‘Likely culprit’ in celiac disease hidden in processed foods

Why is Ajinomoto trying so hard to keep transglutaminase unlabeled?

Over the past few decades celiac disease (CD) has morphed into a “major public health problem.” Along with it, other autoimmune conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis, are also topping the charts as very common disorders with dozens of heavily advertised drugs created to treat them.

If you ask why, the knee-jerk response is typically that better testing has uncovered all these otherwise undisclosed conditions. But does that really explain things? And it certainly doesn’t take into consideration what experts refer to as large numbers of people with undiagnosed autoimmune diseases, especially CD.

Back in 2015 two researchers with expertise in metabolic diseases, Aaron Lerner, a professor at Tel Aviv University, and Torsten Matthias, affiliated with the AESKU.KIPP Institute in Germany, first sounded the alarm on a largely unknown, widely used food additive – an enzyme called transglutaminase (TG). At that time, they proposed a “hypothesis” linking TG used in food processing to celiac and other autoimmune diseases. Four years later, however, the pair stated that further research and observations have closed the “gaps” in our understanding of how TG is an “inducer of celiac disease.”   

Big Food’s favorite find to ‘glue’ things together

Transglutaminase, a.k.a. “meat glue,” is the darling of Big Food for lots of reasons: it can glue together scraps of fish, chicken and meat into whole-looking cuts (often called “Frankenmeats”); extend the shelf life of processed foods (even pasta); improve “texture,” especially in low-salt, low-fat products; make breads and pastries (particularly gluten-free ones) rise better, and, as one manufacturer puts it, allow for use of things that would ordinarily be tossed out — unappetizing leftovers and scraps of food that would “otherwise be considered waste ingredients, creating an added-value product.”

But more than just turning “waste ingredients” into new food products, there are a host of other reasons why you should do your best to steer clear of meat glue.

‘Tight junction dysfunction’

The 2015 research published by Lerner and Matthias detailed how certain food additives may be behind the steady rise of autoimmune diseases due to something called “tight junction dysfunctions,” which can set the stage for a wide variety of serious ailments, calling out transglutaminase as one of the commonly used food additives that can enhance “intestinal junction leakage.”

A subsequent study in 2019 recognized transglutaminase as a “likely culprit” in celiac disease.

In 2020, Lerner and Matthias published yet another paper on transglutaminase and celiac disease, calling it a “potential public health concern” and saying that they hope their review will “encourage clinical, scientific and regulatory debates on (its) safety to protect the public.”

Despite all the warnings and additional research, use of the enzyme is booming, and all its food uses are now considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA.

TG and MSG

The similarities between MSG and transglutaminase are quite noteworthy. Not only is the enzyme manufactured in great quantities by Ajinomoto (as is MSG) but the way TG is promoted by the company is remarkably similar to its long-running propaganda campaign claiming that MSG is a safe ingredient.

For example, Ajinomoto states on its websites and elsewhere that both MSG and TG are “found in food naturally,” are “safe,” used in many countries and considered GRAS in the U.S. by the FDA. And just as MSG supposedly in no way causes serious reactions, the company says that TG in no way causes celiac disease – in fact, under some circumstances the TG added to food can actually help CD patients, Ajinomoto says.

While transglutaminase is found naturally in the human body (as is glutamate), there is a significant difference between microbial TG (the manufactured additive) and “our own transglutaminase” says Lerner.  (Just as there is a major difference between manufactured MSG and the glutamate in your body).

That’s because the tissue TG produced in the body “has a different structure (from) the microbial sort, which allows its activity to be tightly controlled. Microbial transglutaminase itself could also increase intestinal permeability,” he says, “by directly modifying proteins that hold together the intestinal barrier.”

The FDA has “no questions”

While once the FDA pretended to look into the safety of a product before granting it GRAS status, not even that is done any more.  Now a company simply turns in a statement that a product should be referred to as GRAS, and it’s done.

Starting in 1998 Ajinomoto filed four notices of “self-determined” GRAS status for TG with the FDA. The first was to use TG in seafood. In 1999 they sent in more intended uses for hard and soft cheeses, yogurt, and “vegetable protein dishes/veggie burgers/meat substitutes.” In 2000 Ajinomoto sent another notice to the FDA regarding using transglutaminase in pasta, bread, pastries, ready-to-eat cereal, pizza dough and “grain mixtures.”

