Saturday, March 16, 2013

Gluten Free All Purpose Bread

In light of my experiments with gluten free products, I decided it was time to try my hand at making a loaf of bread.  Since I have been traditionally trained, I have trouble foreseeing how gluten free breads will turn out. My initial experiment was to be quite honest, a moderate disaster.  Not to say that it didn't taste good, it actually had a nice flavour, but it was also extremely dense and really didn't really rise very much.

My inital idea was to see how it would turn out if I used a basic bread recipe, but replaced the A.P. flour for gluten free flours and some guar gum.
As you can see, the dough started out fairly promising, it did rise about 50% which isn't too bad.

Unfortunately, after forming them into buns, they didn't really rise again.  After putting them into the oven to bake, they again, do not rise and you are left with something pretty much the same as what you put in.

So here we go, gluten free hockey pucks.  Lets just say I won't be doing that again.  Afterwards I did some research and same across another recipe that looked interesting.  I wasn't sure how it would work out, but what did I have to lose.  The original recipe is from Gluten Free Real Food.  I changed it a bit, since that seems to be what I always do and it turned out quite well.  There were a few significant differences in the products, but amazingly it turned out perfectly!

The Recipe


Wet Ingredients
3 large eggs
1 Teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 Cup oil Coconut Oil
1 1/3 Cup milk – unsweetened (rice, hemp, almond) warmed to about 30-40C
20ml Maple Syrup
3 Tablespoon Coconut Palm Sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt

Dry Ingredients
1/2 Cup Sorghum
1/2 Cup Amaranth
1 Cup Teff Flour
1 Cup Cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Guar Gum
1 Tablespoon Dry Active Yeast
2 tbsp Chia Seeds
*1/4 seeds or nuts (optional)


1. In a large bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients and mix well.

2. In a separate bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and mix well.

3. Pour the dry ingredient mixture into the wet ingredients and mix well.  The mixture is going to be wet, pretty much like when you're making banana bread or zucchini  bread.

4. Pour the dough into an oiled loaf pan with 3" walls and let it rise for 40-45 minutes in a warm moist place.  I put mine in the top shelf of the oven on the lowest possible setting then occasionally sprayed water onto my pizza stone on the bottom shelf.

5. Once it has risen, pull the bread out and turn the heat up to 350F.  Put the bread back in once the oven has reached the right temperature and bake it for 40-50 minutes. I put a digital thermometer in mine and had an internal temperature between 160 and 170F.

6. Let the bread cool for 5min on the counter, then take it out of the pan and let it cool on a wire rack.

Side Notes

1. The bread itself is actually quite sweet.  You don't need to add all of the sugar unless you want it sweet.

2. You can add around 1/4 Cup of some extras like seeds or nuts.  I put hemp hearts in mine since I like the added nutrition.

3. The reason why we add so much cornstarch is mainly to add structure to the bread.  For anyone who has made a slurry to thicken a soup or sauce, you will know that cornstarch is great for thickening products.  Lets be straight up though, cornstarch is a starch, and there for has amylose 20-25% and amylopectin B 70-75%, both of which are just complex glucose structures.  Although they are gluten free, they do increase your blood sugar.  Fortunately Amylopectin B is better for you than the Amylopectin A you get from wheat flour.

One of things I learned from making this is that gluten free breads are pretty fragile and can't withstand the normal rise, punch down, form, rise, bake procedures of normal bakery breads.  It is advantageous to have a single rise then bake.  I think it's also a good idea to think of these as having the texture and consistency of quick breads, even though they are in fact a yeast bread.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Gluten Free Banana Walnut Bread

Since I have been reading wheat belly lately, I decided it was a good time to try out some gluten free cooking. Now, as he says in the book, I stay away from starched (potato, tapioca, corn…etc) since they have no place in my gluten free kitchen.  They will enrich the food, but do so by allowing our blood sugars to soar, thereby making us fat.  That is not the point of what I’m doing here.  This isn’t about making gluten free food for the Celiac that is just as bad as whole wheat loaf of bread is or everyone else. This is about using everything I have learned to make something wholesome, healthy, and tasty!

