Archive for the ‘Excitotoxins’ Category.

Eliminating Excitotoxins

Welcome!  Much of my recent posts on this blog are about eliminating dietary glutamate and excitotoxins.  Because they are shown in the reverse order from which I wrote them, I’ve created this list of posts for quick reference. Not all posts on this subject are listed here; for the complete list click on “Excitotoxins” on the right.

Additional resources are listed at the end.

MSG, Excitotoxins, Glutamate, and FGA: A Primer

Where to start: The Big Five names for MSG – “Protein”, “Yeast”, “Malt”, “Carageenan”, and Artificial Sweeteners

Our Foods List – What we have found safe for our family

The Long List – All the glutamates and excitotoxins we avoid

Glutamate versus Gluten – They aren’t the same

Can’t I have just a little? – A question only you can answer, but consider the chronic effects too.

Sweeteners, including low-carb, that are glutamate free


The hidden sources list

Battling the MSG Myth discussion board

Battling the MSG Myth site and book

Emily’s Savory Seasoning’s blog with recipes

Sweeteners & Low-carb, MSG-free

I get a lot of questions about sweeteners. Many people want to avoid sugar, or must avoid sugar due to other health issues such as diabetes.  Unfortunately, all artificial sweeteners are excitotoxic and should be avoided if you are avoiding free glutamic acid/MSG/glutamate.  Here are a list of my favorite sweeteners and some random thoughts about them. Please do your own research about whichever one you choose.

Sugar — Beet sugar sometimes has FGA and I avoid it, but cane sugar is only a problem when it causes hypoglycemia in the presence of other FGA.  Our family does fine with sugar if we balance it with other foods, and if we haven’t eaten FGA-containing foods.

Palm sugar — I just heard about this recently on Dr. Oz. It is a nutrient-rich, purportedly (though not uncontested) low-glycemic crystalline sweetener that looks, tastes, dissolves and melts almost exactly like sugar. It is gaining popularity in the progressive global health community as an alternative to agave. (

Lo-Han Extract (SlimSweet) — This is my absolute favorite all natural sweetener. With no aftertaste and an aroma of brown sugar, it makes a very nice coffee sweetener. A little goes a long way — you only need about 1/4 as much as you would otherwise use. My favorite brand is “Slimsweet”, available from .  I don’t bake with it, though I believe you can. I don’t think it tastes very sweet when baked.

Stevia — Stevia is touted by every naturopathic doctor I’ve ever talked to, and is generally thought safe for everyone. It’s not very expensive “per dose” and can be used in baking. However, it can sometimes have a strange aftertaste.  Some brands are better than others.

Xylitol — Xylitol is great for baking though if you use too much it can cause a little intestinal upset. .

Erythritol — A sugar alcohol, erythritol is used just like xylitol, substituted in recipes for sugar, but doesn’t have any of the intestinal upset. Unfortunately, erythritol can be quite expensive.

Sugar Alcohols (Xylitol, Erythritol, Maltitol) don’t have FGA in them from what I can tell, but are usually corn-based (for those with corn sensitivity) and are highly processed, so they may have some residual FGA in them. I couldn’t find any data.

Agave — I used agave quite a bit years ago, avoided agave for a while, and now use it again in small quantities after listening to Ray Peat talk about fructose not being so awful in small quantities. We’ve not experienced any issues with it.  Opinions seem to be mixed for diabetics.

Maple syrup/Honey — Yum!  Act like sugar so watch out for hypoglycemia, but no issues as far as I know with excitotoxins.

Molasses — Molasses is a “proceed with caution” foods. MSG is often made from molasses. It is likely to contain some small amount of free glutamate, and your degree of sensitivity plus the amount you ingest will determine whether you react or not.  I use a little for flavor here and there without problems, but I don’t use it as a syrup or sweetener. Avoid sulphured molasses.

Sorghum syrup — I grew up on this stuff and love it. I think it’s safe but don’t have any hard data.

