Ask the FDA: What’s Sneaking into your Shopping Cart?

Embattled in yet another food fight, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is facing criticism for approving a new synthetic sweetener, and for allowing it to creep unlabeled into American food products, including those certified organic.

Neotame, the sweetener under scrutiny, is a calorie-free alternative to sugar—and a known neurotoxin. Created by NutraSweet, then owned by food titan Monsanto, the sweetener was submitted for approval in 1998 and was subsequently approved in 2002. It has been used to enhance food since then, sometimes, in ways unknown to the American public, its name withheld from the ingredients list.

While Neotame is a derivative of Aspartame, a fellow toxic sweetener produced by Monsanto, it also contains 3-dimethylbutyl, which the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated as a “known hazard.”

“Neotame has similar structure to aspartame — except that, from its structure, [it] appears to be even more toxic than aspartame,” explains health website Holistic Med. “Like aspartame, some of the concerns include gradual neurotoxic and immunotoxic damage from the combination of the formaldehyde metabolite (which is toxic at extremely low doses) and the excitotoxic amino acid.”

Yet those “low doses” are key for the proponents of Neotame, who claim that since Neotame is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than natural sugar and 30 to 60 times sweeter than Aspartame, less of it can be used as a flavor enhancer. Thus, supporters say, the smaller amounts of Neotame added to foods make it a safer alternative to other sweeteners.

Organic food supporters, however, say that the health risk associated with Neotame is not the lead player in this debate. It’s the principle of the thing. It’s the idea that the government should not be cozying up to corporations, especially when consumers’ health is on the line. It’s the idea that consumers have the right to know exactly what goes into their food—whether or not Neotame is safe enough to be put on the dinner table should ultimately be up to the buyer to decide, regardless of what the FDA thinks.

“Consumers have the right to know what they are buying and should not be tricked into purchasing organic products that are not truly chemical free,” writes Lindsey Powers, who began a petition addressed to the United States Food and Drug Administration and aimed at requiring Neotame to be listed as an ingredient wherever it is present. “For reasons that are unclear, the FDA ruled that Neotame is acceptable in all foods and does not need to be included on the list of ingredients for USDA Certified Organic food items as well as Certified Kosher products.”

Powers’ petition is available here: http://forcechange.com/13992/keep-our-foods-organic-demand-labeling-of-new-artificial-sweetener/

For now, consumers will have to be more cautious when grocery shopping, because labels lie and killers lurk on store shelves.

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Sugar-01.jpg

MSG: The Obese Elephant In The Room

Have you ever wondered why many signs as you enter Chinese food eateries read “No MSG?”  If you failed to see this sign would you still consume their food or would that be a deal breaker?  Monosodium Glutamate aka MSG was discovered and patented by Professor Ikeda of the University of Tokyo in 1908, when he isolated the glutamic acid in the seaweed commonly used in Asian broths and it has been a mainstay in Asian cuisine and many other processed foods ever since.  

Today experts blame MSG for causing many side effects, such as, headaches, dizziness, chest pains, shortness of breathe, nausea, rapid or irregular heartbeat, flushing or excessive sweating, skin rash, numbness, intense thirst, lethargy or sleepiness, ringing ears, tingling in the mouth, obesity and sexual reproduction problems.  Pretty lengthy list of side effects for one ingredient.  But that is just the tip of the iceberg for the impact MSG has on the body and the environment.

In the 1970’s MSG was reluctantly removed from baby food, but somehow it has made it’s way back into the foods commonly eaten today and also in fertilizers used to grow fruits and vegetables.  Fertilizers such as, Omega Protein Refined/Hydrolyzed Fish Emulsion and Steam Hydrolyzed Feather Meal contain hydrolyzed proteins and AuxiGro WP contains both hydrolyzed protein and monosodium glutamate are being sprayed on many of the fruits and vegetables consumed today.  So not only is MSG a common food additive found in much of the fast and processed foods on the market, it is also a primary component in the growth cycle of U.S. agriculture.