This recipe is actually an adaptation of one that I made while I was in culinary school at Niagara College.
The original recipe went like this:

-          25oz Bananas (3 small)
-          208g Granulated Sugar
-          2 eggs
-          58g Butter
-          214g (about 1 ½ cups) All-Purpose Flour
-          10ml Baking Soda
-          10ml Baking Powder
-          5ml Salt

Not exactly the most healthy thing every created…thus it needs a revamp!

The new recipe went like this:

-          4 medium to large bananas (from the freezer)
-          208g Coconut Palm Sugar
-          2 eggs
-          60g Coconut Oil
-          214g Flour (I used Buckwheat)
-          1 tsp Guar Gum*
-          10ml Baking Soda
-          10ml Baking Powder
-          5ml Salt
-          1tbsp Chia Seeds**
-          1 Cup Walnuts (chopped or whole)


1. In a mixing bowl, combine the coconut oil and coconut sugar until well mixed.

2. Add the eggs and bananas to the coconut mixture and mix well. Your mixture will be a little bit sloppy, but don't worry, it will all come together in the end (trust me).

3. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (except for the walnuts), then add it to your wet mixture.  Mix well. Don't worry about the fact that your batter looks REALLY dark.  Mine looked as dark to begin with as my usual bread looks when it's done.  The coconut palm sugar simply makes the whole thing darker.

4. Add the walnuts.  You can chop them beforehand if you want them to be small, but I put mine in whole.  I don't mind cutting through them.

5. Put the dough into a high walled loaf pan, sprayed or brushed with cooking oil. By high walled I mean the sides of the dish should be 3 inches high. For some reason we have 2 pans that are only 2 inches high (I have no idea why anyone would invent such a thing!)

6. Bake at 375F for 30min then reduce the heat to 325 and bake until done.  Back in the day I used to use the tooth pick trick (when the toothpick comes out clean it's done).  Nowadays I prefer to used my digital thermometer.  Stick it into the middle; once the temperature reads 170F it's time to take it out.  

7. Let it cool in the pan for a bit.  Once you can handle the pan, turn the bread out onto the counter and then let it cool completely on a wire rack.

Ours turned out like this!

While I certainly classify this recipe as being healthier than the original, I must stress the fact that coconut oil is still fat, and coconut sugar is still sugar.  Both are not good for you in large quantities, but both have additional health benefits over using butter and sugar.

For those of you wondering why I made some of the changes, I'll explain below:

*Guar Gum - This is my first kick at the can with guar gum and I have to say I'm impressed.  I was a little bit worried about how cohesive this recipe would be since there was no gluten.  The guar gum is used to keep things together and also lend some elasticity.  It worked amazingly as you can see.  It held together at least as well as the original and we could cut it no problem.

**Chia Seeds - Let me just say that I LOVE chia seeds.  I should have bought a chia pet a long time ago (che-che-che-chia!).  Anywho, chia seeds extrude a gelatinous substance that tends to bind ingredients together.  I use them in a lot of my baked goods as a safety measure in case if my other attempts at cohesion fail.  Also, they are good for you as they have calcium, phosphorous and manganese. They also help in removing toxins from your small intestine due to their gelatinous nature.  Best of all, they taste good! Just beware of getting them stuck in your teeth, they don't seem to want to get out!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Alternative Sweeteners

Good day mates, one of the questions that people ask me most frequently is what the best sugar substitute is.  The answer to that one is completely dependent on why you need to substitute the sugar. In some recipes, sugar only plays a role to sweeten things, in this case you can use any kind of sugar substitute you want.  In other cases (usually in baking) sugar plays a specific chemical role to create your product.  If you are substituting sugar in a baked good where a specific reaction is needed, I would recommend using a substitute that reacts similarly to sugar. Below, let me talk about some of the alternatives.


First off, lets talk about WHY we are doing this in the first place. Lets look back to my post on sugar. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, meaning it takes little to no work at all for it to be utilized by our bodies.  What's the result? Massive amounts of Sucrose (a combination of Glucose and Fructose) entering our system. All our body needs to do is split the Glycosidic Bond, convert Fructose to Glucose, then it's off to make ATP. Simple right? too simple unfortunately.  Since our body can do this almost effortlessly, our blood sugar levels sky rocket causing our insulin levels to spike in order to deal with the problem.  Unfortunately, the function of Insulin is to take the sugar and store it as glycogen in our muscles or triglycerides in our fat cells. That's right, sugar makes you fat! In fact, sugar will actually make you more fat than consuming fat will! who knew right?