Coconut flour — This is a high-fiber, very low-carb “flour” that you can use to bake with. It takes much less coconut flour to bake with than other flours. I have a great recipe for low-carb coconut flour, egg muffins. Here are some recipes (I’m totally trying that brownie recipe!)

For another perspective I found, here’s an article I found interesting:

Glutamate in Whole Foods

There is a wide misconception that some whole foods are major problems when it comes to FGA sensitivity. Some sources list  mushrooms, wheat, dairy, peas, and tomatoes as major concerns. It’s my belief that these are not the true problem unless a person is extremely sensitive, and that worrying about these foods before other more concentrated sources are eliminated is counter-productive.

First, it’s important to understand the difference between free and bound glutamate. It’s ONLY free glutamate that is an issue, NOT whole foods or the glutamate content of food in my opinion, from reading, personal experience, and talking with others that have glutamate sensitivity.  For most people, simple processing of whole foods does not release (or possibly change the form of, see enough of the glutamate to be a problem.  Boiling peas for dinner, baking bread, and tossing a few mushrooms on your burger is not going to free up enough glutamate to be a problem even for most sensitive individuals. I wrote about this some when I wrote about Glutamate versus Gluten:

So let’s look in more detail at the differences between the FREE glutamate content of whole foods versus foods that are heavily processed, freeing glutamic acid either deliberately or as a side effect.

Monosodium Glutamate is close to 99% FGA, or roughly 100,000mg per 100g.  Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find exact concentrations of FGA in other food additives but many sources claim that they are 15-20% FGA.  According to Food Flavorings by Philip Ashhurst, from a regulatory standpoint, hydrolyzed protein can have up to 20% free glutamic acid content by weight (in another location he says they often have 35%); Autolyzed Yeast or Yeast Extract can have up to 12%. So, I’ll use a conservative estimate of 10% by weight, or 10,000 mg per 100g serving.

Here is a list of the free glutamate content of  some foods from Wikipedia. ( It’s the first column that we are interested in:

Food Free glutamate (mg/100 g) Protein glutamate (mg/100 g)
Makombu (kelp) 3190
Rausu kombu (kelp) 2286
Rishiri kombu (kelp) 1985
Hidaka kombu (kelp) 1344
Nori (seaweed) 1378
Marmite 1960
Vegemite 1431
Japanese fish sauce 1383
Roquefort cheese 1280
Parmesan cheese 1200 9847
Korean soy sauce 1264
Chinese soy sauce 926
Japanese soy sauce 782
Oyster sauce 900
Green Tea 668
Cured Ham 337
Sardine 280
Grape juice 258
Clam 208
Scallop 159
Squid 146
Oyster 137
Mussel 105
Peas 200 5583
Tomatoes 140 238
Corn 130 1765
Potatoes 102
Cow milk 2 819
Human milk 22 229
Eggs 23 1583
Chicken 44 3309
Duck 69 3636
Beef 33 2846
Pork 23 2325
Salmon 20 2216


Given that, I would estimate that yeast extract is  50-100 times more concentrated than whole foods such as peas or tomatoes.  Even soy sauce, parmesan cheese, and seaweed are an order of magnitude different, though they certainly have enough to cause reactions in sensitive individuals.

My comment on NPR’s Article

NPR has been running a series about a case of severe depression that was “cured” with a powerful glutamate blocker. You can read it here:

Several people have mentioned this article to me, so I thought I would post the same comment I posted on the article, here.

“Why must this issue be so polarized?

I have a son that struggled with severe mood changes. We’ve since found out he is extremely sensitive to ingested free glutamate. MSG now is only the “black sheep” form that everyone knows about–there are dozens of forms, in almost all processed food (, even “natural”. Even a little and my son suffers greatly. He takes a partial glutamate blocker but it doesn’t work unless his diet is also severely limited.

What baffles me is that excess glutamate has been implicated in so many diseases–Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, ALS, MS, the list goes on, and NO-ONE (alright, very few) in the scientific community talks about addressing food sources.

