|Processed foods containing MSG|
MSG has been used for more than 100 years to season food. During this period, extensive studies were conducted to elucidate the role, benefits and safety of MSG. At this point, international and national bodies for the safety of food additives consider MSG safe for human consumption as a flavor enhancer. MSG is classified as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the European Union; and as a food additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Industrial food manufacturers market and use MSG as a flavor enhancer because it balances, blends, and rounds the total perception of other tastes.
MSG is added to thousands of the foods you and your family regularly eat, especially if you are like most Americans and eat the majority of your food as processed foods or in restaurants.
MSG is one of the worst food additives on the market and is used in canned soups, crackers, meats, salad dressings, frozen dinners and much more. It’s found in your local supermarket and restaurants, in your child’s school cafeteria and, amazingly, even in baby food and infant formula.
MSG is more than just a seasoning like salt and pepper, it actually enhances the flavor of foods, making processed meats and frozen dinners taste fresher and smell better, salad dressings more tasty, and canned foods less tinny.
While MSG’s benefits to the food industry are quite clear, this food additive could be slowly and silently doing major damage to your health.
The "MSG symptom complex" was originally termed the "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" when Robert Ho Man Kwok anecdotally reported the symptoms he felt after an American-Chinese meal. Kwok suggested multiple reasons behind the symptoms, including alcohol from cooking with wine, the sodium content, or the MSG seasoning. But MSG became the focus and the symptoms have been associated with MSG ever since. The effect of wine or salt content was never studied. With the years, the list of non-specific symptoms has grown on anecdotal grounds. In normal conditions, humans have the ability to metabolize glutamate that has a very low acute toxicity. The oral lethal dose to 50% of subjects (LD50) is between 15 to 18 g/kg body weight in rats and mice respectively, five times greater than the LD50 of salt (3 g/kg in rats). Therefore, the intake of MSG as a food additive and the natural level of glutamic acid in foods do not represent a toxicological concern in humans.
A report from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) compiled in 1995 on behalf of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that MSG is safe when "eaten at customary levels and although there seems to be a subgroup of apparently healthy individuals that respond with the MSG symptom complex when exposed to 3 g of MSG in the absence of food, causality by MSG has not been established because the list of MSG Symptom complex was based on testimonial reports. This report also indicates that there is no data to support the role of glutamate in chronic and debilitating illnesses. A controlled double-blind multicenter clinical trial failed to demonstrate the relationship between MSG symptom complex and the consumption of MSG in individuals that believed to react adversely against MSG. No statistical association has been demonstrated, there were few responses and they were inconsistent. Symptoms were not observed when MSG was given with food.
What Exactly is MSG?
You may remember when the MSG powder called “Accent” first hit the U.S. market. Well, it was many decades prior to this, in 1908, that monosodium glutamate was invented. The inventor was Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese man who identified the natural flavor enhancing substance of seaweed.
Taking a hint from this substance, they were able to create the man-made additive MSG, and he and a partner went on to form Ajinomoto, which is now the world’s largest producer of MSG (and interestingly also a drug manufacturer).
Chemically speaking, MSG is approximately 78 percent free glutamic acid, 21 percent sodium, and up to 1 percent contaminants.
It’s a misconception that MSG is a flavor or “meat tenderizer.” In reality, MSG has very little taste at all, yet when you eat MSG, you think the food you’re eating has more protein and tastes better. It does this by tricking your tongue, using a little-known fifth basic taste: umami.
Umami is the taste of glutamate, which is a savory flavor found in many Japanese foods, bacon and also in the toxic food additive MSG. It is because of umami that foods with MSG taste heartier, more robust and generally better to a lot of people than foods without it.
The ingredient didn’t become widespread in the United States until after World War II, when the U.S. military realized Japanese rations were much tastier than the U.S. versions because of MSG.
In 1959, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration labeled MSG as “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS), and it has remained that way ever since. Yet, it was a telling sign when just 10 years later a condition known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” entered the medical literature, describing the numerous side effects, from numbness to heart palpitations, that people experienced after eating MSG.
Today that syndrome is more appropriately called “MSG Symptom Complex,” which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identifies as "short-term reactions" to MSG. More on those “reactions” to come.
Why MSG is so Dangerous
One of the best overviews of the very real dangers of MSG comes from Dr. Russell Blaylock, a board-certified neurosurgeon and author of “Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills.” In it he explains that MSG is an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain damage to varying degrees—and potentially even triggering or worsening learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and more.
Part of the problem also is that free glutamic acid is the same neurotransmitter that your brain, nervous system, eyes, pancreas and other organs use to initiate certain processes in your body.
Even the FDA states:
“Studies have shown that the body uses glutamate, an amino acid, as a nerve impulse transmitter in the brain and that there are glutamate-responsive tissues in other parts of the body, as well. Abnormal function of glutamate receptors has been linked with certain neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's chorea. Injections of glutamate in laboratory animals have resulted in damage to nerve cells in the brain.”Although the FDA continues to claim that consuming MSG in food does not cause these ill effects, many other experts say otherwise. According to Dr. Blaylock, numerous glutamate receptors have been found both within your heart's electrical conduction system and the heart muscle itself. This can be damaging to your heart, and may even explain the sudden deaths sometimes seen among young athletes.
