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This Week in Biohacking Health: MSG Is in Everything You Eat, Alcohol Linked to Dementia, and New Study Says Stop Counting Calories

This Week in Biohacking Health: MSG Is in Everything You Eat, Alcohol Linked to Dementia, and New Study Says Stop Counting Calories

Why is restaurant and packaged food so dang good? Secret ingredient MSG enhances flavor, for sure, but a new study finds it’s linked to chronic pain — and it’s hiding in everything. Speaking of inflammatory culprits, another study shows conclusive evidence that alcohol causes dementia. If you drink two glasses a day, it could spell trouble. And on the topic of consumption, a survey reveals that humans grossly underestimate the amount of calories they eat. Get the details below, plus find out what other health headlines we clicked this week.  

MSG Is in Everything You Eat, and It’s Causing Chronic Pain

Early research from a pilot study[1] reveals a link between glutamate, a common flavor enhancer most often found in MSG, and chronic pain. When people cut monosodium glutamate (MSG) from their diet, their pain symptoms improved. Glutamate naturally occurs in some foods like soy sauce and parmesan cheese, however the more ubiquitous food additive MSG contains a lot of it, and hides in many foods, like canned soup, spices, salad dressing, frozen foods, and even baby food and formula. Though this study was small, it highlights other substantial findings linking MSG to neuron overstimulation.[2]

Glutamate is produced naturally in the body and used for a variety of essential functions. While your brain needs a certain amount of glutamate to function, too much can overstimulate neurons and lead to cell damage and death. That overstimulation causes the brain’s pain receptors to go haywire and register pain. That’s why MSG, which contains high concentrations of glutamate, is never a good thing. Naturally occurring glutamate — found in autolyzed yeast and other natural ingredients — on the other hand, exist in trace amounts, and may cause food sensitivities and allergies in sensitive people but may be OK for the general population. As with all things Bulletproof, you need to test and see how you react. 

To avoid glutamate, check food labels. The following ingredients may contain glutamate or MSG:

  • Autolyzed Yeast
  • Calcium Caseinate
  • Gelatin
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Hydrolyzed Protein*
  • Monopotassium Glutamate
  • Monosodium Glutamate
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Textured Protein
  • Yeast Extract
  • Yeast Food
  • Yeast Nutrient

Go to restaurants that don’t use MSG: Eating out can be challenging because many chain restaurants use MSG. After all, it has a unique, savory flavor called umami that keeps you wanting more. Ask your server whether the restaurant uses MSG.

Cook proteins at low temperatures: Heating proteins at high temperatures (over 320 degrees) can damage the protein bonds and cause the formation of glutamate. Learn more about this and other Bulletproof cooking techniques here.

*Is there MSG in my hydrolyzed collagen protein?

The short answer: no, your collagen isn’t made of MSG.

Yes, the food additive that makes the salty-savory umami flavor comes from hydrolyzed protein. Yes, your collagen is technically hydrolyzed collagen protein.

But, there’s a big difference between the way both are made that produces completely different end products, both in taste and action.

The nasty, neurotoxic monosodium glutamate (MSG) is often made from yeast, soy, or other vegetable protein. Ingredient manufacturers produce the food additive MSG using a strong acid reaction. The end product here is a mixture of hydrolyzed protein, and other nasty stuff (including neurotoxins) that you don’t want in your collagen.

Extra info if you want to geek out: hydrolyzing protein with acid produces the D-glutamate form. The “D form” cannot be used by the human body and is part of mixture that is used to enhance flavor. This is distinctly different from the amino acid in that is a part of hydrolyzed collagen. Also, MS(odium)G, as the name states includes significant sodium, a significant factor in the flavor enhancing effect. If something contains the D-form, you’ll know because it tastes salty and bitter due to the sodium it binds. There’s no mistaking it.

Collagen protein is broken down using enzymes, not acid. Enzymatic hydrolysis produces the bioavailable, non-toxic L-glutamate form, which tastes completely neutral, not salty or bitter. That’s why you can put it in coffee without making it taste like burnt soup.

And, the L-form won’t spontaneously convert to the D-form — it’s not a simple conversion. You need substantial activation energy and a reaction for that to happen.

So, you can enjoy all the benefits of collagen without worrying about your neurons.

A Couple Drinks a Day Is Tied to Early Dementia

Speaking of things that are bad for the brain, hot on the heels of the poorly designed study that linked alcohol to longevity, a much more rigorous study[3] found that heavy alcohol use is the biggest predictor of dementia at an early age (under 65). While researchers expected to find some degree of correlation, they were shocked at how big a role alcohol plays in dementia.

And before you say, “I don’t drink that much,” heavy use for this study equaled three glasses of wine a day for women (i.e. 15 ounces) and four for men. Experts say we generally serve 7 to 9 ounces at home per glass, so two generous pours a day puts you in the problem zone. The good news is, most heavy drinkers don’t actually have an addiction[4], which means it may be easier to cut back. If not, here’s how to quit drinking for good.

You’re Eating Way More Food Than You Think and It’s Making You Fat

Just as it’s hard to judge how much you’re drinking, the same goes for how much food you eat. A recent survey[5] of 4,000 people in Britain found that one-third of people underestimate their intake by a whopping 1,000 calories per day. Men eating more than 3,000 calories a day thought they were swallowing 2,000. Women were consuming 2,500 calories, while believing they ate 1,500.

Since counting calories can be notoriously tricky, a simpler solution to overeating is to pile on the vegetables first. You’ll get the most food volume for your calorie buck because veggies push everything else off the plate and still fill you up. Check out the best winter vegetable recipes to make right now.

Verdict Is In: Stop Counting Calories, Says Landmark Study

Need proof that counting calories isn’t an effective weight loss strategy? A new study[6] published in JAMA found that people who focused on eating whole foods instead of sugar, refined grains, and highly processed foods – without concerning themselves with counting calories or limiting portion sizes – lost significant weight over the course of one year, compared to people who did count calories. Nutrition experts agree that calorie counting is outdated advice that ultimately leads to a weight loss plateau. Read more about why “calories in, calories out” doesn’t work here.

Carb-Restriction Fends Off a Disease Affecting 20-30% of Western Civilization

Another study this week finds what you eat is more important than how much. The evidence[7] shows that a low-carb diet improves metabolism and reduces liver fat. The findings are significant because a fatty liver is often the precursor to more serious metabolic issues like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Not to mention, if you eat too much sugar/carbs, you’ll develop insulin sensitivity – so it’s no wonder this study carries so much weight. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) affects 20-30% of the population of all western countries[8] — and many people don’t know they have it. Learn how to find your ideal carb intake here.

Related: How a Low-carb Diet Helps Shed Body Fat, Even If You Don’t Lose Weight

Ketones, The By-product of Ketosis, Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels

A recent study reveals that, for diabetics, a single drink of ketone ester facilitates more stable blood sugar levels by reducing spikes.[9] Relevant news for any diabetic, these findings also serve the general population because it’s important to care for your blood sugar levels even if you are disease-free.

Blood sugar affects everything from your mood to hunger, so you definitely want to keep it in check. Ok, now you’re reading intently… So what can be gleaned from this study for you? Yes, it’s now shown that ketone esters are a supplement that supports blood sugar level regulation in diabetics. However, the foundation for everything – in everyone — is diet first, supplement second.

This study moves the pendulum in the right direction because ketones are the direct result of ketosis—the state your body is in when it naturally burns fats for fuel (called ketones) instead of sugar as carbs. This is the silver lining to be gleaned. Thirsty for more? Read this post where a new study reveals how the keto diet combats diabetes sans medications.  

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