I applaud the researchers for trying out treatments that work on the glutamate pathway, and the brave subject of this article who not only did everything he could to help science but opened himself up to vile comments when he was just trying to get his life back.

But I’d like to see a call for researchers to look at both dietary AND medical treatments, and see this issue de-polarized for our next generation’s mental health.”

Where to start: The Big Five names for MSG

In my last post, I mentioned my favorite list of sources of free glutamic acid, or FGA. Since that list is overwhelming,  I wanted to share my “top offenders” list.   What I do is look for certain words in a label, because these words cover many different ingredients: “glutamate” anything, “protein” anything, “carageenan“, “yeast” (almost) anything, and “malt(odextrin)”.

(EDIT:  As I’ve mentioned before, all artificial sweeteners also need to be on this “worst offenders” list. I often forget that, because technically they are not glutamate, but they work in the same way and are quite concentrated. I don’t want to change the title and link to this post, so I’ll add them below).

  1. Glutamate – This probably goes without saying :). There are different names for glutamate, however, and they vary by country.
  2. Protein – There is nothing wrong with whole proteins; however, if the label says “protein” on it, it’s going to have FGA.  Whether it’s hydrolyzed (which is the worst), isolate, or doesn’t say at all — it’s very likely almost as concentrated as pure MSG.*
  3. Carrageenan:  “Wait,” you say, “Isn’t that just seaweed?”.  Yes, seaweed that has been processed with acid to break out the free glutamic acid.  Watch out for this in almost all ice creams, soy milks, and whipping cream. We see horrible reactions to fairly small amounts of carrageenan.**
  4. Yeast: Any yeast that is not being used to leaven a loaf of bread or pizza dough is very likely added for flavor, and unfortunately is quite high in FGA. Many people put “autolyzed yeast” or “yeast extract” in their top three offenders list, but I’ve been noticing more labels that get away with calling it simply, “yeast”.  Crackers, pastries, chips, chicken nuggets, and fish sticks are not leavened with yeast — it’s MSG in disguise.  Breads and pizza should only list yeast once, in the dough, and preferably specify “active yeast”, and at the very least shouldn’t have “extract” or “autolyzed” next to them.
  5. Malt(odextrin): Malting is a process which develops enzymes, including proteases, which break down the proteins in the grain (  By far the worst offender in this category for us is Maltodextrin, which artificially malted through hydrolysis to produce a cheap sugar.  However, malt extract, barley malt, malt syrup, and to a small extent, malted barley flour, have significant amounts of FGA in my experience.
  6. Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame/Nutrasweet, Sucralose/Splenda, and Acesulfame K all act on the same receptors as FGA. Alternatives are Stevia, Xylitol, and Lo Han extract such as in SlimSweet, which is my favorite.


* The only exception I’ve found to the protein rule is that ultrafiltered protein powder, not mixed with isolate or any other form, seems to be very low on the scale, depending on your sensitivity.

** It’s not clear why carrageenan is one of the worst offenders, but that has been many people’s experience. Ray Peat talks about his research here:

There are so many other names for glutamate, but the good news is that if you eliminate these, you’ll be well on your way to reducing your overall consumption.  This is a great starting point, in my opinion. Unfortunately, it does mean eliminating every processed food and baked goods that don’t have a label. See my upcoming post about safe food brands for some ideas of what to eat.

Can’t I have just a little?

How much free glutamic acid, FGA, is a problem is unfortunately something that I can’t answer, even with all of the reading I’ve done. There are three areas, and I feel you will have to decide for yourself on each.

First is the most acute reaction — the signs you see when you eat something, usually within 2-24 hours. Some people have no acute reaction, and others only have an acute reactions to concentrated forms. Some people react to almost all processed ingredients and even tiny amounts of FGA.  Alex, my teen, is toward the latter end of the spectrum. He will react within two hours to many forms, including MSG, yeast extracts, maltodextrin, and carrageenen. His acute reaction is depression, anxiety, and mood instability.

