More on the mercury in HFCS studies

>> Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dr. James Hubbard from James Hubbard's My Family Doctor Magazine, one of my favorite sites and magazines, asked a good question in the comments section of my last post on the studies that have shown mercury in HFCS. I thought that I would pull out his question and my answer and post it for those of you that might want just a bit more information on this.

Dr. Hubbard asks: Do you know if this is methylmercury or another type. If another, does the FDA have an acceptable limit, say for prenant women?

The studies looked at total mercury content measured by atomic absorption. They did NOT look at the form that the mercury is in. It may be methylmercury, but it is more likely elemental mercury or mercury in another form (just an educated guess given its source).

Methylmercury is a dangerous form of mercury that accumulates in fish. The USDA has set limits on methylmercury consumption - 0.1 micrograms/kg/day (according to one of the journal articles). No limits have been set on total mercury or elemental mercury consumption. In the Environmental Health article, they estimate a potential total mercury consumption of 28.5 micrograms/day per person from mercury-contaminated HFCS consumption.

The FDA has set a limit of 1 ppm methylmercury in fish. The limit started as 0.5 ppm total mercury in 1969, but was raised to 1 ppm total mercury. In 1984, they changed the limit to 1 ppm methylmercury only. There is no limit on total mercury in fish. (And, as you can imagine, these limits are fairly controversial.) The mercury levels in the products tested in the second study were all in the ppt (parts per trillion) range - much lower than the 1 parts per million level set for fish.

Mercury is toxic in whatever form it takes, but certain forms are more dangerous than others. Methylmercury is easily absorbed by our bodies and can cross the blood/brain barrier with relative ease. Elemental mercury isn't absorbed nearly as easily by our bodies, but it is still a toxic element that can accumulate in our bodies and potential cause cumulative problems over time.

I don't think that we need to panic because of these reports (though I am glad that we're not consuming HFCS anymore!), but it is clear to me that this needs to be thoroughly investigated by the FDA and the manufacturers - especially as we don't know the form that the mercury is in. The information presented in these articles is disturbing, and they raise as many questions as they answer. With a public that consumes such large quantities of HFCS on a daily basis - and especially children who are particularly vulnerable to developmental effects from mercury in any form - we need to take this seriously.

More for your reading pleasure at other blogs with various perspectives on this subject:
Fatfighter TV (a very nice overview of the articles)
Consumer Reports
Junkfood Science
Daddy Types
The Green Fork


Mercury found in some HFCS

>> Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yet another reason to be done with HFCS - two recent studies have found mercury in HFCS samples and foods. The first study found detectable levels of mercury in 9 out of 20 commercial HFCS samples. In the second study the Institute for Agriculture and Trade, which also participated in the first study, found that almost a third of 55 popular products with HFCS as the first or second most prominent ingredient contained mercury. The mercury contamination appears to come from the use of mercury-contaminated caustic soda during HFCS production.

Not all HFCS is contaminated and not all products containing HFCS have mercury in them. Clearly, this needs to be investigated more and changes made. Caustic soda can be produced mercury free using membrane technology, which would possibly eliminate the mercury in HFCS. Given the toxicity of mercury and Americans' tendency to consume HFCS-containing foods with gusto, any detectable amount of mercury in HFCS is cause for concern.

You can take a look at the products tested and the mercury levels from the second study here.

Care to read more on this subject? It's making the rounds in the blog world.
Food Politics by Marion Nestle
The Ethicurean
Accidental Hedonist
The Drill Coach


We're nuts about snack time!

Yes, yes...getting a little cheesy with the title, but today I wanted to share a very simple snack idea - nuts! It's easy to go crazy preparing complicated snacks, but sometimes a very simple and easy snack will do. We eat a lot of nuts around here. They're so versatile and palate pleasing.

What's so great about nuts? Nuts are a great snack because they're high fiber and high protein. They're also high fat (up to 80% fat!) - mostly good fats (unsaturated fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids) but also a significant amount of saturated fat. Because they're high protein, a little goes a long way to making a body feel satisfied. Nuts are a good source of vitamin E, B vitamins, phosophorous, and magnesium and low in sodium (though watch that excessive salt isn't added to your nut products). Nuts are high in protein, but they are limited in the essential amino acid lysine. Eat with peanuts or beans, both legumes and plentiful in lysine, and you have a "complete" protein meal.

