The food industry helped get us where we are today. Now it’s profiteering on the results.

It’s something we’ve all heard before: Those at the highest risk of a severe reaction or death from a COVID-19 infection have an “underlying condition.”

And the top “condition,” as it turns out, is obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released results from a study last month that examined those who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 in 99 counties across 14 states, and the results are staggering. Close to 60 percent in the 18-49 group involved those who were obese. For people 50-64, obesity was the underlying condition for nearly 50 percent who were hit hard, along with 41 percent of patients 65 and over.

While it’s hardly news that obesity, especially in America, is so widespread it’s now referred to as an “epidemic,” many experts seem to have just realized that the food industry has been working for a very long time to make its ultra-processed foods considered normal eating options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Some, such as UK cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, are going so far as to say that if health authorities don’t warn citizens to change the way they eat, it would constitute “negligence and ignorance.” 

Professor Tim Spector, an expert in genetic epidemiology at King’s College in London remarked that “Obesity and poor diet is emerging as one of the biggest risk factors for a severe response to COVID-19 infection that can no longer be ignored.”

And Professor Robert Listig, from the University of California commented on the CDC report by saying that “ultra-processed food sets you up for inflammation,” which is something COVID-19 is “happy to exploit.”

But as they say, talk is cheap. What isn’t, however, is how much money Big Food spends to make sure that these stockpiles of processed products that have undermined our health so much keep on selling. And despite what that CDC report revealed, ultra-processed, obesity-spawning foods are flying off the shelves faster than ever before.

A distressing comfort

At one time, comfort foods used to constitute mom’s mac and cheese, homemade mashed potatoes or a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies fresh out of the oven. Now it appears that our eating habits have deteriorated to the point where many of the hundreds of New York Times readers commenting on an article titled “‘I Just Need the Comfort’: Processed Foods Make a Pandemic Comeback,” are arguing the vital need to consume unlimited amounts of Velveeta, canned pasta and “cheese” that comes from a can.

For Big Food, it’s likely a sales dream come true.

General Mills reported that sales are up “across-the-board” during the last month, including packaged dinner mixes such as Hamburger Helper, described by a spokesman as a “simple and delicious meal.”

Conagra Brands saw a 50 percent increase for products such as Slim Jim and Chef Boyardee canned pastas during March. Kraft/Heinz now needs to keep some factories working three shifts just to keep cranking out enough boxed macaroni and cheese, with Campbell’s soup sales jumping almost 60 percent from where they were a year ago.

And Impossible Foods, which makes the additive filled, ultra-processed fake meat called the “Impossible Burger,” has been able to use this pandemic to get its products into 777 more grocery stores in the U.S.

If, as many experts are saying, the threat posed by COVID-19 will be with us for quite a while — even gaining tragic traction in the fall — now is the time to make sure you’re in fighting shape. And judging from the CDC’s research, it appears that can best be started right in your kitchen.

Linda Bonvie

Linda Bonvie is journalist, blogger and co-author of “A Consumer’s Guide to Toxic Food Additives: How to avoid synthetic sweeteners, MSG, artificial colors, and more,” Skyhorse Publishing, March 2020.

Will a pandemic encourage a return of the kitchen pantry?

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.

Linda Bonvie

The Real Food Recipe-less Cookbook is back by popular request!

The Real Food Recipe-less Cookbook is back! More than a cookbook, it’s a treasure of information for people who realize that their bodies rebel against the ingestion of excitotoxins.  And it’s an unparalleled resource for those who simply want to avoid excitotoxins – amino acids that run amuck when ingested in quantity, killing brain cells and causing endocrine disorders which include obesity and infertility.

Find it at the Truth in Labeling website here.

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 questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

Excitotoxins in processed food: The best guarded secret of the food and drug industries

Excitotoxicity is the pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged or killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters such as glutamic acid (glutamate).

In 1969 when researcher Dr. John Olney of Washington University in St. Louis observed that process in his laboratory, it should have resulted in sweeping changes in how food additives are regulated. 

He noted that glutamate fed as monosodium glutamate (MSG) to laboratory animals killed brain cells and subsequently caused gross obesity, reproductive dysfunction, and behavior abnormalities.

Before that, the world knew nothing of what Dr. Olney had dubbed “excitotoxins.” And after Olney’s discovery, the existence of free excitotoxic amino acids present in food became the best-guarded secret of the food and drug industries.

Today, excitotoxins present in food remain largely ignored or unknown, mostly because the rich and powerful food and pharmaceutical industries want it that way. A great deal of food industry profit depends on using excitotoxins to “enhance” the taste of cheaply made food. And a great deal of pharmaceutical industry profit depends on selling drugs to “cure” the diseases and disabilities caused by the excitotoxins in the food supply.

What are excitotoxins?

