Oh, no, there’s protein and salt in my food!

It’s been around four years now since I first wrote a post about what I now like to call the “toxins gambit” favored by anti-vaccine loons. This particular gambit consists of finding scary-sounding chemicals in vaccines, such as formaldehyde, and then trying to stoke fear of vaccines based on their presence. This gambit, whether invoked through ignorance (which is common) or disingenuousness (which, I suspect, is even more common) is a blatant appeal to fear of chemicals that depends upon the average person’s ignorance that, for example, formaldehyde is a normal byproduct of metabolism and of the basic concept of dose-response, in which small amounts of many chemicals are harmless. Even physicians are not immune to this sort of ignorance/disingenuousness, as I demonstrated when I took a certain pediatrician to the stars’ children to school when he gave an interview in which he lambasted the presence of formaldehyde in vaccines.

I use formaldehyde as an example because it’s the most obvious and easiest to debunk as a trace ingredient in vaccines used by anti-vaccine activists to instill fear into parents, but the toxins gambit is not limited to vaccines by any means. For instance, I’ve had fun analyzing an attempt to use the toxins gambit in, of all things, shampoo. Then there was McKay Jenkins and his images of us swimming in a sea of “synthetic chemicals.” None of this is to say that chemicals can’t cause health problems or that we should be blithely unconcerned about the ingredients in our vaccines or other products we put into our bodies, but rather the overblown fear mongering that a certain type of person likes to engage in based on ignorance of science and fear of scary-sounding chemical names.

Leave it to our old “friend,” The One Quack To Rule Them All, Mike Adams to take the toxins gambit to a whole new level. This he did yesterday for food in an article entitled What’s really in the food? The A to Z of the food industry’s most evil ingredients.

First off, it’s hard not to note the absolutism beloved by Adams and many other cranks. Look at the title. Does Adams say, “most worrisome,” “most harmful,” or “least healthy”? Of course not. He says “most evil.” It’s almost as though he imputes motive to the food ingredients. Even if he were correct about what he says about the food ingredients he goes on to castigate, it seems rather over-the-top to consider them “evil.” Of course, “over-the-top” is what Mike Adams is about. If he weren’t over the top he wouldn’t be anywhere at all. Even when he attacks a food additive or ingredient that might actually represent a health risk, he takes it to an extreme far beyond what is likely to be justified by science. Amusingly, though, he pulls a classic “toxins gambit” in going after common food ingredients that are not only common but almost certainly harmless. For example:

Autolyzed Proteins – Highly processed form of protein containing free glutamate and used to mimic the taste-enhancer chemical MSG.

Closely related (actually, it’s pretty much the same thing) is:

Yeast Extract – Hidden form of MSG that contains free glutamate and is used in many “natural” food products to claim “No MSG!” Yeast extract contains up to 14% free glutamate. You’ll find it in thousands of grocery store products, from soups to snack chips. I even once spotted it used on fresh meat!

This is just silly. Autolyzed proteins are nothing more than proteins from yeast extracts that have been partially digested by the yeast’s own digestive enzymes start to break down its proteins into amino acids and smaller peptides. The remaining non-protein, non-peptide cell components are then separated from the protein extract. In fact, it’s not a malignant process. It’s not an “evil” process. It’s a natural process. It’s simple chemistry that doesn’t even rely on those “evil,” “toxic” chemicals. All it takes is a bit of saltwater to place the yeast in with a high enough concentration of salt to make the cells shrivel up and lyse, releasing their contents into the solution. The yeast is then heated to complete the breakdown of the yeast cells, and the yeast cell walls are separated.

On the other hand, yeast extract is used to make Vegemite, Marmite, Promite, Oxo, Cenovis, and Vitam-R; so maybe Adams has a point about its being so “evil.” Alright, just kidding (sort of). I’ve never tried Promite, Oxo, Cenovis, or Vitam-R.