Okay, so, lets just say that there is a LOT of alternatives out there to granulated sugar, and I'm not talking about brown sugar, turbinado sugar or the supposed 'raw sugar.' These are simply different shades of the same colour.  Some of the alternatives are good, some are bad, and some are simply misleading...

Before I get into this, I just wanted to quickly mention the glycemic index. You have probably already heard about it, and know that things that are low are good, and things that are high are bad.  Basically, the glycemic index measures how much your blood sugar (glucose) will rise after eating a specific type of food.  Pure glucose is given a value of 100.  Every food source is going to have a value since everything has some form of carbohydrate that can be converted to glucose. For example, whole wheat bread has an average glycemic index of 71 and the glycemic index of dark chocolate (70% dark) is 22. Granulated sugar has a glycemic index of 68.

The Good


Stevia uses the sweet leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Stevia has a sweetness that is about 40-300 times more than that of sucrose, making it a popular sweetener.  Depending on the specific species that is used, sometimes there is a bitter almost licorice after taste.  Best of all, Stevia is a zero calorie sweetener (meaning it has a glycemic index of 0) and it reportedly reacts similarly to sugar in baking recipes. There was a degree of controversy surrounding stevia.  When it was first introduced in 1991 there was an 'anonymous' complaint to the FDA which caused them to reject Stevia as being harmful.  There were allegations that this complaint and the subsequent ban was due to internal pressure from the artificial.

Monk Fruit

Monk Fruit is another zero calorie sweetener (having a glycemic index of 0) that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar.  This sweetener is usually available in liquid form, since the sweetness is usually extracted by crushing the plant and then infusing hot water.  It would be best to use this one as a sweetener rather than a baking substitute.  There are also no safety concerns that are associated with Monk Fruit.

Coconut Palm Sugar

This sugar is made from the sap that is extracted from the buds of the coconut palm trees. This sugar is mildly sweet with a hint of caramel to it (kind of like brown sugar). This sugar is mostly sucrose with some glucose and fructose and can be used as a direct substitute for white or brown sugar in baking. Now you may have noticed the fact that this stuff is still pretty much sugar, it is lower on the glycemic index because of the sucrose and has a value of 35.  The good aspect is that this is a WHOLE sugar and contains potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, as well as Vitamin B1, B2, B3, and B6. Woot.

Maple Syrup

Just like coconut palm sugar, maple syrup is also mostly sucrose, but has impressive amounts of minerals in it. If you consume 100g of maple syrup, which shouldn't be too hard (it's about 1/3 cup) you get Calcium 67 mg (7% DV), Iron 1.20 mg (9% DV), Magnesium 14 mg (4% DV), Manganese 3.298 mg (157% DV), Potassium 204 mg (4% DV), and Zinc 4.16 mg (44% DV).  For all of you who read the post on Excitotoxins you may remember that Zinc and Magnesium help to block the effects of excitotoxins on glutamate receptors. Maple syrup is also reported to have a large amount of polyphenols including one called Quebecol is unique and is created during the boiling process.  Polyphenols are antioxidants that are helpful in fighting inflammation.

There has been some talk that the large producers use antifreeze to keep their sap lines from freezing up. This may cause the harmful chemical to make their way into the product.  It's always best to buy locally from a producer you can trust, or even better, make it yourself! This is good news for me and my pancakes!

The Bad


Well, Aspartame is bad for you for a whole host of reasons.  For those of you who have not done so yet, check out the posts on Aspartame and Excitotoxins for more info.


Equal is an artificial sweetener that contains dextrose, aspartame (1.7%), acesulfame potassium (1.2%), starch, silicon dioxide (an anti-caking agent), maltodextrin, and unspecified flavouring. Equal tablets may also contain lactose.
Aceslfame Potassium is another type of sweetener.  So far there are not any documented problems with it, however, studies done on the topic have not been very thorough and do not track long term effects.  Despite this problem, the FDA is still cool with it being on the market.  One of the components of this chemical is methylene chloride, a known carcinogen. Long-term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances, and cancer in humans.
The percentage in a pack of equal is relatively low, however, given the lack of longitudinal studies, I give this one a thumbs down.

