Last night I watched a movie called “Hungry for Change.” The documentary “exposes shocking secrets the diet, weight loss and food industries use to keep consumers coming back for more,” according to the write-up on Netflix.
The movie painted a pretty compelling case so I thought I’d look a little further into some of the claims. However, my research didn’t match up with some of the movie’s findings in some cases whereas in other cases, the movie’s recommendations matched what I’ve seen researchers and health care professionals state. So here goes:
MSG and Obesity
The movie claims that consuming Monosodium glutamate (MSG) excites the brain and causes the body to get fatter. This flavor enhancer is commonly added to Chinese food, canned products such as vegetables and soups, and processed meats. The movie’s experts point to studies involving rats that have become obese through induced MSG.
I was able to find the rat studies, but really didn’t find anything related to human weight gain. In fact, researchers at a symposium held during the 13th International Congress on Amino Acids, Peptides and Proteins in 2014 are not supporting the link between MSG and obesity in humans. The researchers pointed out that glutamate is metabolically compartmentalized in the body and does not normally cross biologic membranes. Therefore, researchers believe that MSG is not able to cross the blood-brain barrier, much less the barrier between the intestinal tract and the blood stream.
While this additive has been identified anecdotally for adverse reactions (headache, numbness, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, sweating, weakness) linked to foods with MSG, the Mayo Clinic states no definite evidence has been found by researchers that MSG causes these reactions. With all of that said, I still tend to limit my consumption of canned products and processed meats. Instead, I shop the perimeter of the grocery store, and thus focus on the produce, dairy and meat areas of the store.
Detox using green vegetables and gelatinous foods
The movie encourages viewers to consume green vegetables (especially parsley and cilantro) as well as gelatinous plant foods such as aloe vera and chia for detox purposes. However, I don't think that answer is so clear cut.
I did a Google search for gelatinous foods and while there are plenty of blogs out there, I wasn’t able to come up with any research studies that supported the claim on gelatinous foods and detox. In fact, many researchers believe the body can take care of itself with its own natural process. Harvard University stated, “The human body can defend itself very well against most environmental insults and the effects of occasional indulgence.” Harvard recommends a healthy lifestyle (healthy diet, regular exercise, sufficient fluid intake, sleep, and recommended medical check-ups) in order to maintain the body’s self-cleaning system. If you don’t feel well, it’s recommended that you should see a health care professional instead of doing a detox.
With that said, eating green vegetables is really beneficial to your health. For instance, parsley is really high in vitamin K and vitamin C and also a good source of vitamin A, folate and iron. Parsley’s volatile oils have been found to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies while its flavonoids have increased antioxidant capacity of the blood in animal studies. Parsley is also good for heart health and offers protection against rheumatoid arthritis.
Cilantro is not quite as potent nutritionally. It does have vitamin K and smaller amounts of vitamin C and vitamin A. Animal research studies indicate that cilantro and coriander seeds helps control blood sugar levels, cholesterol and free radical production and also has an antibacterial compound.
So with those differences, I have seen several of the movie’s claims underscored in the research. First of all, researchers have warned of the detrimental effect of food-like products that have engineered for a long-shelf life. I’ve also seen stories expressing concerns about diets that are highly caloric but low in nutritional value. The movie also encourages looking for local food or better sources of your food. This, too, makes sense for many foods.
So what’s the takeaway from films like this? They provide some interesting information, but I’d encourage you to also do a little digging into the research to make sure what is being recommended will not cause harm.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Brosnan, J. T., et al. (2014). Is there a relationship between dietary MSG and obesity in animals or humans? Amino Acids, 46(9), 2075-2087.
George Mateljan Foundation. (ND). Cilantro & coriander seeds.
George Mateljan Foundation. (ND). Parsley.
Harvard Health Publications. (2008). The dubious practice of detox.
Published On: December 17, 2014