MSG is derived from an amino acid called glutamic acid, which contains D-glutamic acid, pyroglutamic acid and a host of other chemicals that are referred to in the industry as “contaminates.”  These contaminates are used to grow and process food.  So what’s the big deal?  Here’s where it must get a bit technical to accurately explain how MSG directly impacts the human body when consumed.  Glutamic acid is known to be toxic to the nervous system because it is a neurotransmitter that can get into the brain causing nerves to over excite often times injuring and killing neurons.  According to Dr. Jack Samuels, President of the Truth in Labeling Campaign, the evidence of toxicity of MSG is overwhelming “exposed laboratory animals suffered brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders.”  It was also noted in studies conducted on retinal degeneration in mice treated with free glutamic acid that they also became very obese following administration of the acid.  Is it simply a coincidence that the hypothalamus in our brains regulates weight as well as other endocrine functions?

Which brings us to another horrible impact of consuming MSG…obesity.  According to a study highlighted on ForceChange.com, MSG has successfully been linked to obesity.  A research team travelled to China in 2008 where MSG is consumed in large quantities and found that “one-third of people who used the most MSG were almost three times as likely to be overweight” than those who consumed none.  So how exactly does MSG lead to obesity?

As previously explained, MSG is an excitotoxin, a substance that overexcites the neurons.  The human body lacks a blood-brain-barrier in the hypothalamus and this is the primary reason MSG can be so damaging to the human body. Due to the lack of a  barrier the hypothalamus allows the excitotoxins to enter the brain and cause damage and abnormal development, which includes obesity, short stature and reproductive problems.  Another disturbing factor of obesity induced by MSG according to Dr. Russell Blaylock, author of Excitotoxins, “is that it doesn’t appear to depend on food intake.  This could explain why some people cannot diet away their obesity.”  Basically, no matter the amount of caloric intake of MSG or the physical activity to work off that intake, obesity is still the end result.

In a controversial book book titled Slowly Poisoning America, the author John Erb notes that MSG is used in many scientific laboratories today to fatten up mice.  He said  “No strain of rat or mice is naturally obese, so the scientists have to create them. They make these morbidly obese creatures by injecting them with a chemical when they are first born. The MSG triples the amount of insulin the pancreas creates, causing rats (and humans?) to become obese. They even have a title for the race of fat rodents they create: “MSG-Treated Rats”.”

You may be wondering at this point which foods you need to stay away from to avoid the notorious MSG monster.  The list is longer than many think and may require at great deal of will power for many who have become accustomed to the fast way of eating, quick pick vending machine snacks, fast food restaurants and pretty much most of the processed foods flavored to dangerously yummy taste.

Foods containing MSG include but are not limited to: Fast food and most restaurant foods, pre-made meals, The Campbell’s soups, Hostess products,  Doritos,  Lays flavored potato chips, Top Ramen, Betty Crocker Hamburger Helper, Heinz canned gravy, Swanson frozen prepared meals, and Kraft salad dressings, especially the ‘healthy low fat’ ones-to name a few.   It is shocking to see how many of these products are consumed by children in school cafeterias and even at home. Additionally, the shiny appearance on your fruits and veggies are a result of the monosodium glutamate (MSG) laden fertilizers discussed earlier in this article.  

Alarmingly, the products that do not say monosodium glutamate may still have the ingredient in them, just under a different name.  Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein is also another name for monosodium glutamate. They hide MSG under many different names making it extremely important to educate yourself on the various alias this toxic ingredient can fall under.

While the U.S Food and Drug Administration has deemed MSG to be safe and they currently have no limits on how much can be added to food, one really has to question the difference between safe and healthy.  With one third of the US population suffering from obesity and children growing in number with weight related health issues today, it is evident a change has got to come.  That change needs to be in the form of removing MSG from the diet of a country where obesity is quickly on the rise.

You can lend a hand to this very important health issue by signing this petition urgently demanding that the Food and Drug Administration ban products containing Monosodium Glutamate.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/nexus_icon/282678968/