Sweet n' Low

Contains Saccharin, dextrose, and cream of tartar. The problem child we're going to look at is saccharin.

One study in India found individuals eating 137% of the FDA's maximum recommended intake resulting in bladder distention, bladder cancer and urine osmolality.

A 2008 study by The University of Rostock in Germany found that saccharin artificially increases your insulin levels.  This will result in hypoglycemia as well as increased weight gain as glucose is sequestered from your blood.

Before May 2000 the US National Toxicology Program had saccharin listed as a potentially cancer causing agent.  It has since been removed, however, I have not found any studies that explain why this happened.


I figured I would put this in, just in case if you aren't aware of what dextrose is.  It is simply the stereoisomer (left handed form) of the glucose molecule.  Aside from that simple point in chemical arrangement, they are the exact same thing.  Don't be fooled when you look at a package, it is not a good guy.

The Ugly


I classify Splenda as being ugly since there is no definitive proof showing that it is good or bad either way.


I'm sorry to say it, but honey, while tasting excellent is not exactly good for you. Honey contains a massive amount of sugar, the main components are Fructose: 38.2%, Glucose: 31.3%, Maltose: 7.1%, Sucrose: 1.3% ,Water: 17.2%. That's right, it's about 78% sugar with a glycemic index that ranges from 31-78 depending on the study and the type used.

Honey has a large amount of antioxidants and also has trace amounts of other nutrients, but here is the problem.  Unless you use RAW honey, your goodness is destroyed in pasteurization.  You can usually find raw honey in the organic section of your grocery store. It is probably okay to eat it as is, ie: put it on toast or mix it into salad dressing or something like that.  DO NOT cook with it, bake with it, and be careful how hot your tea is if you add it in there too. Reaching 145F (62C) is enough to destroy most of the nutrients in the honey

Agave Syrup

The Agave situation is a little bit tricky.  It became a very popular alternative to sugar because of the fact that it has a very low glycemic index (only about 15-30).  The reason for this is the fact that Agave is composed almost entirely of Fructose.  Do you ever hear about all the flack that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) gets? Well agave nectar really isn't that different from HFCS. Agave can be around 70% fructose, and there is a big problem with that.  Man made Fructose does not get processed in our intestines, but rather in our liver.  Since it is processed in our liver, our blood glucose levels do not rise, BUT at the liver it is being converted into triglycerides (fat).  Also, high levels of fructose will inhibit your leptin levels, making it so your body is not full and in fact will crave more food.

There have also been some health concerns with Agave in regards to how it is processed.  Some claim that the syrup is created using digestive enzymes as well as chemical factors to separate and distil the syrup.  The FDA has actually rejected shipments of agave due to excessive pesticide residues.  I would have thought any residue was too much.

Well, this is my list.  If you have any questions are think that I may have forgotten something along the way, let me know!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Vitamins B2 and B3

Normally I would do an individual post for each of these, but these two vitamins play a very similar role in the body so I'm going to lump them together.

Normal Benefits

Two of the key components we obtain from the B vitamins are Niacin (Vitamin B3) and Riboflavin (Vitamin B2).  You may remember an old cereal (or maybe it was bread) commercial with kids asking their mom about the Vitamins on the back of the box.  Their mom tells them Niacin is to help make you nice, but has trouble coming up with something for Riboflavin.  Although way off on the explanation, she was nevertheless correct that these are essential nutrients.  Both Niacin and Riboflavin are necessary to create something in our bodies called Coenzymes (NAD+ and FAD ).  These coenzymes play major roles in metabolizing our food.

For those of you that took Senior Biology there was a significant unit on metabolism.  It is pretty fresh in my mind since I was tutored two girls on this exact topic a few months ago. Our metabolic pathway is broken up into 3 main stages: Glycolysis, The Kreb's Cycle, and the Electron Transport Chain. There will be a post soon that explains this process in detail, for now, trust me when I say that the role of NAD and FAD is VERY IMPORTANT. They are used to produce about 75% of our bodies ATP (adenosine triphosphate) the way that our body powers chemical reactions.

