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HomepageInformation CentreGeneral Well Being for Children › Excitotoxins Additives that Affect our Health

Excitotoxins Additives that Affect our Health

You may not have heard the term excitotoxins before, but the chances are that if you eat processed foods, you are ingesting them on a regular basis. Excitotoxins are chemicals that are added to foods to as artificial sweeteners and flavour enhancers. They are added to mediocre tasting foods to improve their flavour and make you want to eat more of them and are found in almost all processed foods. You are probably familiar with the names of some of them, like MSG and aspartame.

So what are these compounds and why did they get their name?

The main excitotoxins are - Glutamate or glutamic acid, Aspartame, Aspartate or Aspartic Acid, Homocysteine, Phenylalanine, L-Lysine, L-Cysteine. They are forms of protein.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. In its natural form, protein contains 21 different amino acids. All of these amino acids are necessary for good health. When we digest protein after meals, we absorb a certain amount of each amino acid to be used for growth and repair in the body. The natural competition between these amino acids for absorption limits the amount of each amino acid being absorbed. This is healthy.

In the case of excitotoxins, certain individual amino acids like glutamine or aspartate are artificially isolated and used to flavour foods. When we eat these foods, we are ingesting a large amount of one amino acid that doesn’t have any natural competition from others and so we absorb a lot of this amino acid at one time.

For example, one fizzy drink contains the same amount of phenylalanine, in isolation, as a whole can of beans, without the moderating effect of the other amino acids that would be in the beans. This means that a large amount of phenylalanine would be absorbed at one time, something that wouldn’t happen with natural food.

Many of these excitotoxins naturally exist in the brain in small amounts. Their role is to bind to nerve cell endings, stimulate the nerve cells for a hsort period of time and then stop. If glutamate (or other similar molecules) are present in high amounts in the brain, the nerve cell keep firing and can eventually burn out, leading to death of the cell. This is why these compounds are called excitotoxins - because they overstimulate the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leading to cell death.

When two or more of these excitotoxins are combined in one meal eg a fizzy drink with a takeaway, the effect multiplies and is far worse for the body. Processed foods, especially diet or frozen foods can contain 3-4 types of excitotoxins.

Children are four times more sensitive to a dose of MSG than an adult and so are even more at risk to the damage caused.

The problem with excitotoxins in the diet is that they are often not clearly marked. Foods that contain them are MSG, hydrolysed vegetable protein, hydrolysed protein, hydrolysed plant protein, plant protein extract, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, yeast extract, texturised protein, autolysed yeast, hydrolysed oat flour, aspartame, malt extract, malt flavouring, bouillon, broth, stock, flavouring, natural beef or chicken flavouring, seasoning, spices.

Foods to particularly look out for are diet desserts, diet drinks, sugar free sweets, sugar free chewing gum, gravies and sauces.

So, there are two ways to ensure that our children are as exposed to as few excitotoxins as possible. Firstly, eliminate or reduce the foods that are high in these chemicals. Secondly, introduce lots of protective foods into your child’s diet (see below).


Must Do’s to help Prevent Damage by Excitotoxins

1) The best way to prevent damage from excitotoxins is to eliminate them from the diet by cooking as much food as possible from scratch.  This reduces the amount of hidden ingredients entering the diet.

2) Include plenty of high quality protein to help to protect against damage from excitotoxins, such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds. These help to re-establish the natural competition for amino acid absorption.

3) Give your child plenty of foods that are high in Omega 3 fats found in oily fish, nuts and seeds. These are protective of the brain and help to reduce inflammation.

4) Add anti-inflammatory herbs and spices where possible to cooking. Turmeric, rosemary, green tea, ginger and oregano are all good choices. As well as adding flavour to food and thereby reducing the need for artificial flavours, these herbs are highly protective of the cells in the body and are very powerful anti-inflammatory agents.

5) Use foods that are high in B vitamins at each meal. These help increase cellular energy which helps to prevent excitotoxin damage from happening in the first place. These foods are green leafy vegetables, whole-grains, fish, beans, nuts/seeds, eggs, meat.

6) Include lots of high magnesium foods. These help to calm the neurons in the brain and prevent over-firing and burnout. High magnesium foods are seeds, nuts, whole-grains, salmon, spinach, chard, pulses.

7) Antioxidant rich foods protect the cells from the damage inflicted by excitotoxins. These are foods like fresh fruit and vegetables (remember to include all of the colours – red, green, orange, yellow, purple). Antioxidants are much more powerful when combined so soups, salads, roasted vegetables, crudités, fresh juices, fruit salads and smoothies are all easy ways to do this.

8) Acetyl L-Carnitine is really important for energy production and healthy membranes in the brain. The best source is red meat. It is also found in lesser amounts in most food groups.

9) Phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine are important nutrients for memory and neurotransmitters for the brain. Good food sources are eggs, soy, legumes.


1. Summer bery smootie

2. Banana and Kiwi Smoothie

3. Roasted Pepper Soup

4. Broccoli Soup

5. Oat and Seed Bars

6. Sweet Potato Tomato Sauce

7. Tomato Sauce with lentils

8. Pasta with Salmon in Tomato Sauce

9. Pasta with Sardines in Tomato Sauce

10. Simple Garlic Bread

11. PorridgeOatmeal with seeds and honey

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