Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dirt is good, corn syrup is bad...

I just had to share these two news articles that just came out. In Babies Know: A Little Dirt Is Good for You, Jane E. Brody discusses recent research finding a positive connection between a "dirty" environment--dirt, intestinal worms, and bacteria--and lower autoimmune and gastrointestinal disorders. Improved sanitation comes with a price:
In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.
These studies, along with epidemiological observations, seem to explain why immune system disorders like multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and allergies have risen significantly in the United States and other developed countries.
Some suggestions for those of us fortunate to live in developed countries with access to safe drinking water: avoid using antibacterial soaps or cleaning products, wash hands in plain soap & water, let kids go barefoot and play in the dirt, and have a mixture of household pets.

So now that we've learned why worms, dirt, and bacteria are good for you, let's talk about high-fructose corn syrup. We already know it's not exactly good for us, but two new studies have found mercury to be present in HFCS. From an article in the Washington Post, Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury:
Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.

HFCS has replaced sugar as the sweetener in many beverages and foods such as breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups and condiments. On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80 percent more HFCS than average.

"Mercury is toxic in all its forms. Given how much high-fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply," said the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Dr. David Wallinga, a co-author of both studies.
Yikes! Now there are very few foods in our house that would contain HFCS. We make almost everything from scratch, so the only culprits in the fridge would be condiments like ketchup or mustard. This makes me thankful for parents who taught me good eating and cooking habits. If taste, nutrition, or price aren't enough to convince people to make more of their own food themselves, perhaps mercury-contaminated HFCS will.


  1. Good, I won't worry about Elly eating dirt whenever I take her out to the garden, then. :p

    And yet another reason to avoid HFCS. Too bad they put the stuff into everything...

  2. Man that's scary. We're trying to get away from processed foods too, and are making most things from scratch now.
    We're also bare foot, dirt loving family, so that first article was some good news for us!

  3. That HFCS is the worst news I have heard in a long time. Could this be part of the increase of ADHD autism spectrum disorders? One has to wonder? Maybe it's not the mercury in shots after all.

  4. B-but, b-b-but, it's made from CORN! So it's good for you! (as "paid for by Corn Growers Association" flashes in front of me)

    Well, I may be terrified of HFCS now, but at least I feel a little better about my slovenly house. ;) Hey, maybe the two will cancel each other out!

  5. Trader Joe's carries HFCS free ketchup and bbq sauce.

  6. I stopped buying anything with HFCS a few years ago. It is hard to avoid but the easiest way to avoid it in things like condiments and salad dressings is to stick to things labeled "organic" or "all natural." Sometimes items labeled "all natural" do still have HFCS but they are much more likely not to and it reduces the number of labels you have to read. Also, Newman's Own salad dressings are HFCS free and since they taste good and profits go to charity it's a win win situation.

    What Jane said about autism actually makes sense. I spent the last 6 years working with special needs kids (most of whom were on the PDD spectrum) and I've seen that some kids really do seem to improve when put on a variety of special diets. Maybe it's not the diets themselves but the fact that none of them contain anything with HFCS.

  7. I have an almost six-year-old daughter with low-functioning autism who we are treating with the DAN! protocol and dietary interventions. I cannot believe how much healthier and happier she has been since we cut all the crap out of our diets. It is not an easy way to live; I even make our mayonnaise and ketchup, and no, it has not "cured" her autism, but her tantrums are down from several times a day to maybe once a month; it is amazing. We have done some medical testing and different vitamin supplements and treating her for yeast have made a big difference in her health also. She had yeast infections ALL the time as a baby and a toddler and I suspected that she had a nasty case of yeast in her digestive system. Within three DAYS of antifungal medication the big purple circles under her eyes were completely gone; the difference was so striking you could see it in photographs.

    I definitely believe we are poisoning our children with our food and our environment. I wasn't even passionate about this stuff until my own child was so profoundly affected.

    The more we boycott this crap and refuse to buy it for our kids, the more the food companies will have to listen to us parents.

  8. I've heard several times that washing your baby every day wasn't necessary until they're actually crawling around and getting dirty. Reasoning being... how on earth is the baby getting dirty besides obvious nappy changes and spit up milk.

    The rules have applied even to my 2 and 1 year old. unless they're obviously dirty and really need the bath, i run a warm wet washcloth over them. Something I remember from childhood.

  9. Hey ya'll google 'dirt bacteria antidepressant effects'! (I don't know how to make links in the comments section sorry)
    While you're banishing HFCS, make sure you get vit D supplementation during the winter months.
    We only bathe kids when obviously needed, LOL, and then only with warm water, and soap where obviously needed ykwim? ever since M's UTI that might have been caused by soaking in bubble bath for too long.

    I also increased fiber and probiotics and cut out cured meats (even nitrate free) and sugar and wow, no illnesses since! We do end up with strange menu entires, like today's breakfast was frozen blueberries with several spoonfuls of almond butter, but hey, it works!!! no one even has colds any more, not even my toddler! (knock on wood)

  10. It is so hard to find stuff without HFCS. I have resorted to shopping mostly at our farmer's market that has little to no processed food. I like it because I know what I'm eating and crappy stuff for me doesn't get snuck into my food.

    As for the dirt, my microbiology professor used to sing praises for eating dirt and running around barefoot. That's how I grew up and I still loathe wearing socks and shoes most days.

  11. ...and the debate begins:

    The Corn Refiners Assoc. is disputing the claim of mercury in HFCS...not a surprise...still don't want to eat it though!

  12. On this topic, I highly recommend to you the book "Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood."

    Not sure if you've heard of it or already read it, but I just finished it and found it highly interesting. I figure its something up your alley based on your PhD studies.


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