Studies suggest that if eaten in moderation, nuts can provide numerous heart health benefits such as lowering your LDL (the bad cholesterol) level, improving the health of artery lining, and reducing the risk of blood clots that can cause heart attacks. How much do you need to eat to reap the benefits? Just a handful a day - 1 or 2 ounces - is enough. As with any food, moderation is key when eating nuts.

We have a few favorite nut products around here. I've talked about Planters Nutrition products in the past as one of them contains HFCS. We really like the Planters Nutrition Heart Healthy Mix, though. It's a tasty mix of nuts and is only very lightly salted.

And we're crazy about Blue Diamond Almonds. Their Bold Maui Onion and Garlic flavored almonds taste like a Funyun crossed with an almond - SO good! It's a bit higher sodium than the Nutrition mix I mentioned above, but still lower sodium than most of the packaged nut products. You could mix the flavored almonds with some plain almonds to lower the overall sodium a bit while still getting a bit of flavor.

I also like to keep a bowl of unshelled nuts out for munching on. The kids have fun cracking the nuts open and digging out the nutmeat. It's an easy and fun snack they can have anytime, and it's time consuming enough that they won't overeat. (And occasionally they'll use a nut to play hockey with on our kitchen floor - an added benefit!) And don't forget about using nuts in things like homemade trail mix!

So many snacking options with nuts! And I didn't even talk about nut butters and other nut products. If it's been a while since you've snacked on nuts, think about adding it to your snack repertoire. They're great for kids and adults alike!


Being a good guest when eating healthier

>> Thursday, January 22, 2009

I'm going off on a little bit of a tangent here today. I read a quote in a magazine recently that set my mind to wandering and my fingers to typing.

What do you do when you've taken on a healthier diet - say, given up HFCS - and are eating food at someone's house? Maybe you're at a playdate and a friend is serving your child bright blue yogurt or maybe a sugary punch drink that you know is filled with HFCS. Do you call them on it? Do you tell them that you don't eat foods like that?

I saw this quote from Michael Pollan, the author of In Defense of Food and Omnivore's Dilemma, in Reader's Digest last week. He says:

I really care where my food comes from, but I also care about being a good guest. So I eat whatever is put in front of me and don't make special requests.
I completely agree with Mr. Pollan. I know that not everyone is on the same food journey that we're on. Some people are not at all concerned about the ingredients in their food, some people are on a very different sort of journey than we're on, and some people are way ahead of us in the foods they eat.

I have had mothers snub snacks that I've served at playdates in the past, and I found it incredibly rude. (I'll note that no food allergies were involved. Food allergies or intolerances completely change the picture.) You can serve me shrimp floating in a pool of HFCS and topped with globs of trans fat, and if it is my only choice that you're serving me as a host, I'll eat it with a smile on my face (or else take a cue from my father and declare that I ate a big lunch and am just not hungry). I'm happy to talk about what we're doing with our diet if it comes up organically, but I'm not going to belittle your way of eating. That just isn't polite and isn't what a good guest should do.

I do think that we should fight for the food that our kids eat. We should fight for better school lunches. We should make it known with our pocketbooks and e-mails and blogs that we won't tolerate trans fat or HFCS or whatever else gives you the heebie-jeebies in our food - especially when that food is marketed to children. We should lead by example and eat a good, healthy diet so that our children have something to model. But we should also remember to be gracious to our hosts.

What do you think? Do you challenge your host if they serve you something that doesn't fit a healthier diet? Or do you eat it what you're given without comment?


From Rice Krispies to crispy rice

>> Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We've been at this no-HFCS diet for a little over half a year now, and we're generally pretty content with the foods we eat. Favorite foods that contained HFCS have been replaced with equally fine HFCS-free foods, and for the most part, we find that we contentedly over look foods that do contain HFCS (with the exception of my husband and that supermarket sushi). There are a few foods that we haven't been able to find a good substitute for, though. Nilla wafers, for example - every single variation of Nilla Wafer that I've seen contains HFCS - and until recently, Rice Krispies.

