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If mercury were listed as an ingredient on a package of food, would you buy it? Probably not, but unless a food is certified organic, you may be doing just that, says Renee Joy Dufault, PhD, a former food investigator for the FDA and author of Unsafe at Any Meal: What the FDA Does Not Want You to Know About the Foods You Eat (Square One Publishers).
It turns out that many processed foods contain residues of inorganic mercury. A different form than what’s in fish (methyl, or organic, mercury), inorganic mercury is used in manufacturing food ingredients because it extends shelf life. The law doesn’t require that it be listed on labels because residues are considered “safe,” but research by Dufault and others begs to differ.
One of Dufault’s studies, published in the journal Integrative Molecular Medicine, found that people who ate more processed food had higher blood levels of mercury and higher levels of blood sugar, which raises risks for diabetes and heart disease. And, she says, “The inorganic mercury in the food supply makes us more susceptible to the adverse effects of organophosphate pesticide exposures, so there’s a cascading effect.”
How to Avoid Hidden Mercury
Dufault recommends avoiding all processed food, in supermarkets and restaurants, but at the very least, skipping these common mercury sources:
- Corn sweeteners, including corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup
- Sodium benzoate, a widely used preservative
- Artificial food coloring
Fortunately, mercury isn’t used in making certified organic ingredients. Go to foodingredient.info to learn more.
Studies show that magnesium and selenium protect against damage from mercury and may help to eliminate the metal. Both minerals can be found in many multivitamins, and integrative physicians generally recommend taking extra magnesium.