And in 2002, Ajinomoto asked that anything else it might have previously overlooked, referred to as “use in food in general,” be given GRAS status. None of these GRAS notices elicited any objections from the FDA.  Nothing that Big Food asks for is even questioned any more.

Included in the 2001 “everything else” notification from Ajinomoto were some details of a 30-day toxicity study using beagles. Despite findings that included dogs that had developed a pituitary gland cyst, discoloration of the lungs, an enlarged uterus and “significantly” lower prostate weights, all that was considered “incidental and unrelated” to TG. Why they bothered to include a study that shows that their product causes harm to the animals studied can only be understood if you know how Ajinomoto operates.  Having done a study, they can later refer to the study that they did as though it proved that their product was “safe,” knowing that no one will challenge them. Such claims have great propaganda value.

The FDA had “no questions.”

Transglutaminase, here, there and everywhere

Lerner and Matthias have been warning for years about TG hidden in processed foods, saying it’s “unlabeled and hidden from public knowledge.” As we mentioned in another blog on TG several weeks ago, aside from “formed” meat products sold in supermarkets in the U.S. where the enzyme must be called out on the ingredient statement, TG can easily go undercover. 

And Ajinomoto has even added its own tips to help food manufacturers avoid labeling by providing an explanation of how TG is just a “processing aid,” as well as making available a letter authored by a law firm in Germany stating that aside from use in “formed” meat or fish, transglutaminase is “no ingredient” and as such in the EU does not have to be included on a food label. In fact, the lawyers go so far as to state that if a substance (such as TG) is “without any function in the finished product,” listing it on the ingredient label can “mislead the consumer.”

The FDA told us that if TG is used as a “processing aid” it’s considered an “incidental additive” and is “exempted from ingredient labeling.”

Even organic products aren’t safe from TG, as TG is considered A-OK to use it in organic foods, falling under the “allowed” generic category of “enzymes” on the USDA “National list of allowed and prohibited substances” in organic food and farming.

Perhaps the most devious use of this enzyme is to improve the appearance of gluten-free bakery products. Manufactured, microbial transglutaminase “functionally imitates” natural-tissue TG, which is known to be an autoantigen (a “self” antigen, reacting to something produced by the body that provokes an immune response) in those who suffer from celiac disease.  

Steering clear of transglutaminase

The TG story could very well be called a case against processed foods, as the only sure-fire way to avoid this gut-wrenching enzyme is to make/cook all your food from scratch. That being a very unlikely prospect these days, the next best thing is to avoid the following:

  • Low-fat and low-salt products, especially dairy and dairy substitutes;
  • Chicken nuggets, along with any other “formed” meat products;
  • Expensive cuts of meat being sold much cheaper than they should be (that especially is true for restaurants);
  • Sushi from unreliable sources, formed fish sticks and balls;
  • Veggie and tofu burgers; and
  • Cheaply produced pasta (TG is said to help when using “damaged wheat flour”).

When asked what he would consider to be an important take-away regarding transglutaminase, Professor Lerner told us that it would be for the FDA to “reconsider the classification of (manufactured) TG as GRAS.”

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

Don’t get tangled up in MSG’s web of deception

The web is a treacherous place.  And the marketing done to sell toxic food additives may be the most dangerous territory of all.

According to Stanford University Professor Sam Wineburg,1 an article’s bylined author may not be its author. References that confer legitimacy may have little to do with the claims they anchor. Signals of credibility like a dot-org domain can be the artful handiwork of a Washington, D.C. public relations expert.

Wineburg cautions that unless you possess multiple Ph.D.’s – in virology, economics and the intricacies of immigration policy– often the wisest thing to do when landing on an unfamiliar site is to ignore it.2

Through years of painful experience, I have learned that posts about any “controversial” subject may harbor deceptive and misleading statements, half-truths, and affirmations from “experts” or “celebrities” who know nothing about the subject or are being generously “thanked” for their participation.  Not to be overlooked are details behind the controversy left untold.