Did you realize that Kellogg's Rice Krispies and most Rice Krispies knock-offs contain HFCS? You know I'm an ingredient reader, so see for yourself: rice, sugar, salt, malt flavoring, high fructose corn syrup, vitamins, and iron. HFCS is a common ingredient in cereals - even some that promote themselves as being uber-healthy. We tried a few Rice Krispie-like cereals (like Nature's Path Organic Crispy Rice), but they just weren't the same. The texture wasn't quite right or they tasted a little like cardboard. So, we set aside those recipes that called for Rice Krispies.

Just before Christmas, I happened upon a cereal I've overlooked in the past - Natural Directions Organic Crispy Brown Rice. This cereal is fantastic! Take a look at the ingredients: organic whole grain brown rice, sea salt, organic barley malt. That's it! The texture is right - crisp, light, and airy, just like Kellogg's Rice Krispies - and the addition of the barley malt gives it the right flavor. There's no sugar, though barley malt is apparently converted pretty easily into simple sugars (probably mostly maltose) and is sometimes used as a natural sweetener. The Natural Directions cereal is even made from whole grain brown rice and has less salt per serving than Rice Krispies!

I really don't make many opportunities to use crispy rice, but I used the Natural Directions crispy rice in a peanut butter ball dessert recipe over Christmas and in a new granola bar recipe tonight. It's a great replacement for traditional rice krispies. I'm sure that it would be fantastic in a marshmallow laden rice krispie treat! (Hey, just because we're eating healthier doesn't mean we don't get to have a dessert every now and then!)

If you've seen a HFCS-free vanilla wafer product, I'd love to hear about it. And if you have a nilla wafer recipe, care to share?


Friday Link Love

>> Friday, January 16, 2009

I've got a varied lot of links to share with you this week - some new favorites and some old.

First, a blog about Living in Tok Alaska. Tok is a small town on the Alaska Highway that gets crazy cold in the wintertime. Living in Tok Alaska is an entertaining and enlightening look at life in that world.

Next, from we have The Big Picture: News Stories in Photographs. Their photo reports are always stunning and often thought provoking.

Last, one of my favorite blogs is Fruit Species. Whether looking at the common nectarine or something more exotic like the Barhee date, I always learn something new.


Pumpkin muffins revisited

>> Thursday, January 15, 2009

Last week I posted a recipe for pumpkin muffins that my kids just love. Thanks to helpful comments from the peanut gallery, I've revised my recipe a bit. I now use a 50/50 mix of whole wheat and all purpose flour (thanks, Happy Runner!) and half of the sugar originally called for (a request from my husband). The kids don't even notice the difference in the final product! I packed a couple of mini-pumpkin muffins in my son's school lunch this week, and he even told me, "Thanks for packing me a dessert, Mom!" Shhh! Don't tell him that these are actually not bad for him!

Without further ado, here's the final recipe.

Pumpkin Muffins

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 cup packed pumpkin (from a 15-oz can - be careful not to get the pumpkin pie filling can!)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line mini-muffin pan with muffin cups.

Mix together pumpkin, oil, eggs, pumpkin-pie spice, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until smooth. Mix together flour and baking powder and add to the pumpkin mixture. Mix until just combined.

Add batter to each muffin cup so that each cup is about 3/4 full. Bake until puffed and golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean, about 20 min.

Makes about 3 dozen mini-muffins.


Surprising HFCS food of the week

I found today's HFCS food of the week both surprising and pleasing. What is it? Baked beans (in a can, of course)! I am not fond of beans. For whatever reason, the flavor of beans doesn't appeal to me. But I do like baked beans. There's something about those creamy little white beans swimming in a sweet bar-b-quey sauce- yum!

We have been using Van Camps brand beans for a while. Once upon a time, we were on a fairly strict elimination diet around here because of our kids' food intolerances (outgrown, thankfully!), and Van Camps didn't have any of the offensive dairy or wheat that other brands had. It's a brand that we grew to love. I was disappointed to find HFCS as an ingredient in most of the Van Camps beans - Van Camps Beanee Weenees and Van Camps Pork and Beans both have HFCS in them.