Second is the chronic sensitivity — the subtle energy and behavioral effects that aren’t due to a single exposure, but to accumulation of glutamate from various foods. For Alex this manifests as fatigue and low-level constant overwhelm (even without much glutamate he has chronic fatigue syndrome, but this makes it much worse).  Since he is a teen who won’t eat many foods, we still don’t know the extent of this, because we haven’t ever gotten out every single speck of added glutamate.

Third, the big unknown, is the lifetime health effects associated with free glutamates.   Here’s an article,, which says, “There are a growing number of clinicians and basic scientists who are convinced that a group of compounds called excitotoxins play a critical role in the development of several neurological disorders including migraines, seizures, infections, abnormal neural development, certain endocrine disorders, neuropsychiatric disorders, learning disorders in children, AIDS dementia, episodic violence, lyme borreliosis, hepatic encephalopathy, specific types of obesity, and especially the neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and olivopontocerebellar degeneration.”

As I said, I don’t know what the answer is. From a practical standpoint, we avoid practically all of the ingredients that create an acute reaction, and waffle on the ingredients that contribute to a chronic reaction. I try hard not to bring them into the house (even malted barley flour), but when eating outside the house, we sometimes do compromise, and sometimes we pay the price.  On the other hand, with a teenager, it’s a balance that has to be practiced now.

Glutamate versus Gluten

Gluten and glutamate are two different beasts. We are lucky that we don’t seem to have reactions to gluten, just to glutamate, but it is possible to have sensitivities to either, or both. I’m focusing on glutamate here, as that’s my “hammer” right now.

Part One: What’s the difference between gluten and glutamate?

First, proteins consist of one or more polypeptides, or  linear chains of amino acids. Amino acids are simply the building blocks of proteins.  The way the chains are put together determine the differences between different proteins.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye.  People that react to gluten are reacting to the specific protein that these grains contain.  There are different ways people can react to gluten. In people with celiac disease, gluten in wheat, spelt, barley and rye triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine.   Corn, rice, amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff are considered gluten-free grains as they have different forms of protein — different formations of their polypeptide chains.

Glutamate, technnically glutamic acid, is an amino acid found in proteins. Glutamic acid is present in every food that contains protein, but it can only be tasted when it is present in an unbound form, or “free”.  A “glutamate sensitivity” is when a person reacts to the unbound amino acid, free glutamic acid, or FGA.

So there is the difference in a nutshell: gluten is a specific protein in some grains (full of all kinds of amino acids bound up in chains :)). FGA is an amino acid, in all proteins, that has been broken out of it’s protein and resides separately in the food (or in your digestive system).

Note: Breaking down a protein is different than refinement of a grain. Refined grains have been processed to remove bran and germ, to improve texture and shelf life. This processing removes fiber, iron, and vitamins, and refined grains have less fiber and are less nutritious than whole grains. However, for the purposes of  avoiding glutamate, whole grain isn’t what matters, because from what I can find, refining grains  doesn’t seem to change the proteins significantly.*

Part Two: But Doesn’t Gluten have a lot of Glutamate in it?

Some sources claim that because the two proteins gluten and casein contain significant quantities of the amino acid glutamic acid, that these should also be avoided by those avoiding FGA. Personally, I’m not convinced.  To be more clear, I believe there are many people that are sensitive to dairy and gluten, but I am not convinced it has anything to do with FGA, for a few reasons.

First, other grains and meats also have significant quantities of glutamic acid. Why single out these two?

Table 1.  Percent Glutamic Acid in Common Food Proteins
Wheat Protein
Cow Milk
Corn Protein
Beef Meat
Rye Protein
Poultry Meat
Rice Protein
Fish Protein Conc.
Mammalian gelatin
*From Food Chemistry 2nd Edition (1999) H.D Berliz & W. Grosch, Springer-Verlag, Berlin (copied from:

Second, the glutamates in these foods are bound into polypeptide chains, not free, and I personally haven’t heard of an issue with bound glutamate even with people that are extremely sensitive.

