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Activism Green Living Healthy Living Kids & Family Toxin Alert!

Deceptions in the Food Industry:”All Natural”

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In the first post in this series, Deceptions in the Food Industry: Low-Fat Foods, I talked about the pervasiveness of processed, low-fat foods in our food supply, misconceptions about how low-fat foods are healthy, and the dishonesty of labeling about these foods.

Today I’ll discuss the “all natural” label on processed, packaged foods and how it can harm your health. As with most things from the food industry, information on the labels or web sites is filled with half-truths, misleading statements, outright lies, or information is left out altogether.

You might see “all natural” on a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream carton or even a package of 10-year-old chips or crisps. This terminology is not regulated by the FDA. Never mind that you can’t pronounce the ingredients and don’t really know what they are. A great deal of non-certified organic foods on the market claiming “natural” on their product labels are those performing the most unnatural activities to create them.

Here are just a few examples of how unnatural “all natural” really is:

Wendy’s french fries

When Wendy’s fast-food chain announced their new “natural cut fries with sea salt”, suddenly everyone started buying them. This doesn’t say anything about product ingredients. The potatoes used by Wendy’s most other fast-food chains  to make fries undergo at least three unnatural treatments. One is spraying with a chemical called sodium acid pyrophosphate. This keeps the potatoes from turning brown during not one, but two deep-frying sessions – once in the factory, and then again at the restaurant.

Then, dextrose, a corn-derived (think GMO) coating of sugar is used on the fries to help retain color. Finally, to stabilize the frying oil, dimethylpolysiloxane is added. This is a silicone-based chemical food additive which prevents the oil from becoming foamy after  repeated fries.

Agave nectar

With strong opposition from sustainable food communities about toxic sweeteners in our food supply like high-fructose corn syrup, agave has hit the store shelves by storm in the last few years, and is heralded as a “natural” sweetener. One of the biggest problems with other sweeteners coming in to take the place of harmful ones like HFCS is that in many cases, the alternatives are just as hazardous as the ones they replace.

Agave nectar is not a traditional sweetener. Its origins come from the large, spiky plant referred to sometimes as Blue Agave in the Mexican region, but like high-fructose corn syrup, the end product is a highly-refined sweetener which is concentrated in…fructose. But wait, isn’t fructose natural and doesn’t it come from fruit? Fructose in fruit doesn’t exist in an isolated form as it does in agave nectar or HFCS.

Research shows that fructose increases blood sugar levels as much as glucose, another substance that has been shown to cause insulin-resistance. Unlike glucose, processing fructose in the cells is not possible. So the liver takes up most of this burden, causing  weight gain and increase in appetite. Metabolism of fructose can also cause increase in triglyceride production, which raises the potential not only for insulin-resistance but also obesity, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease. Since the liver expends so much energy metabolizing fructose, this limits its ability to metabolize excess blood glucose, again leading to an increase of blood sugar levels and the need for insulin.

Here’s what the experts have to say about fructose:

Ramiel Nagel writes: “…a major concern is the high level of free fructose in agave syrups – much higher than honey and maple syrup. Given what we now now about the deleterious effects of fructose compared to sucrose, honey and maple syrup would seem to be better choices than agave for home cooking.”

Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation says the following about fructose: “We need foods that are whole, not skeletonized and denatured. Sugar, especially sucrose and fructose has been shown to shorten life in numerous animal experiments. Excessive use of sugar is associated with a rise in blood cholesterol, rise in triglycerides, increase in adhesiveness of the blood platelets, increase in blood insulin levels, etc. Numerous studies have positively correlated sugar consumption with heart disease. These results are far more positive than any of the studies linking heart disease and saturated fats.”

Dean Foods/Horizon

In 2009, Dean Foods, the nation’s largest organic dairy producer began to produce a line of yogurts labeled “natural”. The intent was to offer products to consumers that were cheaper than organic. The natural line was launched by its organic brand, Horizon. Communication’s manager, Sara Loveday, stated that Horizon had in effect created its own definition of “natural” for its products and that, “To us, it means it’s produced without added hormones, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup. ”

Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst for The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit watchdog group for organic standards commented that this was a good start, “But Dean Foods will not be able to [say] the products are produced without pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and other drugs or genetically modified feed crops, or that the cows are required to graze in pastures rather than confined to factory farm feedlots,” he said.

Autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed proteins

You’ll find many indecipherable ingredients on product labels. One is autolyzed yeast extract and the other is hydrolyzed protein (sometimes appearing as “vegetable”, sometimes “soy”). Both of these contain MSG. In fact, there are dozens and dozens of other ingredients in foods that don’t bear the name monosodium glutamate, but which are in fact, MSG all the same.

If you read the research of Dr. Russell Blaylock, M.D. on substances like MSG in processed foods, you’ll find that they are not naturally-occurring as in nature. Sure, they are extracted from plants like seaweed or tomatoes which contain free glutamic acid, but in very concentrated amounts. Then, they are engineered in a laboratory to have an even more potent (and toxic) effect in the food. It’s sole reason for existence is not nutrition, but a chemical taste enhancer.

What products contain autolyzed yeast extract?

  • Meats
  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Cereals
  • Crackers
  • Many foods sold at fast-food and other restaurants
  • Many products made from soy such as fake meats, tofu, veggie burgers, etc.

If you eat whole, natural food like seaweed or tomatoes, that’s not an issue. The problem is when you take MSG out of these foods – like so many food manufacturers – and synthesize MSG to put it into a highly concentrated form. It then behaves as neurotoxin. Dr. Blaylock’s book,  Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills gives a scientifically-based account about the hazards of glutamates in processed foods.

Many “natural” products originate from GMO sources

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), GMOs are “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in such a way that does not occur naturally.” Many products in our food marketplace come from foods created with genetically-modified organisms, and there are currently no labeling laws in the U.S. to alert consumers about genetically-modified substances.

Can you imagine what would happen if there were labels? You’d walk into a store, and the majority of what’s there would bear these labels. Would you willingly buy these products? Some people might, but many would avoid them. In fact, unless a product has the Non-GMO label, the chance of genetically-modified organisms being in that product is very high.

From the Institute for Responsible Technology,  a world leader in educating policy makers and the public about genetically modified (GM) foods and crops, commercialized GM crops in the United States include:

  • Soy, 91%
  • Cotton, 88%
  • Canola, 88%
  • Corn, 85%
  • Sugar beets, 90%
  • Hawaiian papaya, more than 50%
  • Zucchini and yellow squash (small amount) and Tobacco (Quest® brand)

According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, the following health issues can arise as a result of consuming GMO foods:

  • Infertility
  • Immune system problems
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Accelerated aging
  • Faulty insulin regulation
  • Development of pathogenic bacteria in the digestive tract
  • Changes in other major organs

Does this mean you have to spend hours in the grocery store reading labels to avoid these products? The best solution for your health and your wallet is to take an interest in making foods from scratch at home, and throw out all your boxes of boullion, cans of soup stock, and other packages of pre-made foods. Avoid processed foods altogether and buy real, whole foods that are sustainably produced from local farmers you trust.

For more information on harmful additives in processed foods:

MSG Truth

Six Thousand Hidden Dangers of Processed Food (And What to Choose Instead) Body Ecology

More information on real, sustainable food:

What Are Traditional Foods?

Sustainable Farming – Is It Practical and Can It Feed Us All?

Stay tuned for the next installment of this series  where I will talk about the misconceptions of “lean meats”

Activism Healthy Living Kids & Family

What Are Excitotoxins?

If you knew that the consumption of many store products could cause brain damage and other related disorders, would it have an influence on your buying habits?

An increasing number of scientists and clinicians who have conducted research are releasing information showing just how dangerous these substances are and why they are  a major culprit in the growth of prevalent neurological disorders including seizures and migranes, autism, allergies, particular disorders of the endocrine system, certain types of obesity, infections, and abnormal development in the nervous system.

