By Avalina Kreska
People send us all kinds of articles, sometimes for information, sometimes to comment on. livestrong.com is one we’ve been seeing a lot of lately. Livestrong is the perfect venue for MSG-is-safe misinformation.
Every article about MSG has a certain sameness. Most important to industry is that the message you get, even if you don’t notice it, will be that MSG is perfectly safe. Sometimes the article will point out that MSG has gotten “a bad rap.” That was very popular for a while. Sometimes the story line revolves around there being less sodium in MSG than in table salt. That’s still circulating widely and is even mentioned in “The verdict on MSG: is it really safe to eat and where is it lurking?” one of the recent articles at livestrong.com.
To be effective, an article just has to make you think that MSG might be a safe food additive. It just has to make you doubt that MSG causes reactions you can see like obesity and migraine headache. The brain damage that can’t be confirmed unless an autopsy is done will never be mentioned.
“Everything You Need to Know About Food Ingredients and Additives” and the article it links to, “The Verdict on MSG: Is it really safe to eat and where is it lurking?” serve up lots of facts from various “authorities.” The hook is the claim that what they write is “fact checked” or “reviewed” before it is published. You, the reader, are supposed to believe you’re about to read something of merit that’s been meticulously researched. But behind the check mark link next to the words ‘Fact Checked’ is concealed the information that “fact checked” only means that “we’ve confirmed the information cited in it comes from reputable primary sources.” So, Ajinomoto, the company that produces MSG would be a reliable source for information on MSG, as would be their collaborators at the International Food Information Council, which has worked for them for years. And checking the truth of what is written is not considered.
A quick scan of the two articles we looked at suggested that all of their “experts” came through the glutamate industry. And when we looked a bit closer, it became obvious that neither authors April Benshosan nor Tiffany Ayuda, did any research of their own, but took material from Ajinomoto or one of its public relations firms and added some background material. Or maybe these ladies didn’t write the pair of articles at all. A simple Google search of “monosodium glutamate toxicity” turned up articles citing MSG toxicity by Niaz, Hyndman, Husarova, Nnadozie, Kayode and others who weren’t mentioned in the Livestrong.com articles. And authors Tiffany Ayuda and April Benshosan sure didn’t go to the website of the National Library of Medicine where “monosodium glutamate AND toxic” turned up 242 articles.
We checked out some of their “experts.” In 1990 the International Food Information Council (IFIC) was employed by Ajinomoto (producer of MSG) to scuttle, or do damage control, for the anticipated 60 Minutes program on MSG. Besides doing odd jobs for Ajinomoto, IFIC often parrots the disinformation that MSG is made by the same process used to produce beer, yogurt and sourdough bread. Actually, MSG is made using carefully selected genetically modified bacteria that secrete glutamate through their cell walls. Beer, yogurt and sourdough bread aren’t made that way. Tiffany Ayuda listed IFIC three times as a resource.
Mayo Clinic was used as the reference for “researchers haven’t been able to find a reliable link between MSG and allergy.” Taking things out of context is a specialty of the Glutes. The fact is that the reaction to MSG isn’t an allergic reaction. It’s a reaction to a poison. Allergic reactions are IgE mediated. Reactions to poisons are not. So, no informed person would dream that there would be a link between MSG and allergy. But the casual reader may not know that, and the sound bite makes good propaganda.
Bonnie Gaub-Dix, author of “Read it before you eat it” is quoted as saying that “MSG has been around or centuries…it is safe to consume…” But if they’d done their homework, Tiffany Ayuda and April Benshosan would have known that MSG was only invented around 1908, at which time it was made by extraction of glutamate from a protein source, with production of MSG limited by its slow and costly method. And they would have known that in 1957 Ajinomoto began producing the glutamate in MSG using genetically modified bacteria that excreted glutamate through their cell walls. And that it was only after there were sufficient quantities of glutamate in the food supply to cause that glutamate to become excitotoxic (killing brain cells), that the world began seeing MSG-induced reactions such as a-fib, seizures, and migraine headache – and behavior dysfunction, obesity and infertility caused by the brain damage that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye.
Women’s & Children’s Hospital (which one we don’t know) is another interesting resource. It’s strange that it is not included in the list of references following the article. It is also strange to find some allegedly authoritative source listing hydrolyzed and autolyzed products as containing MSG. They contain glutamate, the same toxic ingredient found in MSG, but they don’t contain the ingredient MSG. Wherever the list came from, it didn’t come from someone who had carefully researched MSG.
And then there’s the predictable industry clincher: “Researchers haven’t been unable to find a definite link between these symptoms and MSG.” (Just for fun, note the Freudian slip, “Unable.”)
Why predictable? Because every article put out by industry must deliver the message that MSG is harmless. And psychologists will tell you that what comes at the very beginning or at the very end of a story has the greatest impact.
At a time when gathering provisions to feed your family has become an unprecedented challenge, the matter of what is in that food seems to have taken a back seat. And don’t think Big Food isn’t well aware of that.
That’s why a book like A Consumer’s Guide to Toxic Food Additives (Skyhorse Publishing, March, 2020) by longtime health and environmental journalists Linda and Bill Bonvie couldn’t be timelier.
This well-researched and fully updated book makes clear the kinds of processed foods we’ve gotten into the habit of consuming – and which are now being labeled as indispensable “comfort foods” – are just the kinds that can be lowering our ability to resist illness, be it COVID-19, the flu or any number of other opportunist infections. And that’s in addition to many of the devastating diseases we’ve grown to accept as “normal” such as diabetes and dementia, along with a variety of auto-immune illnesses.
