High Fructose Corn Syrup is a sweetener found in many processed foods and has been linked to such diseases as obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes and diabetic complications, fatty liver disease, and over-production of triglycerides by the liver.
It is commonly labeled as glucose-fructose and is found in soft drinks, cereals, ketchup, miracle whip, pop tarts, nutri-grain bars, cookies, crackers, cough syrups, BBQ sauce, juices and many, many other packaged foods. You should also beware of labels that read dextrose, maltodextrose, caramel flavouring, vegetable gum, sorbitol, corn sugar, corn sweetener, modified starch, dextrate and of course, corn syrup.
The criticism of high-fructose corn syrup is that it is converted to an unnatural form by changing the sugar (glucose) in cornstarch to fructose. The end product is a combination of fructose and glucose however, the disproportionate amounts of each sugar has been suggested to create an unstable molecule in the body which may lead to tissue damage and result in disease.
Corn syrup is preferred by the food industry because of its availability, low cost, convenience and ability to extend shelf life.
Supporters of the corn industry suggest that high fructose corn syrup is not specifically to blame and the link to disease is a result of the over-consumption of processed foods and soft drinks. It is likely that if sucrose replaced high fructose corn syrup in the above foods, the same associations with disease could be made.
For this reason, all forms of sugar should be eaten in moderation.
However, there exists another very concerning reason to specifically avoid high fructose corn syrup: The Case of the Missing Mercury.
The production of high fructose corn syrup uses chlorine and caustic soda, which are produced in chlor-alkali plants using mercury cells. There exists 5 of these plants in Canada and 8 in the US. In 2003 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that on average, approximately seven tons of mercury were missing from each US plant in the year 2000. These chlor-alkali plants have an average of fifty-six cells, each containing as much as 8,000 pounds of mercury and, every year the chlor-alkali industry reports unaccounted mercury losses to the EPA.
An investigation was undertaken to find the missing tons of mercury and of twenty samples of high fructose corn syrup, mercury was detected in nine. Of the eleven samples in which mercury was not detected, nine were from the same plant.
In a second study by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), 55 brand name foods were analyzed and mercury was detected in 1 out of 3 of the sampled foods, most commonly in high fructose corn syrup-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.
Its difficult to trace foods back to the manufacturing plant and until all plants have phased out mercury cell technology (expected by 2012) it is important to limit the consumption of high fructose corn syrup containing foods to avoid unnecessary intake of mercury.