These toxins are also linked to having an effect on the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and Huntington’s Disease. Many of these types of substances are found in processed, packaged foods found in your grocery store.

What are some products containing excitotoxins?

Here is a list that is not exhaustive: soda pops, “juice” drinks, crackers, rice cakes, bagels, breads, cereals, “energy drinks”, cereals, food “bars”, salad dressings, pasta mixes, soups, candy, desserts, “fruit” snacks, sugar-free gums, cocoa mixes, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, shake and topping mixes, sauces, vitamin and herbal supplements, and many others.

Pioneering research on excitotoxins

According to Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, M.D., pioneering neurosurgeon and medical expert on the subject, “Excitotoxins are biochemical substances (usually amino acids, amino acid analogs, or amino acid derivatives) that can react with specialized neuronal receptors – glutamate receptors – in the brain or spinal cord that can be responsible for causing death or injury to a wide array of neurons.”

Glutamate neurons make up an extensive network throughout the cortex, hippocampus, striatum, thalamus, hypothalamus, cerebellum, and visual/auditory system. As a consequence, glutamate neurotransmission is essential for cognition, memory, movement, and sensation (especially taste, sight, and hearing).

“Glutamate and its biochemical “cousin” aspartic acid or aspartate, are the two most plentiful amino acids in the brain. Aspartate is also a major excitatory transmitter and aspartate can activate neurons in place of glutamate”, as reported by Dr. Blaylock.

Although glutamic acid (also called “glutamate”) is the naturally occurring, primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brains of humans and animals, these substances are found to occur only in minute amounts. Since 1948, the amount of MSG added to foods has doubled each decade. By 1972, over 200 thousand metric tons were reported as added to foods. Since first approval, over 800 million pounds of aspertame have been consumed from billions and billions of products.

The FDA is amiss in acknowledging these findings, and has continued to allow certain substances on the food market such as aspartame (found in NutraSweet and Equal), MSG, and hyrdrolyzed vegetable protein. You can find these substances in nearly all processed foods – particularly in those labeled low and non-fat and also can be found in a vast amount of vegan and vegetarian foods.

If you are in doubt about something, read the label. Label reading is one of the only ways to familiarize yourself with ingredients in products. The more you can avoid purchasing processed products, the better your chances are of avoiding these dangerous toxins.

Short-term effects of these substances are subtle. It is important to note that repeated exposure over long periods of time (or cumulative) is generally when the most damage occurs to health. But occasionally, certain individuals are especially sensitive to the effects of excitotoxins, and can develop severe symptoms quite suddenly such as allergic reactions that range from irritability to cardiac irregularity to sudden death.

Why are these substances being added to foods?

Many additives in foods are intended for their preservative qualities. Excitotoxins don’t actually preserve foods – they only make them taste better. The bottom line is, adding these toxins to food is really only for the purpose of “improving ” the flavor. And some people question whether these foods actually do taste better or not.

Use caution when purchasing anything in a package, can, or container as it may contain excitotoxins without consumer awareness. Any ingredient listed as the following can contain a dangerous excitotoxin: spices, natural flavoring, yeast extract, textured protein, soy protein extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein. In other words, excitotoxins are amino acids which react with specialized receptors in the brain. When excitotoxins encounter these receptors, the result is destruction of certain brain cell types.

One of the most commonly found excitotoxins is MSG (monosodium glutamate). When located in the brain, this excitotoxin is considered a normal neurotransmitter. It is the most commonly used neurotransmitter, in fact, by the human brain. Then why are excitotoxins considered so dangerous? When naturally occurring monosodium glutamate is found in the brain, it is in very minute amounts. Any amount larger than concentrations of 8 to 12 ug is considered toxic and can cause erratic movement in neurons and abnormal firing behavior.

Clearly, rethinking what we are putting into our bodies is very important. With so many processed foods on the market, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, confused, and mislead about whether or not these products are safe for consumption. Read the facts before you buy.

Recommended reading on this subject:

Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills by Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, M.D.

Living Dangerously: Are Everyday Toxins Making You Sick? Pat Thomas

The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O’Brien