First, however, let’s take a brief look at how industry is using this deadly pandemic to make sure we keep buying its products. There is no crisis, big or small, that Big Food isn’t ready, willing and able to take advantage of.
What could tug at your heartstrings more than a little girl quarantined with her loving dad who misses her mom and grandma? That’s the “spin” the Uncle Ben’s brand (owned by Mars) is now using in its commercials. Yes, the spot is endearing, and it will keep plenty of consumers focused on “grandma’s recipe” and the difficulties of isolation instead of the many chemical additives in Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice mixes – including some you’ll find covered in A Consumer’s Guide.
Kraft/Heinz, another mega-multinational that makes billions churning out ultra-processed foods such as Lunchables, Ore-Ida, Kool-Aid and Velveeta, has adopted a rallying cry incorporated in its new commercials for this pandemic of “We Got You America.” Yes, they certainly do.
Post Cereal, makers of Fruity Pebbles (which comes with five artificial colors and the preservative BHA – more additives covered in the book), has started providing kids with daily videos to help “ignite” their “creativity, imagination, happiness and sense of exploration in every bowl of Pebbles.”
And Impossible Foods, makers of the impossibly additive filled, ultra-processed fake meat products such as the “Impossible Burger,” has been able to use this crisis to maneuver its goods into a trifecta of 777 additional grocery stores around the U.S.
All of these brands, and many, many more, are running creative spots produced by some of the best and brightest advertising minds in the land, all hoping to craftily convince you that ingredients don’t matter. Unfortunately, most of these processed foods contain additives that make them basically unfit for human consumption.
While A Consumer’s Guide only covers 13 of the many toxic food additives in use, they are, in fact, a baker’s dozen of what you’re most likely to find in today’s processed products. It tells you not just why you need to avoid them, but how to as well.
Along with aspartame, artificial colors, fluoride (yes, it’s an additive), and genetically modified ingredients (also additives), the book covers some lesser known issues such as what commercial fats will be taking the place of partially hydrogenated oils, what preservative is linked to impaired immune function and how the media is easily manipulated to sell products under the guise of “news.”
It’s certainly a cliché, but still true: Knowledge is power. And when you’re up against Big Food and all of its resources you need all the power you can get.
A Consumer’s Guide to Toxic Food Additives can be purchased here:
How our lack of cooking skills and reliance on processed food is biting back
One of the realizations hitting many households hard in these days of self-isolation is how little we actually cook the food we eat from basic, real-food ingredients. That, and our dependence on frequent supermarket runs means there’s no need to think too much about what we’re going to serve up for mealtime down the road.
But not very long ago a pantry (also called a “larder” in earlier days when it was typically a cool room that could store perishable items) was an essential part of any well-run household. More than mere cupboards, a pantry is a dedicated space with shelving and drawers containing the basics needed to make a wide assortment of meals, such as a variety of canned and dried beans, all types of root veggies, garlic, dried herbs, oils, flour, pasta, oats, cornmeal, rice, nuts, sugar, honey, condiments, canned fish, and on and on. And no, a well-stocked pantry is not a sign of a hoarder.
Baked goods, especially breads, often had a dedicated pantry drawer.
It seems, however, that as kitchens grew into the high-tech appliance realm they now occupy, we downsized the space needed to store food and have the ingredients necessary to make authentic meals.
Even a huge refrigerator and your typical cupboards can’t take the place of a pantry when it comes to being prepared for when you can’t – or don’t want to – go shopping for prolonged periods of time.
Perhaps not surprisingly the demise of the pantry appears to have paralleled the rise of ultra-processed foods filled with risky additives. This includes items from frozen meals (even organic ones) to “protein” drinks to fake meats — such as the Impossible Burger.
But aside from self-quarantined consumers feeling the pinch of running short on their Stouffer dinners or Marie Calendar’s frozen pot pies (and stores having trouble keeping such items on the shelves), eating this way has many other pitfalls.
As revealed in a just-out book I co-authored, A Consumer’s Guide to Toxic Food Additives, regularly consuming foods containing harmful, chemically derived ingredients are known causes of today’s most prevalent health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s. And Big Food is working round the clock to convince consumers that whatever laboratory creation of ooze and garbage they put on the market is not only fit for human consumption, but good for you as well.
For example, take the latest “health” trend – “plant based” meats.
These products are “ultra-processed” in every sense of the word. The Impossible Burger contains six ingredients (one being soy protein concentrate) that contain manufactured free glutamate, the same toxic component found in MSG. Beyond Burger patties are formulated from pea protein isolate, along with several other sources of free glutamate.
My favorite, however, on the fake food list would have to be JUST EGG – a urine-colored liquid made from mung bean protein isolate (more free glutamate) and transglutaminase, a.k.a. meat glue – another additive covered in A Consumer’s Guide.
While putting thought into a pantry might seem like an irrelevant issue right now, feeding your troops well with meals comprised of genuine food might just be the turning point in helping us through these strange and frightening times.
By and large, reactions to MSG are sensitivity reactions to a toxin, not allergic responses. That’s probably why the Glutes suggest seeing an allergist if you think you’re having a problem with MSG because allergists have no tests for sensitivities. The only test for MSG (or any other sensitivity) is a challenge — ingesting the substance and waiting to see what happens. So, most allergists will tell you that you’re not allergic to MSG, which would be true.
We’ve had reports from a handful of people who said they tested positive for an MSG-allergy but it’s not common.
If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.
By Avalina Kreska
By Avalina Kreska
Thank you Avalina for sharing your talents with us!
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