Food Additives

By Cat, Feb & Nov 2007

Unless you only eat single-ingredient foods that you prepare/cook in your own home, you are getting food additives hidden in the foods (and some don’t require listing on the label). Many/most of those additives have toxic consequences. Single-ingredient foods include:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables,
  • raw or raw-cultured dairy,
  • whole spices you grind yourself,
  • fresh herbs
  • whole eggs from pastured hens (you can separate the yolks and whites at home), and
  • meat cuts from pastured livestock not treated with hormones or antibiotics.

Read on for more…

Food Additives

One of the biggest reasons to eat whole foods is to avoid the additives used in processed foods.  Some may be harmless, like unrefined salt (refined salt has some negative consequences), but most are quite toxic.  The biggies to watch out for (read food labels):

  • MSG (monosodium glutamate); unfortunately, its new replacement is not required to be listed on the label;
  • Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet);
  • Artificial colorings & flavorings
  • Partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated fats
  • Mono- &  di-glycerides
  • Chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT

MSG (monosodium glutamate), and New Substitutes for MSG

NOTE: glutamate is not to be confused with L-glutamine; both are amino acids that do not readily convert from one to the other without the help of specific enzymes. L-glutamine is the inactive state; glutamate is the active neurotransmitter.

Glutamic acid and its salt version, glutamate, readily convert one to the other without the aid of a specific enzyme, and therein lies the danger if added to foods.

MSG, the flavor enhancer that mimics the flavor of meat by stimulating the umami taste buds, is toxic for nerve and brain tissue.  It is classified as an excito-toxin, meaning that it can excite your brain cells to death.  Glutamic acid is required by the body for many functions, including brain cell communication (neurotransmitter). In the normal concentrations found in the body, glutamate is not harmful, and the body has mechanisms to deal with small excesses. But when glutamate is provided in huge excess through dietary additives, it can cause cell death.  For more on this, refer to the Holistic Medicine article on MSG (10).

You can detect hidden MSG in your foods by looking for the following ingredients on food labels (11). NOTE: some of these ingredients contain glutamate in their structure and is readily released during digestion; for example, Calcium or Sodium Caseinate.

  • MSG
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Monopotassium glutamate
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Gelatin *
  • Calcium Caseinate
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Textured Protein
  • Textured Vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
  • Hydrolyzed Plant Protein (HPP)
  • Autolyzed Plant Protein
  • Autolyzed Yeast
  • Yeast Extract
  • Yeast food or nutrient (Brewers yeast or nutritional yeast)
  • Most protein powders (soy, whey, rice, etc.)

* NOTE:  Gelatin is a natural protein found in cartilage and bone, that contains glutamic acid.  Bone broth or meat stock made at normal cooking temperatures (that do not hydrolyze proteins) has many healing uses; it contains gelatin but not free, toxic glutamate. Instead, when you consume the bone broth/stock, your body’s enzymes slowly break down the protein, so that the glutamic acid is absorbed in a way the body can use it properly.

However, if the bones are cooked at very high temperature/pressure, the gelatin is hydrolyzed and the glutamate is released; this is why supplemental gelatin and protein powders can cause food sensitivities in people who are sensitive to glutamate (like me).

If you regularly supplement with gelatin or protein powders, look for those that are processed at low temperatures.

MSG Alternative

With all the negatives surrounding the use of MSG, food science has been busily at work looking for a “safer” substitute.  One such company, Senomyx, has developed a product intended for use in foods and included in “artificial flavors” on the label.  It manipulates your taste buds to perceive the presence of glutamate, even when it isn’t present (8).

At the time I originally wrote this article (2008), Senomyx was negotiating with several food processing companies (listed below (8)). Some of them, including Campbell Soup Co., have since stopped using them because of public outcry:

  • Ajinomoto Co
  • Cadbury
  • Campbell Soup Company
  • The Coco-Cola Company
  • Firmenich SA
  • Nestlé
  • Solae

Has there been sufficient testing to prove it’s safety?  I don’t think so.  It took many years after the introduction of MSG before the problems it caused were recognized.

See Mercola’s article, New Chemical Alternative to MSG That is Coming Soon (8); see also Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences December 22, 2008 (8) for the research article.


This artificial sweetener, also known as Equal and NutraSweet, is similarly toxic for nerve and brain tissue.  Like glutamate, aspartame is, in part, the salt version of an amino acid, this time aspartate, and is required by the body for specific functions. As a food additive, it is classified as an excitotoxin, and can cause cell death when present in excess, such as through dietary additives. The negative action is due in part to methanol, one of the constituent parts of aspartame, but also to bathing cells in the neurotransmitter components of aspartame (phenylalanine and aspartic acid).

Aspartame disturbs the metabolism of amino acids and proteins, protein structure, the integrity of nucleic acids (such as DNA, RNA), neuronal function, and endocrine balances.  It may also affect brain concentrations of important neurotransmitters norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine.  This can cause nerves to fire excessively, which is why aspartame is classified as an excitotoxin (9).

For more information on how aspartame damages the brain, refer to Food Quality News (9), concerning new research reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  See also my article on Non-sugar sweeteners (about).

Artificial Colorings and Flavorings

Most food colorings are synthetic dyes, and over the years many of them have been banned because of toxicity or carcinogenic nature.  It’s highly possible that others will join list of banned dyes in the future.

It can be very difficult to determine if toxic artificial flavorings have been added to food, because food labels often just say “artificial flavorings” rather than listing the specific ones used.  Therefore it is best to avoid any food that lists “artificial flavorings.”

Andy Rooney recently voiced his disgust that strawberry milkshakes from some fast food restaurants contain neither milk nor strawberries!  My goodness!  Why do these places risk the health of their customers, when they could just use the real deal?  I mean, how hard could it be to put a little milk, ice cream and fresh strawberries into a blender and make a real strawberry milkshake?

Trans Fats and Interesterified Fats

Trans fats may also appear on food labels as partially-hydrogenated fats or hydrogenated fats. Interesterified fats are a new substitute that was introduced when the bad news about trans fats became well known. Both are toxic and have been linked to heart disease and clogged arteries. See my articles: Chemically-Altered Fats and Labeling of Trans Fats for lots more.

Mono- and di-glycerides.  

This is just another name for trans or interesterified fatty acids.

Chemical Preservatives

Most chemical preservatives such as BHA and BHT, are considered to be carcinogenic.  Natural preservatives are much safer; for example:

  • vitamin C for water-soluble foods (like fruit juices),
  • vitamin E for oil-soluble foods (like potato chips),
  • lactic acid for many foods.

Also watch for preservatives used in skin and hair care products.  The paraben family (methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, etc.) all have estrogenic activity, are easily absorbed through skin and scalp, and can cause cancer.

Other Additives

There are many more food additives to avoid, and new ones are introduced every day.  Check out the following websites for more information:

  • Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPINET) article Chemical Cuisine: (12)
  • Janet Starr Hull on Food Additives to Avoid (13)


  1. (2) Shedds Country Crock margarine
  2. (1)
  8. Mercola on MSG alternative ( and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences December 22, 2008: Molecular mechanism for the umami taste synergism (
  10. Holistic medicine on MSG:
  12. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPINET) article Chemical Cuisine:
  13. Janet Starr Hull on Food Additives to Avoid:

About Cat

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