Other Health Benefits

While watching the movie Food Matters I came across some interesting points.  

In 1960 Dr.Abram Hoffer worked with Bill Williams, the founder of alcoholics anonymous. Bill suffered from severe depression and Hoffer introduced Bill to the idea of 'mega vitamin therapy.' Hoffer prescribed 3g of vitamin B3 per day. Within a few weeks, his fatigue and depression (which had been around for years) was gone. Bill W recommended this to other individuals with depression and found that the majority showed improvement.  He tried to get this as part of AA and was denied on account of the fact that the doctors "knew" that Niacin could not possibly have this effect.

Andrew Saul, the editor of the peer reviewed journal  Orthomolecular Medicine News Service once worked with a woman who was suicidally depressed.  She lived at home with her family and wouldn't speak to or eat with anyone, she simply sat in the corner staring at the wall.  She saw a psychiatrist, as you would imagine,  and was on a host of drugs.  Through Saul's recommendations, she took 11,500mg of Niacin a day, within a couple days she sat at the family table eating dinner as though nothing was wrong. The family showed the psychiatrist this miraculous result and he said that taking that much Niacin could be harmful. The family stopped giving it to her and she was back to sitting in the corner and non-communicative within a few days.  Currently, there are 0 deaths from niacin a year; over the last 15-20 years, there have still been none.

How Much Do You Need?

Adult men - 1.3 mg/day
Adult Women - 1.1 mg/day
Pregnant Women - 1.4 mg
Lactating Women - 1.6 mg
Infants - 0.3-0.4 mg/day
Children - 0.6-0.9 mg/day

Best Sources

#1: Yeast Extract Spread (Marmite) 
14.3mg (841% DV) per 100 gram serving
0.858mg (50% DV) per teaspoon.

#2: Liver 
Lamb liver provides the most riboflavin (B2) with 4.6mg per 100g serving or 270% of the DV.

#3: Dried Herbs, Spices, and Pepper
Dried ancho chilies contain the most riboflavin providing 2.26mg (133% DV) per 100 gram serving, or 0.38mg (23% DV) per pepper.
Paprika follows providing 1.74mg (103% DV) of vitamin b2 per 100 gram serving, or 0.12mg (7% DV) per tablespoon.
Dried coriander, spearmint, parsley, and finally chili powder which provides 0.8mg (47% DV) of riboflavin per 100 gram serving, or 0.06mg (4% DV) per tablespoon.

#4: Almonds 
Almonds provide 1.01mg (60% DV) of vitamin B2 per 100 gram serving

#5: Dry Roasted Soybeans (Edamame) 
Dry roasted soybeans, or edamame, provide 0.76mg (44% DV) of riboflavin per 100 gram serving

#6: Cheese (Roquefort, Brie, Limburger) 
Roquefort provides the most riboflavin (b2) with 0.57mg (34% DV) per 100 gram serving
Brie (31% DV per 100g)
Limburger (30% DV per 100g)
Camembert (29% DV per 100g)
Caraway cheese (26% DV per 100g)
Blue cheese (22% DV per 100g)
Goat cheese (22% DV per 100g)
Romano (22% DV per 100g)
Swiss cheese (17% DV per 100g)

#7: Wheat Bran 
Crude wheat bran provides 0.58mg (34% DV) of riboflavin per 100 gram serving

#8: Fish (Mackerel, Atlantic Salmon, Trout) 
Mackerel has the most riboflavin providing 0.54mg (32% DV) per 100 gram serving.
Wild caught Atlantic salmon provides 0.49mg (29%) DV of riboflavin per 100 gram serving
Trout provides 0.42mg (25% DV) of vitamin b2 per 100 gram serving

#9: Sesame Seeds 
Sesame seeds provide 0.47mg (27% DV) of riboflavin per 100 gram serving

#10: Sun-dried Tomatoes 
Sun-dried tomatoes provides 0.49mg (29% DV) of riboflavin per 100 gram serving



Adult Men - 16mg/day
Adult Women - 14mg/day
Pregnant Women - 18mg/day
Children - 2-12mg/day
Tolerable upper intake levels (UL) for adult men and women is considered to be 35 mg/day

Best Sources

#1: Yeast Extract Spread (Marmite) 
Marmite provides 97mg (485% DV) per 100 gram serving, or 5.8mg (29% DV) per teaspoon.

