Adults and Children are Adversely Affected by Many Tasty Foods in Disguise

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( — March 15, 2016) — Like many families, every evening before my family sits down to eat dinner, we pause to give thanks for all the sacrifices that were made to, and the people who perform jobs that make the meal we are about to receive available to us. These words are spoken with sincerity, and the meal is eaten with trust that the content in our food is safe. 

Food advertisers bombard televisions, and magazines, with messages and mouth-watering images that make food look irresistible. Fast food restaurants, popular food chains, and manufacturers inundate marketing avenues with information, and colorful labels, reminding us that we must “stay healthy and fit,” and how to “gain energy that will keep you going the rest of the day.”  This looks and sounds great to many. But what if there is more to this than meets our eyes and ears?

In 2015, my mother contacted me to inform me that her sister, the aunt for whom I hold some of my fondest childhood memories, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a condition not commonly linked hereditarily. She spoke about her sister repeating comments over the course of a week as though they had not been spoken before. My aunt also cries a lot due to the frustration of knowing what she can no longer recall. This illness has not only devastated my aunt’s immediate family, it continues to sadden my mother who desperately, during every conversation, tries to strike up dialogue in which my aunt can engage with some degree of recollection.      

This awareness brought to mind a book I read as part of a course requirement by neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock, titled: Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills. In his book, he defines excitotoxins as a class of substances that overstimulate neuron receptors. Neuron receptors enable brain cells to communicate with each other. However, when they are hit upon by excitotoxins, they rapidly discharge impulses at an accelerated rate, disabling these receptors until they become so depleted they die.  In addition, they prompt severe levels of cell damaging free radicals.   

The most commonly known excitotoxins are monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer, and aspartame, used in products as a ‘little to no’ calorie substitute for sugar. Although the body produces glutamate in very small concentrations as a neurotransmitter, high concentrations, such as what is found in MSG, overexcites brain cells, leading to their death. Nature has designed the circulatory system in our brain with blood vessel walls that allow some chemicals to enter the brain, while blocking others. This construction is also called the blood-brain barrier.  Dr. Blaylock points out that this barrier is not well developed in the very young, and it is likely still developing in the adolescent, making them more susceptible.       

Compounding this concern, some parts of the brain never develop a barrier system at all, such as our hypothalamus, which is involved in our endocrine function. Our endocrine system produces and releases hormones that assist in controlling many important body functions.   

Excitotoxins are able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Scientific studies have also shown that high concentrations of glutamate, like what is found in MSG, passes across the barrier of the placenta, and enters the fetal bloodstream, potentially harming the brains of unborn children.  It is clear that other factors can lead to serious neurodegenerative conditions such as stress, environmental toxins, and inflammation. However, when excitotoxins are constantly consumed, over time, after the deterioration of many neurons has occurred, parts of the brain that are most affected by neurodegeneration, can lead to ravaging diseases like ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, brain tumors, schizophrenia, and migraine headaches, just to name a few.  This is why any step towards prevention is so important.

When Dr. Blaylock’s research revealed the devastation these substances can cause to our bodies, he went before congress to present his scientific findings. Determined, and burdened with having to overcome resistance from food manufacturing lobbyists, Dr. Blaylock was able to achieve one small victory. Congress decided that manufacturers of baby food must exclude MSG from their recipes. In addition, food manufacturers had to indicate on their labels if MSG was among the ingredients.    

By all accounts this was an important accomplishment. But food manufacturers were not going to sacrifice their ‘great-tasting’ recipes quite so easily. After all, they are in the business of selling taste. Instead of including or listing MSG, they include other ingredients that typically include about 30 to 60 percent MSG, such as: hydrolyzed vegetable and plant protein, hydrolyzed and textured protein, plant protein extract, sodium and calcium caseinate, yeast extract, and hydrolyzed oat flour.

Additives that contain approximately 12 to 4o percent MSG are: malt extract and flavoring, bouillon, broth, ‘natural flavoring’, natural beef or chicken flavoring, and the ever so popular ‘spices’.  To be safe, you must read labels on all food. The ingredients should be listed clearly, and itemized as individual herbs and spices that you are familiar with. Cryptic wording such as ‘spices’ is generally a red flag that the manufacturer is unwilling to reveal ingredients that will raise questions, or turn away informed consumers. The rate at which these food practices are occurring appears to be growing.

The problem certainly does not stop there. Many restaurant employees involved in food preparation are unfamiliar with MSG, and its partner in crime aspartame. After speaking with many chefs, and emailing the lists reflecting MSG blends or derivatives to them, I discovered, all were surprised to learn the length to which MSG, or what it is mixed into, was a part of the foods listed on their menus.  Some admitted never being taught about these substances in culinary arts school, and having no knowledge of Dr. Blaylock’s book.  At one time, MSG was believed to be primarily in oriental food preparations. That belief could not be farther from the reality today.

Eating out is not the same for my family anymore. We have grown tired of asking a host of questions to hopefully enjoy a meal. When we do eat out, we request that the chef or cook leave all seasonings out. If they cannot, we do not order it. We often bring our own salad dressing, or settle for oil and vinegar. We never consumed diet sodas, which means we are not prey for aspartame.  If we desire something carbonated, sodium-free sparkling water, spiked with a little of our favorite juice satisfies our palate. The few calories it yields can be burned walking to our car.

I miss the “grab a pizza and go” days. It was fun, tasty, and convenient. But after many migraine headaches, which is the symptom I exhibit after consuming something excitotoxic, I have learned taste and convenience sometimes comes at a cost. Fortunately, I am alcohol intolerant. Alcohol often masks symptoms people might notice otherwise, contributing to the insidiousness of these taste-enhancing tricksters. They are being included in food at a rate so startling, it is surprising that this topic is not being discussed as much as other important food concerns such as: genetically modified organisms or GMOs, gluten, soy and diary-free labeling, and meats that are antibiotic and steroid free.

To avoid these harmful and aggressive substances, read labels on the food you purchase. Buy food that is whole and unprocessed. Be aware that these menacing dietary units are commonly seen in foods sold at health and nutrition stores. Ask the manager at restaurants if their establishment uses these ingredients. Accept ahead of time, they are almost always used in some form in many dishes. Understand that most chefs are uninformed about excitotoxins, and their cousins.

Surrender to information supporting these significant findings, and re-acclimate your taste buds. Exercise extreme caution when considering ‘all purpose’ seasoning mixes, as well as prepackaged salad and gravy mixes. They are popular because they eliminate a lot of flavoring and preparation steps, and are notorious in restaurants for that reason. Excitotoxic additives are found in canned, boxed, frozen, and cooked foods.

Keep a food diary documenting what you eat daily. When you experience uncomfortable symptoms after a meal, going forward, begin eliminating, one-by-one, what you suspect the culprit is. Eventually you will discover the intruder.     

I miss my aunt’s spunkiness and contagious laugh. Although I will never know what the true source of her fading memory and joy is, I am reminded of the responsibility we all have to increase awareness about these life threatening, flavor enhancing imposters.