A lot more people are trying to make healthier food choices these days (bravo!), but of course, that means fast food chains and food manufacturers have jumped on the “health” bandwagon too. Sadly, they are succeeding in fooling a lot of us with their so called “healthier” menu options and clever labeling. Come on, McDonalds selling kale salad?! You’ve got to question that!

 

This post is prompted by a very recent experience. Travelling back to Canada, after an amazing trip to Costa Rica, I got hit with a serious reminder to avoid fast food joints at all costs!

 

In Costa Rica, we did not stay at any resorts, so we cooked healthy simple food half the time, but also ate at small local eateries like “Sodas”, and healthy local restaurants, choosing the healthiest options available, which was usually wild fish, and some local meats, plenty of local fruit and vegetables. Of course, I ate gluten free, which was pretty easy as I normally focus on protein and vegetables anyway. But their traditional “Casados” are gluten free, which include beans, rice, corn, plantains and fresh cheese. None of which I typically have a lot of in my diet, but my gut was surprisingly happy! So, since I’m quite sensitive to junk, all in all, I think the quality of the food was quite good.

 

Well, that was Costa Rica. Fast forward two weeks later, on our return flight to Toronto, we had a stop over in Houston, Texas.

Tired and hungry from our travels (delayed and cancelled flights), and unprepared (non-typical) with anything healthy to eat, we had to find something to eat. Well, turns out finding something healthy and gluten free at the Houston airport is near impossible!

 

But when hunger calls, you make what you think is the best choice from what was available, and what I chose was a Taco Salad; lettuce, guacamole, tomatoes, cheese, ground beef and pico de gallo from a popular fast food taco restaurant. Big mistake!

 

A taco salad, sounds simple enough and healthy enough….but it wasn’t! Within minutes of eating it, I felt nauseous and had a splitting headache! Ahhhrr! MSG! Or so I am confident of.

 

For those that think MSG has disappeared from our food, it hasn’t.  Its presence in fast foods is still live and kicking!

 

What is MSG?  MSG, or Monosodium Glutamate is a salt of the amino acid – Glutamic Acid (glutamate).  Glutamic acid is naturally occurring in many unprocessed protein rich foods, but when bound to protein, it is perfectly safe to consume. It is processed, free glutamic acid that poses a health risk and causes adverse reactions in many people.  This is because it is not bound to protein. MSG is considered an excitotoxin that can cause neurological damage, it increases cravings and has been linked to diabetes and obesity, as well as an array of other diseases.

 

Monosodium Glutamate and other forms of Free Glutamic Acid can be produced cheaply and is a great way to enhance the flavor of cheap, low quality food, making it taste better. MSG goes by many names, so don’t expect it to pop out of a product ingredient list. Label listings of hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, yeast extract, textured protein, natural ingredients, and even spices, can be MSG in disguise.

 

If you want to stay away from MSG, stay away from processed food, fast food joints and cook your own food the majority of the time. Next time you put off packing a lunch, or being prepared on your next trip, remember that the “healthier option” at the fast food joint is likely not healthy at all. Just because it’s a salad, doesn’t mean it’s not loaded with MSG, artificial flavours, colors and preservatives, not to mention often lacking in freshness and quality!

 

Don’t let food manufacturers use you as a science experiment!

 

In health,

 

Daniela

 

Sources:

Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills, Russell L Blaylock

Free Glutamin Acid (MSG): Sources and Dangers: http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/free-glutamic-acid-msg-sources-dangers