#2: Bran (Rice and Wheat) 
Rice bran contains 34mg (170% DV) per 100g serving
Wheat bran contains 13.6mg (65% DV) per 100 gram serving

#3: Fish (Anchovies, Tuna, Swordfish) 
Canned anchovies provide 19.9mg (100% DV) per 100 gram serving
Skip-Jack Tuna provides 18.8mg (94% DV) per 100 gram serving
Swordfish, King Mackerel, and Sturgeon with 10.1mg (51% DV) per 100 gram

#4: Liver 
Lamb liver provides 16.7mg per 100g serving or 83% of the DV

#5: Paprika 
Paprika provides 15.3mg (77% DV) per 100g

#6: Peanuts 
Peanuts provide 14.9mg (75% DV) in a 100 gram serving

#7: Veal (Lean) 
The top round cut of Lean veal provides 12mg (60% DV) of niacin per 100 gram serving

#8: Chicken (Light Meat) 
The light meat of chicken (breast, or tenders) provides 12.4mg (62% DV) of niacin per 100 gram serving

#9: Bacon
Bacon will provide 11.6mg (58% DV) of niacin per 100g serving

#10: Sun-dried Tomatoes 
Sun-dried tomatoes provide 9.1mg (45% DV) of niacin per 100g

What Happens if You Don't Get Enough?

Riboflavin (B2)

Riboflavin deficiency can include cracked and red lips, inflammation of the lining of mouth and tongue, mouth ulcers, cracks at the corners of the mouth (angular cheilitis), and a sore throat. A deficiency may also cause dry and scaling skin, fluid in the mucous membranes, and iron-deficiency anemia. The eyes may also become bloodshot, itchy, watery and sensitive to bright light.

The long term effects of a Riboflavin deficiency have not been clinically observed so far and are currently unknown.

Niacin (B3)

If you only have a mild deficiency, it results in a slower metabolism and a lesser ability to deal with cold.

A moderate deficiency can cause psychological problems which include irritability, poor concentration, anxiety, fatigue, restlessness, apathy, and depression.

In the cases of a severe Niacin deficiency, it causes the disease pellagra, which is characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia, as well as “necklace” lesions on the lower neck, hyperpigmentation, thickening of the skin, inflammation of the mouth and tongue, digestive disturbances, amnesia, delirium, and eventually death, if left untreated.

What Happens if You Have Too Much

Riboflavin is continuously excreted through our urine and therefore does not have any toxic effects since it is not possible to have too much in our bodies.

A pharmacological high dose (1500 to 6000mg a day) of Niacin can cause some minor skin problems such as skin flushing and itching, dry skin, and skin rashes including eczema exacerbation and acanthosis nigricans.

Very high levels of Niacin can also cause a rise in blood sugar, but this effect is only about 5-10%.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What is Bad in Our Food - Excitotoxins

So, this is the part that I had left out of the Aspartame post last time. I know it's been a while, but now that I have finished reading The Crippled God and A Memory of Light I have a lot of free time

The Brain 101

First, let me talk about the blood brain barrier. It's not exactly a 'barrier' in how we normally think of them, but it's probably the best way of thinking of it.  There are blood vessels that reach into our brains, and it is essential that they do so since our Brain uses 20% of the bodies dissolved oxygen and 25% of the glucose. The barrier exists to prevent harmful chemicals from entering the brain and causing damage to the cells.  This is achieved by having a wall of very tightly packed cells surrounding the blood vessels.  In order from a substance to enter into a brain they need to pass from the blood vessels, through the wall of cells (the barrier) and then into the brain cells.  This is a mechanism that is solely in place to help protect the brain.  Although this isn't true for the entire brain, since the circumventricular organs exist outside of the blood-brain barrier, it is true for the majority of the cases.

This tight control is necessary to prevent malfunctions that can effect motor skills, balance, memory, cognition, and the excretion of enzymes and hormones. In the case of the brain, a little goes a long way in that a little damage can have large consequences.

What is an Excitotoxin??