Lastly, I think it is hard to separate a reaction to a grain from the reaction to other hidden ingredients that contain FGA. In other words, most foods with gluten also contain glutamate. Most flours contain malted barley flour these days, since it makes the dough easier to work with, and most baked goods have FGA ingredients, e.g. dough conditioners, citric acid, enzymes, etc.

But, I’m not a chemist and I’m largely going on observations of my own family. Though I’ve seen reactions to malted barley flour, aluminum baking powder, L-cysteine and other dough conditioners***, my son can finish off most of a loaf of bread from our bread machine over the course of a single day, and feel perfectly fine. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.



*There is one exception to this idea that refining flours doesn’t break down the protein, which is sprouting/germinating/malting the grain. I did find a fascinating article that seems to show that storage decreases the FGA, but didn’t have time to analyze it fully. I found no indications that sprouting the grain increases the FGA content; in fact, the opposite, that through proteolytic activity, the liberated amino acids such as glutamic and proline are converted to limiting amino acids such as lysine (Wikipedia).

However, malting is a an entirely different process, particularly when making malt extracts. I was curious about why malted barley is an FGA trigger for us (although we can tolerate small amounts), and I found these statements:

“In addition to supplying amylases, malted barley flour was also once relied upon for proteolytic enzymes, but these have been replaced by proteases from plant and fungal sources. Addition of proteases enables high speed bread production by decreasing the mixing time needed to achieve pliable dough.” (

“Scientists aim to discover what goes on inside barley grains as they become malted…scientists are interested in specialized enzymes called proteases[17] that .. also break down stored proteins into their amino acid derivatives.” (

** More on the protein content of whole soy can be found at:

*** Though I haven’t seen my son react to wheat flour, I did try adding “vital wheat gluten” (the powder that is sold to help bread be more elastic) to homemade bread once, and he seemed to react to it; one instance is not enough to form a conclusion, but it would make sense that the extraction process for gluten would create FGA, just like it does when soy protein is extracted, and I don’t plan to use it again.

The Long List

For a long time, I’ve been sending people to the hidden sources list of MSG, or free glutamic acid (FGA), foods.  Even for me, that list is quite overwhelming, and there are items on there that we’ve never had issues with, or have never seen in the United States.

How do you know how strict to be? What ingredients you have to watch out for depends on how sensitive you are. For my son, however, this is the list of things I watch for, roughly in order of severity.  As I’ve written previously, I look for certain words first, and I’ll put those at the top of the list with some of the most common examples.

One idea I’ve heard that I like a lot is the “word a week” diet, where each week, you start paying attention to one more item on the list.  (It’s almost like looking for red cars — much easier to spot when you are focused on just one).

Ingredients containing Free Glutamic Acid

  • Anything “glutamate”: MSG, glutamic acid (sometimes found in supplements)
  • Carrageenen (some people avoid guar, vegetable and other gums, but they don’t bother us)
  • “Yeast”: Autolyzed yeast, Yeast nutrient , Yeast extract, Yeast food, and plain “Yeast” unless it’s bread/pizza
  • any “Protein” on a label: Hydrolyzed protein, Textured protein, protein isolate, soy protein, whey protein
  • Maltodextrin
  • L-Cysteine (dough conditioner usually found in bagels, breads even by specialty bakeries)
  • Other “malts”: Barley malt, Malt extract, Malt flavoring, Malt syrup
  • Modified starch
  • Evaporated or condensed milk
  • Natural Chicken, Beef, or Pork Flavoring
  • Boullion, “broth” (homemade stock is ok for us, but more sensitive people react)
  • Anything “caseinate”
  • Disodium anything
  • Hydrolized anything
  • Aluminum (technically doesn’t contain FGA but makes FGA reactions much, much worse)
  • “Wheat Gluten”
  • “Spice”, “Seasoning” – This is a tricky one and can be just a grouping for real herbs and spices, or deliberately hidden FGA. If the label lists a bunch of herbs, then later lists one of these, I’m highly suspicious; after all, if it listed oregano, paprika, garlic, sage, followed by, “spices”, what’s left?  I am particularly suspicious if it is singular.
  • Soy sauce — unless the ingredients are separated out, we don’t use soy sauce.  Many people say all soy sauce has FGA, but we don’t see a reaction to Kikkoman or other brands that list their ingredients as “soybeans, wheat, water, salt”.  It’s only when other ingredients, such as soy protein, are added that I’ve seen a reaction.
  • * Caramel color
  • * Dextrose, Dextrates
  • * Milk Powder, Dry Milk Solids, Whey, Non-fat milk
  • * Natural flavor in savory foods, such as chips, crackers, etc
  • * Malted Barley Flour (found in many white flours that you might think are wheat)

