and sauces, bread, croutons, and even some packaged nuts. Get into the habit of always carefully checking ingredient labels, and you’ll be fine.
Once you wean yourself off HFCS, if you accidentally eat some, you’ll be shocked by how unnecessarily sweet it is! You’ll realized that a balanced inclusion of whole fruit in your diet is quite enough sugar…and your body will thank you for kicking HFCS to the curb.