In his article, Wineburg tells us that “Learning to ignore information is not something taught in school. School teaches the opposite: to read a text thoroughly and closely before rendering judgment. Anything short of that is rash.  But on the web, where a witches’ brew of advertisers, lobbyists, conspiracy theorists and foreign governments conspire to hijack attention, the same strategy spells doom. Online, critical ignoring is just as important as critical thinking.” 

The “controversial” story I know a lot about is the story about the alleged safety of monosodium glutamate (a.k.a. MSG).  The stories told about MSG and its toxic constituent, manufactured free glutamate (MfG) have two arms.  The first arm reaches out to you with warm fuzzy feel-good words that trigger visions of delicious, savory food, all due, so you are told, to this flavor enhancer that is being promoted.

The second arm that Wineburg was talking about brings you words designed to convince skeptics that MSG is a harmless, even beneficial, food additive.  And that arm extends out to TV, YouTube, and print media and embraces the Internet.

A stunning example recently appeared in an article titled Food Science Babe: MSG myths persist despite decades of research.  It was published on 5/13/2021 at the website agdaily.com, which is quite an interesting story all on its own. But more about that another time.

Adrienne Samuels


1. Sam Wineburg, Professor of Education and (by courtesy) History, Stanford University

2. https://theconversation.com/to-navigate-the-dangers-of-the-web-you-need-critical-thinking-but-also-critical-ignoring-158617 (Accessed 5/15/2021)

About The Truth in Labeling Campaign

The Truth in Labeling Campaign was incorporated in 1994 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to securing full and clear labeling of all processed food.

We are an all-volunteer group funded entirely through donations. Neither our staff nor our directors are paid. We rent no offices, and we use no professional fund raisers. Even the cost of disseminating information is primarily borne by volunteers. Our activities, many described in our website at: www.truthinlabeling.org, have included visits to congresspersons and scientists, attendance at food industry meetings, testimony before representatives of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and filing a lawsuit against the FDA.

But more importantly, we have been making information on the toxic potential of MSG and where it is hidden in food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, dietary supplements, pesticides and fertilizers and vaccines, available to consumers.

This organization was founded by Jack Samuels, a health care professional who had an acute, life-threatening sensitivity to MSG, and Adrienne Samuels, an experimental psychologist by training with expertise in research design, methodology, and statistics. Both had the skills needed to understand the science underlying Jack’s life-threatening sensitivity, along with the ability to distinguish between the fact of his sensitivity and the fiction generated by those who profit from the manufacture and sale of MSG. Adrienne possessed the knowhow to recognize design flaws in research reports – including those research reports that claimed to have found that MSG is “safe.” The first (and ongoing) project of The Truth in Labeling Campaign (TLC) was to secure identification of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) whenever and wherever it occurs.

For over 30 years, concerned consumers have tried to work with the FDA to resolve this identification issue, but have found no evidence that the FDA is ever going to act on their behalf. It appears that only through a true grassroots effort might the FDA’s refusal to require labeling of MSG be resolved. It was with this in mind that the TLC joined with 29 petitioners, whose ranks included physicians, researchers, and parents acting on behalf of their MSG-sensitive children, to file a Citizen Petition asking the FDA to require labeling of all MSG found in processed foods.

The Citizen Petition was followed by a lawsuit that the FDA easily had set aside. The FDA had only to invoke the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), which allows agencies of the U.S. government to tell the court what material it may or may not look at. Through use of the APA, the FDA was able to withhold evidence contained in its own files that testifies to the fact that MSG has toxic potential.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

MSG, the secret ingredient that makes a pet food a ‘success’

For most pet owners, the proof of quality, flavorful pet food products is in watching our furry friends enjoy their food. When a new diet is introduced to a pet and it stimulates active consumption, it’s considered palatable, and therefore a success. — Kemin Industries

Your idea of a successful food for your pet is probably one that will nourish your pup or kitty and help them live a long, healthy life. But for pet food companies, success is measured by how quickly a dog or cat eagerly eats up every last bite of the same food every single day.

Palatability is a key phrase in the industry. And to ensure that the food is palatable, or tasty and appetizing to the pet, a “secret” ingredient is added — one called a “palatant.”