As for his obsession with glutamate, get over it. It’s an amino acid. Glutamate is used by the body to make proteins, along with all the other natural amino acids. Moreover, for all the fears of health affects of monosodium glutamate and glutamic acid, an association between glutamate and the symptoms commonly attributed to MSG has never been reproducibly demonstrated under rigorous, controlled conditions. The MSG syndrome appears to be largely a myth in which a wide variety of postprandial symptoms are mistakenly attributed to MSG. Basically, the various forms of protein extract, be they from yeast or other sources that Adams rants about, such as textured vegetable protein, soy protein, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein are just that: protein.

And, of course, beware of that evil homogenized milk:

Homogenized Milk – The fats in the milk are artificially modified to change them into smaller molecules that stay in suspension in the milk liquid (so the milk fat doesn’t separate) (http://www.naturalnews.com/022967_m…). While it makes milk look better on the shelf, it’s also blamed for promoting heart disease and may contribute to milk allergies. Raw milk is healthier, which is why the government had outlawed it (http://www.naturalnews.com/029322_r…).

There is no evidence that raw milk is any healthier than Pasteurized, homogenized milk, but there’s plenty of evidence that it’s far more likely to give you a nasty infection. As Mark Crislip put it, warm liquid filled with protein, fat, and sugars makes an excellent culture medium to grow up a wide variety of bugs, and the proximity of the cow udder to cow pies guarantees that there will be an inoculum of the relevant wee beasties. Yes, I know that raw milk can be consumed safely. The point is that the risk of acquiring a food borne infection is far higher for raw milk. It’s why we Pasteurize milk in the first place.

On the other hand, if the homogenized milk doesn’t get you, maybe the hydrochloride will:

Hydrochloride – When you see anything hydrochloride, such as Pyridoxine Hydrochloride or Thiamin Hydrochloride, those are chemical forms of B vitamins that companies add to their products to be able to claim higher RDA values of vitamins. But these are synthetic, chemical forms of vitamins, not real vitamins from foods or plants. Nutritionally, they are near-useless and may actually be bad for you. Also watch out for niacinamide and cyanocobalamin (synthetic vitamin B-12). (http://www.naturalnews.com/032766_c…)

Adams is obviously not a chemist. (Now there’s an understatement!) First off, there is no evidence that synthetic forms of vitamins are inferior from a nutritional standpoint than “naturally” occurring forms. Second, hydrochloride salts are nothing unusual or dangerous, any more than the chloride salt of sodium, for instance, is dangerous. No doubt the real chemists out there will have more to say about this. Actually, I was a real chemist once; my undergraduate degree was in chemistry, and a B.S. rather than a B.A., to boot. However, that was 27 years ago.

Perhaps my favorite example of Adam’s idiocy is this, which led me to a hearty chuckle when I read it.

Sodium (Salt) – The processed white salt lacking in trace minerals. In the holistic nutrition industry, we call it “death salt” because it promotes disease and death. Real salt, on the other hand, such as “dirty” sea salt or pink Himalayan salt, is loaded with the trace minerals that prevent disease, such as selenium (cancer), chromium (diabetes) and zinc (infectious disease). Much like with bread and sugar, white salt is terrible for your health. And don’t be fooled by claims of “sea salt” in grocery stores. All salt came from the sea if you go far back enough in geologic time, so they can slap the “sea salt” claim on ANY salt!

You can get trace minerals like selenium from lots of sources, including meat, nuts, fish, eggs, and a variety of other foods. You don’t need to have it in your salt. Unless something is added to it, salt is salt. It’s NaCl, and any problem with salt likely comes far more from our consuming too much salt, which can contribute to hypertension in certain populations, than from any lack of trace minerals in the salt that we consume. At its heart, this paragraph is nothing more than a rant against processed foods, pure Luddism, which is something Adams is quite good at it. I will admit, Adams actually does make one good point, and that’s about how food companies try to disguise the amount of sugar in their products by listing different kinds of sugar as separate ingredients, but you know what they say about a stopped clock being right twice a day. Of course, with Adams, it’s more like twice a year by random chance. In any case, Adams advice on healthy eating is far more driven by ideology than science. (I know, big surprise.)

In the end, most of what Adams does here is nothing different from what anti-vaccine activists do when they scream “Toxins!” about vaccines. It’s fear of contamination of their precious bodily fluids. Perhaps I should rename Adams General Jack. T Ripper.