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What you need to know about HVP, a toxic food additive similar to MSG

Updated on February 16, 2012

What is HVP?

Copyright 2011 - Kris Heeter, Ph.D.

HVP or "hydrolyzed vegetable protein" sounds innocent enough and it's in thousands of food products that we eat on a regular basis. It is a hydrolysate of vegetable protein that can be made from soy, wheat, or corn.

Like MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein is used in foods as taste enhancers. HVP is disguised a number of ways in ingredient labels - "natural flavoring" or anything listed as "hydrolyzed" (e.g. hydrolyzed soy). It is found in processed foods, fast foods, dips, gravy, salad dressing - just to name a few.

Many fast food restaurants use meat treated with hydrolyzed vegetable protein to make the meat taste juicier and to keep it from drying out. While HVP normally is not added to meat sold in retail stores, there are some exceptions: it's a common ingredient in hot dogs, it can be found in some canned tuna, and in can be found in some meat alternatives like tofu.

But there is really much more to the HVP story that most consumers aren't aware of...

Related books of interest:

Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills
Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills

This book provides a complete summary of the affects of food additives like HVP, MSG, artificial sweeteners and more.

Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health, Revised and Expanded Edition (California Studies in Food and Culture)
Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health, Revised and Expanded Edition (California Studies in Food and Culture)

Marion Nestle is one of the leading authorities on what goes on behind the scenes in the food industry and the politics surrounding our food sources.


HVP is considered an "excitotoxin"

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, contains short peptides with free amino acids like glutamic acid. Glutamic acid, in the form of its sodium salt, is monosodium glutamate (MSG). Glutamate is considered to be the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter in the body.

Both HVP and MSG have now been categorized as "excitotoxins". Excitoxins, a term coined by Russell Blaulock, M.D., is a class of neurotoxins.

Excitotoxins injested at high concentrations encountered in some processed foods can kill certain neurons - basically "exciting" or stimulating them to death.

Research suggests that this neurotoxic effect worsens and may contribute to some neurodegenerative diseases including:

Parkinson's Disease

Lou Gerhig's Disease

Huntington's Disease

Alzheimer's Disease

It's been known to cause headaches in adults. But what's most alarming is that researchers have found that a child's brain is four times more sensitive to excitotoxins than an adult's brain.

These toxins can potentially pass through the placenta during pregnancy, affecting the developing fetal brain and causing damage to the hypothalamus. Damage to the hypothalamus during pregnancy typically does not show up at birth and often does not appear until years later, during adulthood.

These food additives provide no real nutritional value and their sole purpose is to make your processed foods and fast foods taste better. The question one must ask, is enhanced flavor worth the long term negative consequences?

HVP food recalls

While it is a food additive, like many other foods, it can become contaminated with bacteria.

Over one hundred food products containing HVP were recalled by the FDA in 2010 due to a salmonella-contaminated HVP ingredient widely used in food processing. That particular recall included a variety of chips, dips, powdered soup/dip mixes, some pretzels, spice mixes, bottled salad dressing, canned stew, and gravy.

Additional resources:



3. "Exitotoxins: The taste that kills", Health Press NA Inc.

4. "The Whole Soy Story", New Trends Publishing, Inc.


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    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @kelleyward -thanks for stopping by and sharing:) I'm glad you found it educational!

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      Thank you for educating me about this! I'm going to watch out for this now! Voted up and Shared! Kelley

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      So glad to see this good, concise post on an important topic. The more we share information on food additives such as HVP the better!

    • CMCastro profile image

      Christina M. Castro 5 years ago from Baltimore,MD USA

      As I search for easier ways to fit food on a tight budget, I think about the quick foods that make it easy to fix and to buy. I overlooked the other ingredients that went into all these cans of tuna I bought, and surely I noticed that the ingredient "vegetable broth" with the words "contains soy" in parentheses behind it made me realize that this is probably a form of HVP. I thank you for alerting this to my attention. I gave up hot dogs a long time ago, but now I will be reading all the labels on my favorite condiments as well.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Kris, thanks for bringing this important information to our attention. Hydrolyzation isn't good for fats and its apparently not good for vegetable protein. The process itself must lead to the formation of unhealthy free radicals.

      Voted up and SHARED.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @RNMSN - thanks for passing it on and sharing on FB:)

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 5 years ago from Tucson, Az

      uh oh I had no idea about HVP. Thank you for the education! I am facebook / sharing this with my dtr in law!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @chefsref - I like that motto. Growing a garden for those that can and avoiding processed foods is the way to go!

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 5 years ago from Citra Florida

      Excellent info here. Another example of the ways business is contaminating our food supply for profit.

      Grow a garden and avoid processed food

    • scsunshine profile image

      scsunshine 6 years ago from sc

      Voted up. Thanks for this information. It is good that we know what is in our food and its possible link to diseases.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      Faceless39 - thanks for stopping by! It's actually not limited to meat. It's used as a flavoring in many processed foods that vegetarians may eat. Unfortunately manufacturers can get by with calling something other than HVP. If you're not eating a lot of processed food, then you're probably not ingesting much.

    • Faceless39 profile image

      Faceless39 6 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      Voted up, awesome, and interesting. As a vegetarian I'm naturally a label reader, and honestly don't see this often. Is it mostly a meat-related thing? I do tend to avoid anything that says "natural flavors" since I learned long ago this can mean it's "animal flavor." A very interesting read, well-formatted, and full of great information! :)

    • profile image

      Del Sandeen 6 years ago

      I voted up and useful -- it's SCARY thinking about some of the things we eat, and often through no fault of our own. Thanks for bringing this to more people's attention.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 6 years ago from Central United States of America

      Great warning tip here. Thanks for your research and publishing this for us all. I knew to watch for the MSG but not so much the HVP. Wow!

    • sweetie1 profile image

      sweetie1 6 years ago from India

      Kris, this is a very informative hub. We never know what goes inside our food and then body when we buy readymade food. I am these days trying to eat at home with home made food more and more and now i hardly eat out about less than once a week.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      Kosmo - you are so right, we are only just starting to scratch the surface on learning what's "really" in our food. So many of the additives get approved without any research whatsoever on human health. Kind of frightening!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      We're only beginning to learn what's "really" in our food. Thanks for introducing me to the word "excitotoxin." Hey, I always knew junk food could kill. Later!

    • Brian Burton profile image

      Brian Burton 6 years ago

      Hood article. Feel silly having never heard of HVP, but really appreciate the time and effort you put into this. Really nice work. Voted up, useful, etc.. Thank you!