Excitotoxins are often amino acids, but not all amino acids are excitotoxins. The amino acid with the greatest excitotoxic footprint is glutamate. When present in protein or released from protein in a regulated fashion (through routine digestion), glutamate is vital to normal body function. It is the major neurotransmitter in humans, carrying nerve impulses from glutamate stimuli to glutamate receptors throughout the body. Yet, when present outside of protein in amounts that exceed what the healthy human body was designed to accommodate (which can vary widely from person to person), glutamate becomes an excitotoxic neurotransmitter, firing repeatedly, damaging targeted glutamate-receptors and/or causing neuronal and non-neuronal death by over exciting those glutamate receptors until their host cells die.

Technically speaking, neurotransmitters that over-stimulate their receptors to the point of killing the cells that host them are called excitotoxic neurotransmitters, and the resulting condition is referred to as excitotoxicity. Glutamate excitotoxicity is the process that underlies the damage done by MSG and the other ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid (MfG). 

Glutamate is called a non-essential amino acid because if the body does not have sufficient quantities to function normally, any needed glutamate can be produced from other amino acids. So, there is no need to add glutamate to the human diet. The excitotoxins in MSG and other ingredients that contain MfG are not needed for nutritional purposes. MSG and many other ingredients have been designed to enhance the taste of cheaply made food for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of those who manufacture and sell them.

Glutamate neurotransmitters trigger glutamate receptors both in the central nervous system and in peripheral tissue (heart, lungs, and intestines, for example). After stimulating glutamate receptors, glutamate neurotransmitters may do no damage and simply fade away, so to speak, or they may damage the cells that their receptors cling to, or overexcite their receptors until the cells that host them die.

There’s another possibility. There are a great many glutamate receptors in the brain, so it’s possible that if a few are damaged or wiped out following ingestion of MfG, their loss may not be noticed because there are so many undamaged ones remaining. It is also possible that individuals differ in the numbers of glutamate receptors that they have. If so, people with more glutamate receptors to begin with are less likely to feel the effects of brain damage following ingestion of MfG because even after some cells are killed or damaged, there will still be sufficient numbers of undamaged cells to carry out normal body functions.

That might account for the fact that some people are more sensitive to MfG than others.

Less is known about glutamate receptors outside the brain – in the heart, stomach, and lungs, for example. It would make sense (although that doesn’t make it true) that cells serving a particular function would be grouped together. It would also seem logical that in each location there would be fewer glutamate receptors siting on host cells than found in the brain, and for some individuals there might be so few cells with glutamate receptors to begin with, that ingestion of even small amounts of MfG might trigger asthma, atrial fibrillation, or irritable bowel disease; while persons with more cells hosting glutamate receptors would not notice damage or loss.

Short-term effects of excitotoxic glutamate (such as asthma and migraine headache) have long been obvious to those not influenced by the rhetoric of the glutamate industry and their friends at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hopefully, researchers will soon begin to correlate the adverse effects of glutamate ingestion with endocrine disturbances such as reproductive disorders and gross obesity. It is well known that glutamate plays an important role in some mental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, but the fact that ingestion of excitotoxic glutamate might contribute to existing pools of free glutamate that could become excitotoxic, still needs to be considered. Finally, a few have begun to realize the importance of glutamate’s access to the human body through the mouth, nose and skin.

There are three excitotoxic amino acids used in quantity in food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, protein drinks and powders, and dietary supplements:

1) Glutamic acid — found in flavor enhancers, infant formula, enteral care products for invalids, protein powders, processed foods, anything that is hydrolyzed, and some pesticides/fertilizers.

2) Aspartic acid — found in low-calorie sweeteners, aspartame and its aliases, infant formula, protein powders, anything that is hydrolyzed, and

3) L-cysteine — found in dough conditioners.

According to Dr. Edward Group, the six most dangerous excitotoxins are: MSG (monosodium glutamate), aspartate, domoic acid, L-BOAA, cysteine, and casein.

Resources

Dr. Edward Group The 6 Most Dangerous Excitotoxins. Global Healing Center.  (accessed 8/20/2016)

Blaylock RL. Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Health Press; 1994.

Olney JW. Brain Lesions, Obesity, and Other Disturbances in Mice Treated with Monosodium Glutamate; Science. 1969;164:719-21.  

Olney JW, Ho OL. Brain damage in infant mice following oral intake of glutamate, aspartate or cystine. Nature. 1970;227:609-611.

Olney, J.W. Excitatory neurotoxins as food additives: an evaluation of risk. Neurotoxicology 2: 163-192, 1980.

Olney JW. Excitotoxins in foods. Neurotoxicology. 1994 Fall;15(3):535-44.

Gudiño-Cabrera G, Ureña-Guerrero ME, Rivera-Cervantes MC, Feria-Velasco AI, Beas-Zárate C. Excitotoxicity triggered by neonatal monosodium glutamate treatment and blood-brain barrier function. Arch Med Res. 2014 Nov;45(8):653-9.

Verywellhealth.com.  An Overview of Cell Receptors and How They Work https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-a-receptor-on-a-cell-562554   (Accessed 5/5/2019)