Galley: 1) the kitchen of a boat. Sally: 1) a venture off the beaten path, 2) a military action in which besieged troops burst forth from their position, 3) a witty remark.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Excitotoxins, BPA, Money and My Food (Part I)

I've been mulling over this post for days. On Friday, I was in some strange state of denial mixed with outrage. On Saturday I was incredulous paired with disgust. By Sunday, I was convinced that the contents of my food was somehow connected to the instability of the Euro, the teeter-totter of Greece defaulting, and American unemployment.

A part of me thinks this could still be the case, but I don't have a good working hypothesis yet.

What set me on this path? Canadian radio of course. (On a side note, has anyone else noticed that Canada never seems to pop up in all the "global economy collapse news"? What is going on up there?). Anyway, Canadian radio! The station I was listening to was interviewing a nutritionist about "Excitotoxins." Excitotoxins are a class of substances that damage neurons through paroxysmal activity. The laymen terms the nutritionist used described cells as "basically getting so excited and overstimulated that they commit suicide." Wikipedia defines Excitotoxicity as:

"The pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged and killed by glutamate and similar substances. This occurs when receptors for the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate (glutamate receptors) such as the NMDA receptor and AMPA receptor are overactivated."

Anyone have a problem with that? You should:

"There are a growing number of Clinicians and Scientists who are convinced that excitotoxins play a critical role in the development of several neurological disorders, including migraines, seizures, infections, abnormal neural development, certain endocrine disorders, specific types of obesity, and especially the neurodegenerative diseases; a group of diseases which includes: ALS, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, and olivopontocerebellar degeneration." -- Dr. Richard Blaylock, MD, Author of "Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills"

So what over-activates (i.e. overexcites) your neurons to the point that they just freak out and kill themselves? (We're talking your brain here, brain cells running like lemmings off the cliff.) The easy answer is MSG, mono-sodium glutamate. But wait! Stay with me, 'cause you're probably thinking, "Duuuhhh, I know MSG is bad. Old news." I thought so too, but the delicious stew you're making just got thicker...

Apparently, unbeknown to me, food manufacturers have engaged in a sort of "secret arms race" with the consumers of their products. More and more, consumers are reading labels and examining the ingredient lists on the foods they buy. But an informed consumer is a dangerous consumer, and the food manufacturers escalated their deception accordingly. They took MSG off their ingredient lists, and moved the three big bad letters to the front of the product, declaring it "MSG free!" And we believed... At least I believed.

I believed, and didn't think to look for the loop holes. And unfortunately, there are a lot of them. There are all kinds of substances that affect your glutamate receptors just like MSG, or that contain MSG. Food manufacturers even use other languages to hide the true identities of ingredients! How many of us in the U.S. are going to know German for sodium? And who knew that was even allowed? It's crazy! Are you starting to see the connection to the European Debt Crisis here??

So what do we do? The hard answer is to memorize the following lists, or carry them with you every time you shop. The easy answer is to just change the way you shop, because you'll have to anyway once you realize that all those yummy, natural, boxed/canned/wrapped products you've been buying all have excitotoxins in them. This is a hard conclusion to come to, hence my "Friday of Outraged Denial." After all, I had just bought ten bucks worth of nutritional yeast. Now that I know each delicious flake is hungrily eying my precious neurons, it has obviously got to go (and leave me wondering how many cells are no longer with me after four years of consumption).

Another important point to remember: By FDA definition, all MSG is "naturally occurring." This means the words "All Natural" on your food mean... well, nothing really. At least in terms of your health.

So!! These ALWAYS contain MSG
Glutamic acid
Monosodium glutamate
Calcium caseinate
Textured protein
Monopotassium glutamate
Sodium caseinate
Yeast nutrient
Yeast extract
Yeast food
Autolyzed yeast
Hydrolyzed protein (any protein that is hydrolyzed)
Hydrolyzed corn gluten
Natrium glutamate (natrium is Latin/German for sodium)