Excitotoxins are compounds that cause the over-stimulation and eventual death of brain cells.  There are many that exist today, but the ones that we are most likely going to come into contact with are Aspartame, Glutamate (usually in the form of Monosodium Glutamate) and hydrolysed vegetable protein.

Now that we have some background knowledge of the brain, let's talk about how the damage occurs.  The Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) is able to function because of specific 'gate channels.' Basically, the cells are closed to diffusion (the mass movement of particles) unless a specific chemical is able to open the gate.  You will see this a lot in muscle tissues where there is a sodium-potassium ion gate.  Sodium and Potassium work in your muscles by changing the chemical potential.  One will make the cell environment very positive and the other will make it very negative.  This allows your muscles to contract and relax.  The gate channels of the BBB are a security measure that (usually) ensures that the channel only opens when the appropriate nutrients are being let in.  The key to the gate is usually sodium or calcium.  The chemical formula for the excitotoxins is such that the body is fooled into thinking it is a nutrient and is allowed entry into the brain. Once nutrients enter the neurons, they are now able to fire and transmit neural impulses to allow the body to do what it needs. The problem that occurs with excitotoxins is that they block the lock and key mechanism causing the neuron to continuously fire until it dies.  This is why they are called excitotoxins.

Most people who consume Aspartame are addicts.  They enjoy drinking a diet soda or a sugar free yogurt because of the taste or feeling they get.  Some people may or may not be aware of the high that they are getting by consuming aspartame.  Before a neuron dies there is a flash of massive neural activity which will give that euphoric feeling.  This is why most diet soda addicts will generally drink 1 to 2 litres a day. At least the advantage most people have now is that companies are required to label Aspartame on products

Aspartame may be bad, but MSG is worse.  Within the brain, there are at least 3 main types of Glutamate receptors. Our body has this since Glutamate is actually very common in the body and in it's pure form has many functions that include neural communication, memory formation, learning, and regulation.  Unfortunately, since glutamate is freely allowed into these neurons (in the cortex, striatum, hippocampus, hypothalamus, thalamus, cerebellum and visual and auditory systems) these areas of the brain are susceptible to the same damage that we see in neurons exposed to aspartame.

Can it be Stopped?!?

This is a yes and no kind of question.  The damage itself is permanent and is indeed cumulative over time.  It has actually been shown that newborns and toddlers are at an even higher risk than adults since they are 4 times more sensitive to the effects than an adult.  Although developing brains can rewire themselves to compensate for damage, this will only occur up to six or seven years of age.

Now for the yes part of the answer.  While the excitotoxins tend to block the lock and key mechanism, zinc, magnesium and glycine are able to kick out (so to speak) the offending toxin and close the gate.  Unfortunately, most people have a diet that is extremely low in these nutrients.


Okay, let me talk a little bit about studies that have looked at this.  In 1957 Lucas, DR; Newhouse, JP looked at the effects of MSG on animals and found that 100% showed damage to nerve cells on the inner layer of their retinas. 1968 Dr. Olney from the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University, conducted studies that investigated the effects of MSG and Aspartame on animals and found that damage was not restricted to retinas, but in fact showed destruction of the neurons to the hypothalamus and other adjacent areas of the brain. Thanks to Dr.Olneys study, MSG was removed from baby food in 1969.

We all know that whenever they do studies, it is necessary to use extremely high levels so that they can get results within a shorter period of time.  Now many people have the funding necessary for a longitudinal study.  The key, however, is the fact that damage is cumulative over time, therefore, regardless of the concentration they used, we do face a real danger.  Additional studies have shown that when MSG is given as a certain percentage of body weight, humans retain 20 times more than monkeys and 5 times more than mice.  Whatever effects that happened in the animals should be occurring to a greater extent in us.

Something I have always wondered about is why the studies are so old.  If there is a danger here, then why has it not been looked at extensively over time. Evidently it has been looked at, and looked at extensively, sadly, almost all of these studies have been financed by the companies themselves.  Do we honestly think that a multi billion dollar industry would finance and then publish a paper that proves that their product is poison? Ha, It would be like getting a $100,000 tax refund and then telling the government it was only supposed to be $10 and they can have their money back. It will never happen!

Other Concerns

This is a list of other things to look out for, and also keep an eye on.