Palatants are big business. These additives coerce an animal into consuming what’s placed in front of it (even if it’s an unappetizing-looking bowl of hard, brown pellets) using exactly the same method that makes Cheetos irresistible or gets Doritos to taste like the most delicious thing you’ve ever put in your mouth. You know the secret ingredient as monosodium glutamate (MSG), but it’s really the manufactured free glutamate (MfG) in the MSG that triggers our taste buds and our animals’ taste buds, making them beg for more. MfG can be found in 40+ food ingredients.

Palatants, which are also called “digests,” are primarily made from either hydrolyzed animal or vegetable proteins, which invariably contain MfG. When a protein is hydrolyzed it will always create excitotoxic – brain damaging — amino acids. It doesn’t matter if that hydrolyzed protein is put in dog food or a can of tuna you eat for lunch, it will contain MfG, the brain-damaging ingredient found in MSG.

Now, if you plan is to carefully examine the labels of pet foods for this noxious ingredient, you won’t come away with much information. Palatants can be listed on the label as “natural flavoring,” “digest,” or simply incorporated into some other benign-sounding component of the food – both in bargain brands and pricy boutique ones.

There are, however, some pet foods that will tell you right on the package that they’re using MfG-containing hydrolyzed proteins.

The pea-protein gravy train

Currently, the biggest darling of the food industry is widespread, multi-purpose pea protein. It’s a cheap ingredient used to bump up protein content in scores of bars, drinks, powders for smoothies and fake foods. Read more about it here.

When used in pet food, it’s advertised as an easily digestible source of protein, and is typically found in allergy, grain-free and limited protein diets.

Purina is one of many major pet food manufacturers that uses pea protein in its dog food formulas. While consumers are starting to realize that pea protein in human foods contains excitotoxic, brain-damaging MfG, it appears that same level of concern doesn’t apply to what we feed our pets. That is, until we learn that something has gone terribly wrong.

The mysterious heart ailment associated with grain-free pet foods

In 2018 the FDA issued an alert about grain-free pet food being implicated in untold numbers of otherwise healthy dogs and cats developing dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that can come on slowly and ultimately be fatal.

In typical FDA slow-motion style, the agency first received reports of the potential connection back in 2014, yet waited four years to warn pet owners. Now we know that all breeds, ages and sizes of dogs have been involved in the 560 accounts the FDA received (which most certainly are only a fraction of the actual number of cases).

Interestingly, no heavy metal compounds were found in the foods tested, but over 90 percent of the food consisted of grain-free formulas containing pea and/or lentil protein, i.e., MfG.

Could the excitotoxic amino acids in those ingredients have triggered this deadly heart condition? It’s pretty much a given that we will never learn more from the FDA. To even consider these highly processed, toxic vegetable proteins as a potential cause of this tragedy is something that agency will never, ever do.

The U.S. pet food industry is predicted to reach $30 billion in the next two years, with more and more expensive, highly advertised and “gourmet” brands on the market. Despite all the glowing package claims and pictures of fish, meat and poultry, the contents generally consist of low-quality, toxic ingredients.

And sadly, our dogs and cats are becoming overweight, morbidly obese, diabetic and sick at an ever-increasing rate – just as are their human companions.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

FDA claim that MSG is GRAS puts it in violation of its own rules

BY FDA REGULATIONS found in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and in the FDA Code of Federal Regulations, the use of a food substance may be GRAS (generally recognized as safe) either through scientific procedures or, for a substance used in food before 1958, through experience based on common use

In short, to be designated FDA GRAS, an ingredient must be:

1) Tested for safety using scientific procedures, or

2) Known to be safe through experience based on common use in food prior to January 1958.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) does not meet that standard and therefore does not meet the FDA requirements for GRAS status.

The MSG in use today has never been tested for safety. Although the glutamate industry has turned out badly flawed studies on the “safety” of MSG (using toxic material in placebos, for example), no one outside of the glutamate industry would ever claim that any of those studies qualified as “scientific” procedures.

The MSG in use today, made with glutamate created by genetically modified bacteria that excrete glutamate through their cell walls, was only invented in 1957, allowing no time to demonstrate safe use through experience (based on common use in food) prior to 1958. The MSG in use today could not have been grandfathered GRAS in 1958 because it didn’t exist prior to 1957.