* These are ingredients that “build up” for us so a little can be tolerated infrequently.

All Artificial sweeteners

  • aspartame/Nutrasweet
  • sucralose/Splenda
  • acesulfame K

Items we don’t avoid, but probably should…we just haven’t seen acute reactions to them, and haven’t had the energy to remove them entirely:

  • Protease enzymes, Anything enzyme modified
  • Ultra-pasteurized dairy products
  • Flowing Agents
  • Natural flavor in non-savory foods
  • Artificial flavor
  • Pectin
  • Annatto
  • Gums (guar and vegetable)
  • Citric acid
  • Corn syrup, rice syrup
  • Gelatin — we haven’t seen FGA reactions to gelatin by itself, but as a food, it messes with blood sugar, and hypoglycemia makes FGA reactions worse.  The list above says gelatin always has FGA; here’s another opinion: .

Note: Sugar doesn’t interact with FGA, but low blood sugar does. Hypoglycemia increases the FGA reaction.

One more note…I have to get this pet peeve off my chest. There is a trend toward listing a “sanitized” ingredient list on the front of the package of natural foods, wheras the real ingredient list is on the back in small print. I recently saw crackers that said something like, “Organic wheat flour, baking powder, and salt with a touch of rosemary,” but on the back it had both wheat and white flour as well as three different hidden FGA ingredients.  Don’t be fooled!

Our Foods List

I can’t write a list that is safe for everyone, but since our son is pretty darn sensitive, more sensitive than anyone I know in person, this list should be a good starting point for anyone that is trying to eliminate all FGA.

Do you our label checking, of course, and do let me know if there is something here I need to update or add.  (When brands are listed, you can assume most other brands are probably not safe).

NOTE: These foods don’t eliminate all free glutamate., which is extremely difficult, especially with a teenage boy! There will be trace amounts that someone extremely sensitive may react to.  Anyone that wants to eliminate ALL sources and go on a complete glutamate elimination diet should follow the diet on written by Deb:, and buy her book. My belief, though, is that this will eliminate enough that most people that suspect a sensitivity will be able to tell if it’s making a difference.

Another great resource is Emily’s Savory Seasonings Blog at She is much more strict than we are and has wonderful recipes.

General guidelines

  • Anything that is directly from a plant or an animal is generally safe. E.g., plain rice, fruits, vegetables, whole milk, eggs
  • Canned and boxed items (e.g., beans) are problematic and need to be checked very carefully
  • Most anything that is processed is likely not safe (95% of the time), unless it has simple ingredients (beans, oil, salt; corn, potatoes)
  • Pasta is usually safe but sauce often isn’t
  • Full-fat is always safer than low-fat (butter, sour cream, yogurt) but still is questionable.
  • Crackers, soups, quick/sweet breads, cereals, snack bars, pizza, or basically anything processed or seasoned are huge problems and should be avoided
  • No American cheese or processed cheese (nachos)
  • No salad dressings, dips, barbeque sauce; other sauces have to be checked
  • Nothing “cheesy”, ranch, nancho, popcorn from a bag unless checked, etc
  • No powdered milk, soy milk, rice milk, chocolate milk, margarine, or whipped cream.

