The ‘all-natural’ way to turn home cooking into a health hazard

Posted by
December 16, 2014

accentA couple weeks ago, we talked about how the use of the adjective “natural” has been disappearing from the labels of processed foods containing ingredients that are anything but. This development seems to have corresponded with the settlements of lawsuits over the use of such misleading terminology – most recently one against General Mills for falsely describing its Nature Valley Granola Bars, Crispy Squares and Trail Mix Bars as “100 percent natural.”

But there is one product out there — not a food, actually, but rather a food additive — that continues to describe itself in this manner, even though it’s manufactured by means of a process that’s distinctly unnatural.  It’s the “all natural flavor enhancer” marketed as Accent, whose sole ingredient is listed as monosodium glutamate.

But the label hype doesn’t end there.  While a serving size, which is about 1/8 of a teaspoon, does contain 80 mg of sodium, Accent still claims to have “60% less sodium than salt” and to actually be “more healthful than salt.” The label also suggests it be used as a way of making “meats, poultry, vegetables, soups and salads taste better.” In other words, sprinkled on foods just like salt (and pepper) – and used on any number of them, perhaps well in excess of a typical “serving.”

Only this isn’t anything like salt, and it’s hardly what one would call “healthful.” It’s an additive long associated with a wide range of ill effects, many far more serious than the “Chinese restaurant syndrome” coined many years ago. These include headaches and migraines, nausea and vomiting, constricted airways, facial numbness and seizures, as noted at the website of the Epilepsy Foundation, as well as rapid heartbeat and atrial fibrillation — a fact cited by the American Heart Association. (Such symptoms, of course, may be especially pronounced in certain individuals who are acutely sensitive to this substance, as a good many people are.) And that’s not to mention its having caused liver inflammation in lab rats.

Monosodium glutamate (also known as MSG, a term that applies as well to other additives that also contain processed free glutamic acid, such as hydrolyzed protein and autolyzed yeast) is also considered an “excitotoxin,” so named because it can literally excite certain brain cells to death. That’s especially true of children, in whom such neurological damage may also cause aggressive behavior.

And in certain highly sensitive individuals, it can also result in Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, as is described in Adrienne Samuels’ book, The Man Who Sued the FDA, about the years-long health crisis suffered by her late husband Jack as a result of the MSG concealed in many processed foods.

Glutamic acid run amok

The reason such symptoms occur is that unlike the natural glutamic acid that is “bound” inside certain protein-rich foods, which is known as L-glutamic acid (and which the industry cites as “proof” that it’s harmless), monosodium glutamate consists mostly of a form known as D-glutamic acid that’s “free” – as in free to wreak havoc on your health. While the monosodium glutamate was originally extracted from seaweed when it was first discovered more than a century ago, according to the company’s website, “the glutamate in Accent is made from corn.”

The MSG manufacturing process is described on the website of Eden Foods, which makes a line of MSG-free organic products, as one in which such bound glutamic acid “…is broken down or made ‘free of protein’ by various processes (hydrolyzed, autolyzed, modified or fermented with strong chemicals, acids, bacteria, or enzymes, which are often genetically modified) and refined to a white crystal powder that resembles salt or sugar.” It goes on to explain that:

This factory made version causes serious reactions. …When pure, manufactured, MSG is ingested a rapid effect occurs from the glutamate. This ‘free of protein’ glutamic acid, or glutamate unlike the naturally occurring ‘protein bound’ glutamate, is not attached to other amino acids. The normal digestive disassembly process does not happen because there are no ‘peptide’ bonds to slow the process. The sudden increase in free glutamic acid is then rapidly absorbed and can raise blood levels of glutamate eight to ten times causing toxicity.

What’s particularly alarming about the way Accent is marketed (complete with a graphic of various veggies and meats on its label) is that it represents an open invitation for any unwary shopper — especially one trying to cut down on salt — to buy it and add it to all kinds of home-cooked dishes that might ordinarily be healthier than the many processed and frozen convenience foods now available.

And, if served with one or more of the various snack foods that are also laced with monosodium glutamate and other forms of MSG (such as the Herr’s Old Bay snacks previously discussed in this blog, which many people may not realize contain it), that could be a real potential health disaster in the making for that person’s family and dinner guests.

Which is why going to someone’s house for a home-cooked meal might end up being just as hazardous to your health (if not more so) as anything that comes from your supermarket’s frozen-food shelf. And which is also why now might be the time to warn family members and friends about the dangers of this supposedly “natural” and healthful” salt substitute.