In 1969, it was first observed that manufactured free glutamic acid, the essential ingredient in MSG, is an excitotoxic amino acid. When glutamate is ingested in controlled quantities, it is essential to normal function. But when ingested in excess, it causes brain damage, leading to a variety of abnormalities.

Prior to 1957, when glutamate was produced by extracting it from protein, there was not enough manufactured free glutamate added in food to cause glutamate to become excitotoxic. That changed in 1957 after glutamate came to be produced in virtually unlimited quantities.


Sections 201(s) and 409 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
FDA’s implementing regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations, 21 CFR 170.3, 21 CFR 170.30, and 21 CFR 170.30(b

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

Researchers believe this popular food ingredient can trigger autoimmune diseases

If you read the label of a fake egg product called JUST Egg, you’ll find an odd ingredient name – transglutaminase.

One brand of transglutaminase purchased online.

This enzyme, also called “meat glue,” works by bonding proteins together. In the past it was manufactured using the clotting agent extracted from the blood of pigs or cows, but now it’s mostly secreted from microbes. And imitation eggs aren’t the only use to which transglutaminase is put to by the food-processing industry. Others include gluing scraps of meat together to produce an expensive-looking steak, allowing fake fish to look like sushi, improving the texture of dairy products and even increasing a product’s shelf life. No wonder Big Food loves it.

But some researchers are warning that what makes transglutaminase do its job so well with food products may also allow it to promote or encourage celiac disease and other autoimmune conditions, as well as contribute to millions of cases of food poisoning in the U.S. each year.

A double health threat

Transglutaminase can be used by restaurants and manufacturers to get away with a nearly undetectable form of food fraud. By sprinkling the enzyme on various scrap pieces of meat, chicken or seafood, and then binding them in plastic wrap for several hours, they can turn out a picture-perfect “filet mignon” or filet of fish that even an expert wouldn’t know isn’t the real McCoy.

But fakery aside, meat glue could very well be the source of some of those “unaccountable” food-poisoning outbreaks we so often read about. That’s because pathogens such as E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella mostly appear on the surface of meat and are effectively killed by conventional cooking. When multiple pieces are combined, some of those pathogens are moved to the center of the product, lurking in the middle where high temperatures don’t reach them.

But there’s more. A 2018 published study by researchers from the Kipp Institute in Germany and the B. Rappaport School of Medicine in Israel calls transglutaminase a “primary candidate as a partner for CD (celiac disease) development.”

The authors point to several ways in which transglutaminase can trigger an immune reaction leading to celiac disease, one being that the transglutaminase enzyme can alter the structure of gluten peptides making it “likely to resist further breakdown and to be recognized as ‘foreign’” by immune receptors in the gut. Also problematic is the fact that transglutaminase is “structurally different (from) but functionally imitates” tissue transglutaminase (tTG), which is found naturally in the human body. (Those who suffer from celiac disease often produce antibodies that attack tTG).

In 2015 the same authors published a study identifying transglutaminase as one of the common food additives likely behind the “rising incidence of autoimmune disease,” conditions that include not just celiac disease but diabetes, multiple sclerosis and lupus.

More than meat

Novozymes, a UK company, advertises its transglutaminase product for low-fat yogurt to get that creamy texture and taste. Another manufacturer of the enzyme, a company called Siveele, lists dairy and even bakery products among those to which it is added, claiming that its “natural,” cost effective and can be used in products that sport a “clean label.”

Typically, a clean label means that undesirable additives are not mentioned on a product’s ingredient panel. For example, since MSG is undesirable, “clean label” flavor-enhancers such as hydrolyzed pea protein, autolyzed yeast, and soy protein isolate are used instead of MSG. The list of “clean label” ingredients can be found at: https://www.truthinlabeling.org/assets/ingredient_names.pdf.

On “formed” meat products sold in supermarkets in the U.S. the enzyme must be called out on the ingredient statement (as it is for JUST Egg). It appears that for any other use transglutaminase can go unidentified.

The 2018 study mentioned above states that transglutaminase is “unlabeled and hidden from the public knowledge,” and our attempts to find out exactly where it may be hidden in processed foods sold in the U.S. were largely unsuccessful. Ajinomoto, which is a major producer of transglutaminase as well as MSG, states that in the EU “specific labeling is unnecessary.”

