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The US diet is flooded with processed foods. Just look at your average grocery store. The edge of the grocery store is lined with whole foods for the most part. You have a wide array of fruits and veggies, the meat / seafood sections, the dairy case, etc. as you walk around the edge. Relatively speaking, a very small foot print when compared to the overall size of the store. When you look towards the center of the store and what takes up most of the floor space are boxes. Boxes, boxes, and more boxes of processed food. As food gets processed, more and more is taken from it and the food needs to be enriched with additives to bring back flavor. Even though they might be “Natural”, does not mean they are healthy. Mono sodium glutamate (MSG) is naturally occurring but so it cyanide and hydrochloric acid. MSG is one of those additives that is so pervasive in our food supply and controversial.

MSG has been such a hot button for years, if the box says MSG, people will most likely switch brands. Now the food industry with help from the FDA has alternative ways to hide MSG. Here is a list of MSG like products according to truthinlabeling.org.

Almost Always Often Included Suspected
Glutamic acid
Monosodium glutamate
Monopotassium glutamate
Calcium glutamate
Monoammonium glutamate
Magnesium glutamate
Natrium glutamate
Yeast extract
Anything “hydrolyzed”
Any “hydrolyzed protein”
Calcium caseinate
Sodium caseinate
Yeast food
Yeast nutrient
Autolyzed yeast
Textured protein
Soy protein
Soy protein concentrate
Soy protein isolate
Whey protein
whey protein concentrate
Whey protein isolate
Anything “…protein”
Bouillon and broth
Any “flavors” or “flavoring”
Citric acid
Anything “ultra-pasteurized”
Barley malt
Anything “enzyme modified”
Anything containing “enzymes”
Malt extract
Soy sauce
Soy sauce extract
Anything “protein fortified”
Anything “fermented”
Corn starch
Corn syrup
Modified food starch
Lipolyzed butter fat
Rice syrup
Brown rice syrup
Milk powder
Reduced fat milk (skim; 1%; 2%)
most things low fat or no fat
anything Enriched
anything Vitamin enriched

Health Risks

Ok, time to get a little clinical so bear with me. Glutamic acid is in a class of chemicals known as excitotoxins, high levels of which have been shown in animal studies to cause damage to areas of the brain unprotected by the blood–brain barrier and that a variety of chronic diseases can arise out of this neurotoxicity. An excitotoxin is a chemical that causes a brain cell to become overexcited and fire uncontrollably, leading to cell death. MSG (and other excitotoxins like asparatame) has the potential for inflicting permanent damage to the brain and nervous system. Because glutamate is absorbed very quickly in the gastrointestinal tract (unlike glutamic acid-containing proteins in foods), glutamate could spike blood plasma levels of glutamate. A neurotoxin can also shrivel and kill brain cells in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a portion of the brain, located just above the brain stem, roughly the size of an almond. Though small, it’s incredibly important as it is responsible for certain metabolic processes and other activities of the autonomic nervous system. One of the most important functions of the hypothalamus is to link the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue, sleep, and circadian cycles. Let’s not forget, that the pituitary gland controls our metabolism. These are all vital to be operating efficiently for endurance racing.

MSG has also been linked with obesity. According to a Reuters article:

The flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG), most often associated with Chinese food and after-dinner headaches, may also be enhancing waistlines, a new study finds. Researchers found that people who eat more MSG are more likely to be overweight or obese. And the increased risk wasn’t simply because people were stuffing themselves with MSG-rich foods. The link between high MSG intake and being overweight held even after accounting for the total number of calories people ate.

The food industry has a vested interest for you to eat more. In a stagnant market, if you grow the waist line and calories consumed, that means more corporate profits to chase. It’s no wonder why it’s so prevalent in our food supply.

Here are some symptoms linked to MSG according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness

So why does this matter?

The one item that really struck me in the table above was Maltodextrin. My original concern with Maltodextrin was that it is typically made from rice or corn and they are mainly commercially grown as GMO these days. My effort last year was trying to get organic or non-GMO varieties. I went with Hammer products because they were pretty transparent about their product sourcing and quite refreshing. You look at all the major suppliers of sports powders that people train with, the first ingredient is Maltodextrin. Advocates say it’s a great complex carb and that’s what is needed for sustained energy. Look at the ingredients from their nutrition labels (the bold added for emphasis):

Cytomax Energy CytoSport’s unique complex carbohydrate blend including amylopectin starches and maltodextrins from corn hybrids, Alpha-L-polylactate™ (our patented L-lactate formulation containing non-acidic L-lactate ionically bound to L-arginine, fructose, glycine, L-histidine and L-alanine, sodium L-lactate, potassium L-lactate, L-pyruvate), fructose, glucose, potassium succinate, L-glutamic acid, inosine, magnesium succinate, calcium succinate, citric acid, malic acid, natural flavors, ascorbic acid, L-alanine, L-glutamine, food gum, chromium polynicotinate (ChromeMate GTF™).
Gu Electrolyte Brew Maltodextrin, Fructose, Sodium Citrate, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Potassium Citrate, Turmeric (as color)
GU Roctane Maltodextrin, Fructose, Sodium Citrate, Citric Acid, Taurine, Histidine, Natural Flavors, Leucine, Valine, Carnosyn® Beta-Alanine, Potassium Citrate, White Tea Caffeine, Isoleucine, Turmeric (As Color).
Hammer HEED* Maltodextrin, Xylitol, Natural Flavor, Calcium Chelate, Salt, L-Carnosine, Stevia, Glycine, Magnesium Chelate, Potassium Chelate, Tyrosine, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Manganese Chelate, Chromium Polynicotinate.
Hammer Perpetuem* Maltodextrin, Soy Protein Isolates, Energy Smart® (fruit juice, natural grain dextrin), Soy Lecithin, Coffee Powder, Natural Vanilla Flavor, Trisodium Phosphate, L-Carnosine, L-Carnitine (as Carnipure™), Choline Bitartrate, Caffeine, Stevia, Chromium Polynicotinate.
Infinit Not posted on website. I’m guessing this is due to the customization.

* Site indicates “No MSG”

So what now?

I certainly face nausea and headaches while on the bike racing and taking these products. Am I saying that this is the sole cause – no. Not at all. I’m just trying to reduce the number of variables that would limit personal performance. Experiencing these symptoms on the bike is my body telling me there is something that it does not like. Granted I’m putting a ton of stress it would like to stop. I just do not need to compound that stress with additives or highly processed foods that are not natural to my body. My goal for 2013 is to get away from these mainstream processed products and switch to whole food based nutrition. After seeing some of these connections, even if they have not been fully clinically researched, I’m not waiting around for that data to confirm it with absolute certainty.

Health and Nutrition Secrets That Can Save Your Life by Dr. Russell Blaylock
Truth In Labeling
Mayo Clinic
Cleveland Clinic