Lets think about the effects that we saw with excitotoxins.  They cause neurons to keep firing until they exhaust themselves and then die.  This is a much greater concern for people who are hypoglycemic.  In this condition you have the tendency of having low blood sugar.  This is not necessarily a hereditary condition, it can happen to all people including athletes who push themselves too hard.  Eventually you will reach a point where your body sugar is extremely low causing the glucose to you brain to drop.  These cells all become undernourished and are weakened.  The solution here is to simply get a good meal and then rest, allowing your body to recuperate. If, however, in this condition you consume high levels of the aforementioned excitotoxins, you will be putting your body in real danger since your cells have less of an ability to resist the damage.

One point that I have come to realize through my research is that not only is this a controversial topic for researchers and the companies themselves, but the companies HIDE the fact that their additives are in food.  If this is not a telling sign I don't know what is.  Everyone has known for years that MSG is something that is not good for you. Some people look for it on food labels, while some people do not bother.  Now that people have begun to read labels, companies have been finding ways to sneak the bad in under a vague ingredient. The Glutamate Association was formed in 1977 to help keep MSG and Aspartame on the market. They lobbied to reduce the labelling requirements on foods and to allow MSG to not have to be listed on the label unless it was pure. However, spices, natural flavorings and flavorings can all contain from 30% to 60% MSG and do not need to be indicated.  Do yourself a favour.  Go to the cupboard, look at your can of soup, or pasta sauce, or even a jar of pickles and look to see if there is one of these vague ingredients.  From what I have observed, if I want to avoid MSG in any amount there is nothing I can get from the grocery store (unless there is an organic section) other than produce.  This stuff is in EVERYTHING!!!

Another point to keep in mind is the cycle that happens with excitotoxins.  First, these chemicals enters your blood stream, some of it is then transferred to the BBB where it then makes it to your brain.  This process takes a bit of time, and the excitotoxins will actually remain in your brain for up to 24 hours.  If you are someone who regularly drinks 3-4 diet sodas a day, throughout the day, there is really no time where your brain is free of these high levels of excitotoxins.  I met one individual who told me that it is impossible to have enough aspartame in your body to have an effect.  This is a guy who drinks at least 4 diet cokes a day from what I saw.  Unfortunately, as humans, we will believe what we want to believe.  I could be wrong here, this could all be just premature non-correlated results.  I prefer to believe that given the choice, I will stay on the side of caution. Not consuming MSG or Aspartame will NOT have any negative health effects, while consuming them may have massive long lasting effects.  Why would I want to take that chance?

What about the long term effects? We have been talking about the fact that the brain cells become damaged as a result of these toxins, but what are the consequences of this? In the beginning you can look forward to a slow degradation of memory, cognition and motor skills.  It has been seen that areas in the brain that have very high concentrations of glutamate receptors are those that are associated with Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Therefore, when exposed to high levels of excitotoxins over your life time, you can look forward to the possibility of developing one of these diseases later in life.

Last Remarks

The last thing I want to put on here is a small list of things to look for.  It's like a what not to eat type of deal.  I have essentially gotten to the point that I do not trust ANYTHING that is pre-packaged.  I make all of my own food from sauces to breads to salad dressings.  It takes a bit of effort, but I truy believe that my health and the health of my family is worth it 100%

Foods to watch out for include: Soybean milk (naturally high in glutamate / often has hydrolyzed vegetable protein added to it), kombu, miso, and soy sauces all contain MSG. 

Sources of MSG include: MSG, Monosodium Glutamate, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Vegetable Protein, Hydrolyzed Plan Protein, Plant Protein Extract, Sodium Caseinate, Calcium Caseinate, Yeast Extract, Textured Protein, Autolyzed Protein, Autolyzed Yeast, and Hydrolyzed Oat Flour. 

Additives frequently containing MSG: Malt extract, Malt Flavoring, Bouillon, Broth, Stock, Flavoring, Natural Flavoring, Natural Beef or Chicken Flavoring, Seasoning and Spices. 

Additives that may contain MSG or Excitotoxins: Carrageenan, Enzymes, Soy Protein Concentrate, Soy Protein Isolate, and Protein Concentrate. Protease enzymes of various sources can release excitotoxin Amino acids from food proteins.