Safe Foods

Whole Foods

  • Fresh and frozen vegetables, cooked by you or raw
  • Fresh and frozen fruit
  • Whole spices and condiments (salt, pepper, herbs–anything that is grown on a plant), read mixes carefully
  • Organic chicken pieces with nothing added, ground beef, ground pork, and steak
  • Bulk grains you buy and cook yourself: rice, oats, etc
  • Real butter, honey, sugar, and maple syrup
  • Whole, 2%, or raw milk, half-and-half (most whipping cream or heavy cream has carrageenan)
  • Most kinds of whole, “brick” cheese (avoid American or “cheese food”)
  • 100% real juices, without calcium added

Processed Foods

  • Beeler’s sausages (most mixed meats will be suspect)
  • Applegate Farm beef hot dogs (but not lunch meats)
  • Rudi’s Organic Breads, buns, and bagels (has questionable ingredients but he has never reacted; it’s our staple)
  • Homerun Inn Classic or Thin-Crust Pizza (Signature looks OK but we haven’t tried it)
  • Cheerios, Gorilla Munch, and regular or cinnamon Puffins
  • Stacey’s Organic Tortillas, or tortillas with simple ingredients, no malted barley, and no aluminum
  • Amy’s frozen Mac-N-Cheese, regular or gluten-free but not dairy-free
  • Natural peanut butter, almond butter
  • Udi’s Natural Granola
  • Muir Glen basic pasta sauces

Snacks and Treats

  • Plain potato and corn chips (label should say simply, Potatoes/Corn, oil, salt)
  • Natural roasted/salted nuts without “flavors” (he loves cashews)
  • Arlene’s, Haagan Das, or Breyer’s all natural (not extra creamy or special flavors) vanilla, chocolate, mint c/c, strawberry  ice ream.  (ALL OTHERS ARE LIKELY TO CAUSE REACTIONS)
  • Oreos
  • Hershey’s regular milk chocolate
  • Plain or nut M&Ms (limited quantities as coating has dextrose)
  • Most dark chocolate from health food stores
  • Hard candy is usually safe
  • Twizzlers or Red Vines, sno-caps (movie theatres)
  • sprite/7-up/equivalent (no DIET drinks whatsoever)

Sauces and Condiments

  • Kikkoman soy sauce, no other brands unless you check ingredients
  • Annie’s Ketchup
  • Annie’s Cowgirl Ranch (only safe creamy dressing we’ve ever found!)

Pantry Staples

  • Whole wheat or white 100% wheat flour (no malted barley)
  • Aluminum-free baking powder; baking soda
  • Bearito refried beans (most refried beans are OK, check labels)


Note: Ask for everything without sauce. If food comes with any kind of sauce on it, or if the fries have specks of pepper and taste really yummy, send it all back.

Almost all bread products at restaurants will contain malted barley flour. We compromise and eat malted barley flour when we are out but avoid bringing it into the house.

  • Plain burgers at real restaurants (not fast food; they add protein; cafeterias in museums etc might be OK if patty is 100% beef). It MUST be ordered without any seasoning other than salt on any of the bun, burger, or french fries, and with Cheddar or Jack, NOT American

Note: waiters will often tell you they don’t think the burger is seasoned, but they will most likely be wrong and they must tell the kitchen; the kitchen will think the seasoning has no MSG but if they don’t mix it from salt and dried plants, it will always have something – the kitchen needs to just leave it off. If seasoning is pre-mixed into the burger, have them check the children’s burger or make something else. If the fries are pre-seasoned or breaded, have something else.