These OFTEN contain MSG or create MSG during processing
Carrageenan --This is in all chocolate milk I looked at, including organic. I used to think it was okay because it comes from seaweed.. NOT SO.
Malt extract
Natural pork flavoring
Citric acid
Malt flavoring
Bouillon and Broth -- I thought I was smart buying "Better than Boullion," but Yeast Extract is right there in it!
Natural chicken flavoring
Soy protein isolate
Natural beef flavoring
Soy sauce
Barley malt
Soy sauce extract
Whey protein concentrate
Soy protein
Whey protein
Soy protein concentrate
Whey protein isolate
Protease enzymes
Anything protein fortified -- Power/Nutritional bars anyone??
Flavors(s) & Flavoring(s)
Anything enzyme modified
Anything fermented
Natural flavor(s) --- I couldn't find a single yogurt at the store that didn't list this one. AND the nutritionist said Natural Flavorings are often worse for you than the Artificial Flavorings. Sigh.
Enzymes anything
Seasonings (the word “seasonings”)

Aaaaaaahhhh!!!!!!! What do we do? It is only the Wednesday after that first Friday for me, so I'm not very far into this, but I'm doing two things:
1) Singing praises to my husband who got me started only buying whole milk (low-fat and no-fat milk products often contain milk solids which contain MSG)
2) Basically not buying things that have ingredient lists, unless the ingredient list only includes basic food items that I know I could store and keep in my own cupboards.

I tell you, on Sunday the grocery store looked like an entirely different place to me. But I took solace in the fact that there are plenty of foods with no real ingredient list. Really yummy foods like eggs, cheese, whole fruits and vegetables, organic meats, grains, legumes. When I packed my husband's lunch this morning, I sent him off with a banana, an avocado, a small green salad, and leftovers from last night's dinner of lentils, yellow split peas and rice spiced with cumin.

My next post will move onto BPA... and will shrink the grocery store even more...

Here are some links where you can learn more about Excitotoxins. I would love to hear feedback and comments about this. The information has been out there for awhile. More people need to know.

*Thank you to The Very Essence Blog" for the MSG lists. Additional information about the lists is available at: The Little Surprises in Our Food


  1. Wow! Last week I called Full Circle organic foods to find out if they used BPA in the lining of their canned tomatoes, diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes etc. They took my name, email address, phone number and mailing address and said they would call me back with the information within 24 hours. So far no information. Jessica, you are a shining star. I am so glad we always had a garden. I am sorry I used canned tomato sauce for spaghetti. mom

    1. Mom, this is for my next post, but I'll share here too. I just learned that BPA is grandfathered in from the '60s as a "food safe chemical." I'll go into the details in that next post, but the outcome is that because of this, not even the FDA can find out which companies are using BPA in their cans and which are not... So, it will be pretty cool if they actually let you know. I suppose you could take a can to an independent lab, but I'm not sure of the cost for something like that...

  2. Wow good information as always. Thanks for the list.

    1. Since writing this post, I have been searching and searching for more information on Dr. Blaylock. I am having some difficulty turning up either praise or criticism that seems "well rooted."

      Overall, his book has excellent reviews by readers... but I haven't found the right query to turn up information on what other scientists and doctors think.

      Any suggestions from anyone?

  3. Here's what Dr. Weil says about it - this is from 5 years ago. Have there been more current studies? When did Dr. Blaylock's book come out? I'm sure hoping Dr. Weil is right about this, because otherwise, wow, how scary!

    1. Hi Alyson,

      Thanks so much for commenting and sharing info!

      Blaylock's book was published in 1996, so Dr.Weil's answer is more current... but I don't find his answer too reassuring. It sounds like there are definitely physical symptoms associated with too great of an MSG intake, but I am left wondering at what level neurons are affected? Could it be that our brain cells suffer long before we get all the neck numbness and face tightening?

      Also, from what I have read Dr. Weil is absolutely right that glutamate is naturally occurring in whole foods, and indeed we do need it... but the problem seems to be ingesting an overload of free glutamate vs. bound glutamate.

      Definitely more to learn! But for now, I have decided this: We have been evolving alongside our food sources for millions of years... suddenly dumping man-made additives into our body, no matter how "naturally based" they may be, cannot be good. Our bodies simply aren't prepared. It seems like walking into a Nuclear Physics Final Exam and expecting to pass, without ever attending the class or even studying physics for that matter.

      I am at one week of using only whole foods, no cans or packages. It hasn't been easy. I admit I'm floundering a bit, but it has to get easier, right?


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