So what is the pleasing part? The thing that pleases me is that while looking at baked beans on a recent grocery store trip, Van Camps brand was the only brand that had HFCS in it! I was actually quite surprised by that. All of the Bush's brand baked beans that I looked at were HFCS free! And the generic store brand was also HFCS free. Even Van Camps has a HFCS-free option - Van Camps Baked Beans.

Happily, there are a lot of good HFCS-free baked bean options out there, but be sure to read those labels - formulations can be very different even within a brand. Of course, you can also make your own, but sometimes it really is nice to have a can of beans handy!


Snack time...poppers!

>> Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My son is pretty picky - especially when it comes to vegetables. He would rather be hungry than snack on raw carrots. He would rather go without dinner than face a stick of raw celery. But one vegetable he happily snacks on - even asks for - is edamame.

For those of you who haven't experienced edamame before, it's a simple but wonderful thing. Edamame is young soybeans - soybeans harvested before they start to harden when they are but wee babes - that are typically boiled in water, maybe with a little salt added.

Soybeans are an excellent source of molybdenum, and a very good source of manganese and protein. They're also a good source of iron, omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, magnesium, riboflavin, and potassium - just to name a few. Soy may have other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a good cholesterol level and keeping bones strong and dense, though it's doubtful that snacking on a handful of edamame alone is going to have a significant effect on your cholesterol level or bone density.

I'd be remiss if Ididn't mention concerns about excessive soy consumption - such as increased levels of phytoestrogens, or isoflavones (found in abundance in soy foods), in infants consuming soy formula and isoflavones' effect on thyroid function. Again, those may be valid concerns if soy is a big portion of your diet, but a snack of edamame every now and then isn't likely to impact your thyroid function.

We call edamame "poppers" because you pop the beans out of the shell straight into your mouth. Poppers is a lot easier for a little one to say than edamame, and it makes eating beans a lot more fun.

You can boil, microwave, or steam edamame for a tasty treat. I like to buy plain, no-salt added, frozen edamame in the shell and boil for 5 min. I used to add salt to the pods at the end, but I've discovered that we all like it just as well without the salt. It is good with a light sprinkling of flaky sea salt, but I leave that to our visits to the sushi bar.

If you have a picky eater - adult or child - give these a try! They're fun, tasty, and good for you to boot!


Friday Links

>> Friday, January 9, 2009

Time to send out a little link love.

First, a couple of new blogs from the same guy - The Food Geek. His tagline is "Letting your inner geek and your inner gourmet mingle" - love it! You can find him at his personal blog, The Food Geek, and also blogging (and writing) for Fine Cooking.

Continuing on the geeky side, have you been to Cooking for Engineers? If not, check it out! You'll find a multitude of recipes nicely presented, food science explanations, product reviews, and more.

Last is Parenting Solved. Dr. Bryan Vartabedian's blog is packed full of good information for parents, especially if your child is on the younger side. Informative, entertaining, and sometimes opinionated - he's a must-read for me.

Remembering warmer times...


Surprising HFCS product of the week

>> Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's time to cruise the grocery store shelves and discover another surprising HFCS-containing product. This time it's not a food, which might make it even more surprising (or less if you're cynical) - liquid cough syrup! I guess it shouldn't be surprising since the medicine is floating in a thick, sweet, gloppy syrup, but maybe I expected more from my medicine.

I was surprised to find that all of the liquid Robitussin cough and cold products contain HFCS. I rarely use cough suppressant, but I will turn to an expectorant for congestion, and liquid is nice because it will coat your throat and provide a little relief from coughing that way. Take a look at the inactive ingredients for Robitussin Chest Congestion: anhydrous citric acid, artificial flavor, caramel, FD&C red no. 40, glycerin, high fructose corn syrup, liquid glucose, menthol, propylene glycol, purified water, saccharin sodium, sodium benzoate. Ugh.

There are alternatives. Not all cough and cold medicines have HFCS in them. Tylenol Chest Congestion, for example, is HFCS free. (It also has acetaminophen in it, though. Always check the active ingredients so you don't accidentally double up!) For kicks, let's just take a gander at Tylenol Chest Congestion Cool Burst Liquid's ingredient list: carboxymethylcellulose sodium, citric acid, FD&C blue #1, flavors, polyethylene glycol, propylene glycol, purified water, sodium benzoate, sorbitol, sucralose, sucrose.