Despite all the uncertainties involved with the labeling of transglutaminase there are things you can do to steer clear of it:

  • When dining out, beware of typically expensive menu items that are priced so low they seem too good to be true. Restaurants have no responsibility whatsoever to inform you if they are using transglutaminase.
  • If you’re going to eat sushi, do so at a reliable restaurant that specializes in it. Sushi is an expensive and very skilled dish to prepare.
  • Low and no fat dairy products have taste and texture problems that might be “solved” by using transglutaminase and are best avoided. Manufacturers try to make up for that issue using things such as flavorings, milk powder and possibly transglutaminase. And as always, keep in mind that the more processed a food item is, the more chance there is that it will contain or be manufactured using a variety of chemicals, additives and enzymes — like transglutaminase.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

Leaked Nestlé in-house document admits most of its products aren’t healthy

Did you see last Thursday’s post, Ultra-processed foods: Little nourishment, lots of toxic amino acids? We reported on the unfortunate fact that although U.S. supermarkets contain a wide variety of packaged foods, they mostly all come from 10 giant conglomerates.

One of those mega-companies is Nestlé, considered to be the world’s largest fast moving consumer goods company. Fast-moving consumer goods are products that sell quickly and at a relatively low cost.

This week Nestlé’s news came from a leaked document initially sent to its top executives, stating that over 60 percent of its “mainstream” food and drink products do not meet a “recognized definition of health” under Australia’s health star rating system.

(Health Star rates the nutritional profile of processed foods by assigning a number of stars, up to five. Only 37 percent of Nestlé products managed to rate above 3.5 stars.)

But low nutrition ratings aren’t the only concerns consumers should have, because Nestle products are loaded with manufactured free glutamate (MfG), an excitotoxic – brain damaging – ingredient. Their top brands include Hot Pockets (with a book-length list of ingredients including excitotoxic yeast extract, natural flavor, citric acid, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate and dough conditioner), Lean Cuisine (soy protein isolate, yeast extract), Stouffer’s (textured soy protein concentrate, autolyzed yeast extract) and Maggi products, including the Liquid Seasoning (monosodium glutamate, disodium inosinate, flavour, protease).

According to the Indian digital news station CNCBTV18, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) banned Nestle’s Maggi “two minute” noodles in 2015 after test showed that it contained excessive lead and the labelling of its packets deceptively mentioned ‘No added MSG.’

Of course, what Nestlé tells it executives about its products, as revealed in that leaked in-house document, is far different than what it tells consumers, saying on its website that: “we unlock the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come.”

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

Ultra-processed foods: Little nourishment, lots of toxic amino acids

Although the typical U.S. supermarket contains a wide variety of packaged foods, that assortment emanates from 10 giant conglomerates.

These multinationals, such as Unilever, Coca-Cola and Mondelez, have their imprints on practically everything you eat. And more and more of these products are “ultra-processed.”

It used to be that food technologists designed processed foods.  Those would be whole foods that were canned, freeze-dried, or fermented, for example.  But in the 1980s ultra-processed food — products manufactured with substances extracted from foods or synthesized in laboratories — started to line supermarket shelves.

Ultra-processed foods are fractionated-recombined foods consisting of an extensive number of additives and ingredients, but little actual whole food.  They can be identified by the remarkably long list of ingredients – including many unpronounceable ones — found on their labels. According to a recent study, Canadians are taking in practically half of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods.

Not mentioned in any study of ultra-processed foods, however, are the toxic ingredients added for color, flavor, shelf life (preservatives), and protein, along with low-calorie sweeteners. Manufactured free glutamate (MfG), the toxic component of monosodium glutamate, and all of the ingredients in the following list are found in both flavor enhancers and protein enhancers. And some say because they mask the taste of old or rancid food, MfGs are used as preservatives as well. 

