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Hello! It Kills Brain Cells!

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We Take Issue With McGee Over MSG

By James Donahue

New York Times cooking columnist Harold McGee has published a new book, Keys to Good Cooking, in which he claims to dispel “false notions” about food and cooking. Among his list of so-called cooking myths is a claim that monosodium glutamate, or MSG, causes headaches and other ailments.

McGee claims that “hundreds of scientific studies have shown this to be false.” He writes that toxicologists have concluded that MSG is a harmless ingredient for most people. He also claims that foods like tomatoes and parmesan cheese are rich in MSG, suggesting that it is a substance that appears naturally in the food we eat.

While it is true that monosodium glutamate is a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid found in starch products, we find no proof that it can be found in tomatoes or cheese. My father worked for years as a chemist for the former Huron Milling Company in Michigan, one of the biggest producers of MSG as a flavor enhancer on the U. S. market. In those days the product was refined from wheat gluten. It also could be processed from sugar beets.

After World War II, the Japanese Ajinomoto Corporation took over the MSG market in the United States because the company was able to use bacterial fermentation to produce at a lower cost.

Monosodium glutamate is commonly added by industry to soups, spaghetti sauce, soft drinks and other prepared foods sold in grocery stores. It is commonly found in carbonated beverages. While it is promoted as a flavor enhancer, it also has been found to be addictive. People crave the rush the product gives them.

The rush, according to Dr. Russell Blaylock in his book Excitotoxins; The Taste that Kills, is caused by the chemical working on our brain cells. But what is happening is that enhancers like MSG and the artificial sweetener Aspartame, used in most commercially prepared foods and soft drinks, stimulate the neural cells in our brains to death.

A Leading Edge International Research Group report states that experiments have shown that within 15 to 30 minutes after neurons suspended in tissue culture are exposed to high levels of glutamate, they swell up like balloons. The chemical process going on within the cell releases free radicals that kill brain cells within three hours, the report said.

Dr. Blalock coined the word “excitotoxins” because he explains that they “excite” brain neutons due to their chemical similarity to neurotransmitters found in the body. Thus the chemicals become dangerous and addictive compounds that kill brain cells.

Many people exposed to heavy doses of MSG or aspartame, or sometimes the combination of both in one soft drink or food product, complain of headache, flushing, heart palpitations, chest pain or nausea.

That author McGee should discard such complaints as unfounded myth and claim that MSG has been found to be a safe and natural food seasoning is a clear indication that this writer has not done his homework. Consequently we would not recommend his book or his column as a healthy source of information for cooks.