Now I'm not banning all foods with food coloring or artificial sweeteners in our household (though we are naturally consuming less of both), but I do wonder what business they have in medicine. I would rather have a gross brown medicine free of artificial colors - especially if I'm going to give it to my child - than one loaded with it, especially as it seems that some people can be affected in negative ways by artificial colors. I'm sure that we could argue against some of the other ingredients too, but the artificial colors and sweeteners are the ones that really jump out at me, and both are ubiquitous in over-the-counter medicines.

So the moral of this story? Read those ingredients! All brands are not created equal. If you don't like the inactive ingredients in one brand, you might have better luck with another. Or you might find that you have to consume an ingredient you normally wouldn't in order to get the medicine your body needs.


Snack time!

I'm a mom on a mission. My mission is to get my kids to eat as healthy as possible while still enjoying their food. Snack time is often a challenge here. My kids can be picky and finicky, so I'm always looking for good, healthy snacks that will keep them interested in good food (in addition to trying to sway them to like fresh fruit and veggies). So, this is going to be a semi-regular feature here - healthy snacks that taste good. My kids are my jury here, but these snacks are just as good for adults.

My son came home from preschool a few weeks ago and asked if I would make him some pumpkin muffins. They made them a couple of times in their preschool class, and he loved them. Well, I put it off - for several weeks - because neither I nor his father care for pumpkin. Last week, I found a recipe that looked fairly easy and full of pumpkin at Smitten Kitchen. Both of my kids love these muffins! They consume them with a fervor that I can't quite translate into words.

I'm thrilled (and more than a little surprised) that my kids like pumpkin, and here's why. Pumpkin is loaded with the antioxidant beta-carotene. It's also low in fat and calories and high in potassium. Add in a fair amount of vitamin C, fiber, and other nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamin E, and it's a shame that our main use for pumpkins is as a Halloween decoration!

I tweaked the recipe ever so slightly, so I'm going to go ahead and give you the version that I used, complete with pictures of my muffins. If you want to see the original recipe and gorgeous pictures of the final product, head on over to Smitten Kitchen. I chose to make mini-muffins for portion control (though it doesn't really help when they inhale 2-3 at a time). I'm sure that a better baker than I could substitute whole wheat flour for some of the all-purpose flour and decrease the sugar and still come out with a fine muffin.

Pumpkin Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 cup packed pumpkin (from a 15-oz can - be careful not to get the pumpkin pie filling can!)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line mini-muffin pan with muffin cups.

Mix together pumpkin, oil, eggs, pumpkin-pie spice, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until smooth. Mix together flour and baking powder and add to the pumpkin mixture. Mix until just combined.

Add batter to each muffin cup so that each cup is about 3/4 full. Bake until puffed and golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean, about 20 min.

Makes about 3 dozen mini-muffins.

Are you a picky eater? Would you like to be a little less picky? Then head on over to Kid Appeal and enter the Recovering Picky Eater Challenge! I know around here my kids are much less likely to try a new food if I don't like it. I'd hate to shut down good food options for them because of my pickiness. So, I'm going to work on my dislike of beans and fish - much to the joy of my husband, I'm sure.


I'm ba-ack!

>> Monday, January 5, 2009

I'm back from my holiday break. It was a busy time of holiday fun, illnesses, and just taking a breather. And now back to business! If you're at my website (and not reading this through a reader), be patient. The dust will settle on the new page design soon.

In the meantime, how about a little Corn Refiners Association ad spoof as we ease into the new year? You can take a look at the original ads here if you haven't seen then already. Love this spoof by the guys that made King Corn!

If you haven't had enough, Cheeseslave has more spoofs for your viewing pleasure.

And last, a BIG thank you to the folks over at James Hubbard's My Family Doctor magazine for including A Life Less Sweet in its most recent issue. My Family Doctor has a debate on HFCS in its Jan/Feb 2009 issue with experts debating both sides of the question of whether HFCS is worse than sugar. It's an interesting debate that leaves some unanswered questions. I'll be watching research on this subject in the years to come, but as I explained here, I'm comfortable with our decision to say bye-bye to HFCS.


  © Blogger templates Sunset by 2008

Back to TOP