Names of ingredients that always contain MfG:

  • Glutamic acid (E 620)
  • Glutamate (E 620)
  • Monosodium glutamate (E 621)
  • Monopotassium glutamate (E 622)
  • Calcium glutamate (E 623)
  • Monoammonium glutamate (E 624)
  • Magnesium glutamate (E 625)
  • Natrium glutamate
  • Anything “hydrolyzed”
  • Any “hydrolyzed protein”
  • Calcium caseinate, Sodium caseinate
  • Yeast extract, Torula yeast
  • Yeast food, Yeast nutrient
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Gelatin
  • Textured protein
  • Whey protein
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Soy protein
  • Soy protein concentrate
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Anything “protein”
  • Anything “protein fortified”
  • Soy sauce
  • Soy sauce extract
  • Protease
  • Anything “enzyme modified”
  • Anything containing “enzymes”
  • Anything “fermented”
  • Vetsin
  • Ajinomoto
  • Umami
  • Zinc proteninate

Names of ingredients that often contain or produce MfG during processing:

  • Carrageenan (E 407)
  • Bouillon and broth
  • Stock
  • Any “flavors” or “flavoring”
  • Natural flavor
  • Maltodextrin
  • Oligodextrin
  • Citric acid, Citrate (E 330)
  • Anything “ultra-pasteurized”
  • Barley malt
  • Malted barley
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Pectin (E 440)
  • Malt extract
  • Seasonings

The following are ingredients suspected of containing or creating sufficient processed free glutamic acid to serve as MfG-reaction triggers in HIGHLY SENSITIVE people:

  • Corn starch
  • Corn syrup
  • Modified food starch
  • Lipolyzed butter fat
  • Dextrose
  • 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”
  • anything “pasteurized”
  • Annatto
  • Vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • certain amino acid chelates (Citrate, aspartate, and glutamate are used as chelating agents with mineral supplements.)

Convenient, relatively inexpensive and heavily advertised, the future of ultra-processed foods seems to be assured (1).  And why not?  The FDA lets the people who manufacture ultra-processed foods declare that they are GRAS (generally recognized as safe), and the general public seems unaware that the fox is guarding the hen house.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.


1. Open PR Worldwide Public Relations.  Press release7/3/2019. “What’s driving the Flavor Enhancers Market Growth?  Cargill, Synergy Flavors, Tate & Lyle, Associated British Foods pic, Corbion …”  https://www.openpr.com/news/1794737/what-s-driving-the-flavor-enhancers-market-growth-cargill.  Accessed 7/31/2019.

Are you feeding your infant brain-damaging additives?

In 1969 the moms and dads of America were promised by the top three baby-food manufacturers that monosodium glutamate would be taken out of their products.

Sure, the baby food executives whined and complained and told how the public had been “unnecessarily alarmed and confused,” but they had hit a brick wall. Dr. John Olney, a top researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, had recently published data showing that when newborn mice were exposed to the additive, they suffered extensive brain damage and endocrine disorders, and he coined the term “excitotoxin” to describe monosodium glutamate. As the late Dr. Jean Mayer, a highly respected nutritionist who taught at Harvard for 25 years (and went on to be named president of Tufts University), said at the time: “I would take the damn stuff out of baby food.”

But half a century later, that “damn stuff” is still being fed to babies – only now added to infant formula.

A formula for disaster

Asked to report on the use of toxic manufactured free glutamate (MfG) in infant formula, we were appalled by the many articles available online that talked of the pros and cons of using various brands, but never once mentioned the presence of excitotoxins.

While monosodium glutamate may have been removed from those little jars of baby food, the same excitotoxic glutamic acid found in monosodium glutamate, now in ingredients such as whey protein concentrate and soy protein isolate, began appearing in infant formula. One product made by Enfamil shockingly lists among its ingredients monosodium glutamate, advising caregivers that it can be continued on as a “milk substitute in the diet of children.”

There are a variety of ways MfG harms the body. When Olney testified in 1972 before the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, he was attesting to the brain damage and subsequent endocrine disorders caused by the MfG in monosodium glutamate when fed to the very young.

Now, people realize that monosodium glutamate also causes adverse reactions such as asthma, migraine headache, irritable bowel, skin rash, seizures, and heart irregularities.

But along the way to this enlightenment, the link between MfG and brain damage seems to have been forgotten. Perhaps that’s because you can’t see brain damage with the naked eye. There’s no pain, no upset stomach, no itching or wheezing.

And stealthily, the glutamate industry has invested millions of dollars in propaganda intended to reassure the public that monosodium glutamate is merely a harmless food additive.