  • Small amounts of real white bread (not garlic bread, biscuits, corn bread, etc) with real butter
  • Broccoli without seasoning
  • Baked potato with only butter (or ask them to check the sour cream for carrageenan)
  • Grilled salmon without any house seasonings or sauce (he adds sliced lemon)
  • The bowls at Chipotle Mexican Grill are all safe; tortillas have aluminum
  • Mexican food is usually pretty safe if they make everything from scratch. Chicken chimichangas are often fine, nachos made with grated cheddar and beef are options. No Nacho cheese, nothing with broth, no soups. Ask them to check the sour cream for carrageenan.
  • Most chinese/asian food in Colorado is relatively safe. Ask the staff (or look on the menu) if they use MSG at all in the restaurant. (“We’ll leave it off” is not enough, as it will be in the bases).
  • Kikkoman soy sauce, no other brands unless you check ingredients.
  • Traditional Indian restaurants are usually OK; avoid garlic Naan and sauces.
  • The only take-out pizza I’ve found that is safe is Falbo Bros, without meat or Parmesan. Pizza is very tricky to make tasty and safe. I would love to find more safe pizza options, but doing so involves grilling the manager who rarely knows what is in the mixes that they get from a corporate office. Here are the questions to ask; you can stop if you get a “no”: Do you grate your cheese fresh from a block each day? Do you make your own sauce from tomato paste and sauce and spices? If so, can you tell me exactly what is added and what is in your seasoning mix (watch for yeast, maltodextrin, parmesan, protein, etc)? Lastly, what are the ingredients in your plain white dough? (watch for cysteine as well as others).

Pre-made Desserts

  • Best to skip dessert. Cake is sometimes OK but frosting is usually a problem. The richer the dessert the more likely it is to have problematic ingredients. Avoid cheesecake, mousse, custards, caramel, whipped cream.
  • More likely to be safe options if you must have dessert: berries drizzled with chocolate sauce; soda with maraschino cherries; bread with butter and honey

MSG, Excitotoxins, Glutamate, and FGA: A Primer

I’m not here to preach the evils of MSG and it’s relatives. I’m not out to change the world right now, just help my family and others like us feel better.  Whether you believe these substances are harmful to everyone, or you just want to see this as similar to “an allergy”, doesn’t really matter to me.  But if you suspect MSG is a problem, perhaps I can help you find where it is hiding.  (hint: the answer is very close to “everywhere”, I’m sorry to say).  (If you want to read a little bit about our story, see the previous post,

First, I thought I should start with a quick primer on terms.  One overall bucket term I’ll use is “excitotoxins”. According to Wikipedia, “Excitotoxicity is the pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged and killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters such as glutamate and similar substances. This occurs when receptors for the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate (glutamate receptors) such as the NMDA receptor and AMPA receptor are overactivated.”  The book to read if you are interested in understanding more is Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills by respected neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, MD. (You can also see videos on YouTube with the same name as the book).

The most prevalent excitotoxins are glutamate and artificial sweeteners (I’ll have to post separately on these, but suffice to say that I’ve found evidence that all are excitotoxins to different degrees, though not everyone agrees).

Glutamate, a.k.a Glutamic Acid, is a widespread amino acid. In neuroscience, glutamate is an important neurotransmitter that plays a key role in long-term potentiation and is important for learning and memory. Glutamate is found naturally in all living cells, primarily in the bound form as part of proteins.

So, if it is so important, why do we avoid “glutamates”?  There are a few theories on this.  The biggest functional difference is whether the glutamate is bound or not. Only a fraction of the glutamate in foods is in its “free” form, and only free glutamate, free glutamic acid (FGA), can enhance the flavor of foods.  My experience is that we only see reactions to the free form.

Jack Samuels, a leading advocate against MSG and excitotoxins being added to our food, speculates that people are reacting to a different form of glutamic acid, a stereoisomer D-glutamic acid,  that is created by high heat and acid processing (which is true of most food additives, “natural” or not): This does hold true with my experience. Our son has never had a reaction to an unprocessed food that I know of. However, he is very sensitive but still not as sensitive as some people, so as with all of this, YMMV — “your mileage may vary”.

What about MSG itself? MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, or free glutamic acid attached to a sodium.  The main reason MSG is so toxic is that it is extremely concentrated, though some argue that the form is different. I’ve not needed to research this much as we just avoid it.

So the upshot of this is that we need to worry not just about MSG, but a whole variety of foods that have been processed and concentrated to the point where they have significant amounts of FGA.  Here is my favorite list, though not in the order that I would put them in (I’ll write about that separately):

That’s enough information for one post.  Stayed tuned for more!  And remember, one bite at a time.