It’s not that health authorities don’t seem to care what’s in infant formulas. The public has been alerted to various toxic ingredients that have been found in these products over the years, including melamine (a compound used to make plastics) and perchlorate (a chemical found in rocket fuel). In fact, the plastic additive BPA has been banned from baby bottles.

But there’s no warning about excitotoxins.

That’s why if you’re thinking of using – or currently use — infant formula, it’s essential that you read the ingredients. Think carefully about the chemicals that are commonly used in these products and beware of hidden excitotoxins.

In March, 2019, we found the following 10 brands of infant formula listed at Amazon.com and searched out their ingredients. These included:

  • Enfamil,
  • Similac,
  • Earth’s Best,
  • Kirkland Signature
  • Good Start
  • Happy Baby
  • Good Sense
  • Member’s Mark
  • Plum Organics
  • Parent’s Choice

In the following ingredient lists, excitotoxic ingredients are highlighted. Only ones that make up more than 1 or 2 percent of the product are included.

Note: The excitotoxin content of milk depends on whether or not whole milk is used in the milk product. If whole milk is used, the excitotoxin content of the milk depends on the pasteurization process (higher heat for longer time frees more glutamic acid and aspartic acid from the original milk protein). If low fat or non-fat milks are used, there will be excitotoxin in the low fat and non-fat milk because those milks are made from milk powder which contains free glutamic acid and free aspartic acid as unavoidable consequences of manufacture.

Enfamil PREMIUM Infant Formula, Powder


Similac Advance

Nonfat Milk, Lactose, Whey Protein Concentrate, High Oleic Safflower Oil, Soy Oil, Coconut Oil, Galactooligosaccharides…

Earth’s Best Organic Dairy Infant Formula with Iron

Organic Lactose, Organic Nonfat Milk, Organic Oils (Organic Palm or Palm Olein, Organic Soy, Organic Coconut, Organic High Oleic Safflower or Sunflower Oil), Organic Whey Protein Concentrate

Kirkland Signature Infant Formula

Nonfat milk, lactose, whey protein concentrate, high oleic safflower oil, soy oil, coconut oil, galacto-oligosaccharides…

Gerber Good Start non-GMO powder Infant Formula


Happy Baby Organic Stage 1 Infant Formula Milk Based Powder with Iron

Organic non-fat milk, organic whey protein concentrate

Good Sense

Corn syrup, non-fat milk, whey protein hydrolysate

Member’s Mark


Plum Organics

Organic Nonfat Milk….Organic Whey Protein Concentrate

Parent’s Choice Non-GMO Premium Infant Formula with Iron

Nonfat Milk, Lactose, Vegetable Oils (Palm Olein, Coconut, Soy, High Oleic (Safflower Or Sunflower] Oil), Whey Protein Concentrate, Galactooligosaccharides…

However, infant formula isn’t the only way a baby can be exposed to MfG.

The bizarre connection between Big Food and breast milk

Research done in the 1980s and 1990s confirmed that monosodium glutamate and other ingredients that contain MfG are passed by pregnant women to their fetuses, and by lactating mothers to their newborns. Studies found that MfG can cross the placenta during pregnancy, can cross the blood brain barrier (BBB) in an unregulated manner during development, and can pass through the five circumventricular organs that lie outside the BBB.

In the 1960s and 1970s Olney described the brain damage done by monosodium glutamate, which was found to destroy brain cells when fed in large quantity to animals whose brains were not protected by blood brain barriers. Olney observed that the BBBs of fetuses and newborns seen in the laboratory left certain areas of their developing brains unprotected, and he cautioned that human fetuses and newborns were similarly at risk. The unprotected areas included the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that, when undamaged, regulates reproduction and weight (telling us when to stop eating).

Every woman who breast feeds her baby will want to make sure that her diet does not contain excitotoxins – or contains as few as possible. That list includes aspartic acid (found in aspartame, e.g., Nutrasweet, Equal, Amino Sweet, and other aspartame-based sugar substitutes); L-cysteine, found in dough conditioners, and the many ingredients that contain MfG.

Certainly, every parent wants a healthy baby, but there are industry giants out there who only care about their bottom lines. Consumer beware.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.