“When an excess of food-borne excitotoxins, such as MSG, hydrolyzed protein soy protein isolate and concentrate, natural flavoring, sodium caseinate and aspartate from aspartame, are consumed, these glutamate receptors are over-stimulated, producing cardiac arrhythmias.Many other adverse effects have also been linked to regular consumption of MSG, including:
When magnesium stores are low, as we see in athletes, the glutamate receptors are so sensitive that even low levels of these excitotoxins can result in cardiac arrhythmias and death.”
- Eye damage
- Fatigue and disorientation
- Burning sensation
- Facial pressure or tightness
- Chest pain or difficulty breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
How to Determine if MSG is in Your Food
Food manufacturers are not stupid, and they’ve caught on to the fact that people like you want to avoid eating this nasty food additive. As a result, do you think they responded by removing MSG from their products? Well, a few may have, but most of them just tried to “clean” their labels. In other words, they tried to hide the fact that MSG is an ingredient.
How do they do this? By using names that you would never associate with MSG.
You see, it’s required by the FDA that food manufacturers list the ingredient “monosodium glutamate” on food labels, but they do not have to label ingredients that contain free glutamic acid, even though it’s the main component of MSG.
There are over 40 labeled ingredients that contain glutamic acid, but you’d never know it just from their names alone. Further, in some foods glutamic acid is formed during processing and, again, food labels give you no way of knowing for sure.
Tips for Keeping MSG Out of Your Diet
In general, if a food is processed you can assume it contains MSG (or one of its pseudo-ingredients). So if you stick to a whole, fresh foods diet, you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll avoid this toxin.
The other place where you’ll need to watch out for MSG is in restaurants. You can ask your server which menu items are MSG-free, and request that no MSG be added to your meal, but of course the only place where you can be entirely sure of what’s added to your food is in your own kitchen.
To be on the safe side, you should also know what ingredients to watch out for on packaged foods.
Here is a list of ingredients that ALWAYS contain MSG:
|Autolyzed Yeast||Calcium Caseinate||Gelatin|
|Glutamate||Glutamic Acid||Hydrolyzed Protein|
|Monopotassium Glutamate||Monosodium Glutamate||Sodium Caseinate|
|Textured Protein||Yeast Extract||Yeast Food|
|Flavors and Flavorings||Seasonings||Natural Flavors and Flavorings||Natural Pork Flavoring||Natural Beef Flavoring|
|Natural Chicken Flavoring||Soy Sauce||Soy Protein Isolate||Soy Protein||Bouillon|
|Stock||Broth||Malt Extract||Malt Flavoring||Barley Malt|
|Anything Enzyme Modified||Carrageenan||Maltodextrin||Pectin||Enzymes|
|Protease||Corn Starch||Citric Acid||Powdered Milk||Anything Protein Fortified|
Choosing to be MSG-Free
Making a decision to avoid MSG in your diet as much as possible is a wise choice for nearly everyone. Admittedly, it does take a bit more planning and time in the kitchen to prepare food at home, using fresh, locally grown ingredients. But knowing that your food is pure and free of toxic additives like MSG will make it well worth it.
Plus, choosing whole foods will ultimately give you better flavor and more health value than any MSG-laden processed food you could buy at your supermarket.
How MSG affects the body
Scientists in Spain have recently concluded that MSG when given to mice increase appetite by as much as 40%.
Here's another list of hidden MSG sources:
Names of ingredients that always contain processed free glutamic acid:
Glutamic acid (E 620)2, Glutamate (E 620)
Monosodium glutamate (E 621)
Monopotassium glutamate (E 622)
Calcium glutamate (E 623)
Monoammonium glutamate (E 624)
Magnesium glutamate (E 625)
Any “hydrolyzed protein”
Calcium caseinate, Sodium caseinate
Yeast food, Yeast nutrient
Soy protein, soy protein concentrate
Soy protein isolate
Whey protein, whey protein concentrate
Whey protein isolate
Names of ingredients that often contain or produce processed free glutamic acid:
Carrageenan (E 407)
Bouillon and broth
Any “flavors” or “flavoring”
Citric acid, Citrate (E 330)
Pectin (E 440)
Anything “enzyme modified”
Anything containing “enzymes”
Soy sauce extract
Anything “protein fortified”
(1) Glutamic acid found in unadulterated protein does not cause adverse reactions. To cause adverse reactions, the glutamic acid must have been processed/manufactured or come from protein that has been fermented.
The following are ingredients suspected of containing or creating sufficient processed free glutamic acid to serve as MSG-reaction triggers in HIGHLY SENSITIVE people:
Modified food starch
Lipolyzed butter fat
Brown rice syrup
Reduced fat milk (skim; 1%; 2%)
most things low fat or no fat
anything Vitamin enriched
(2) E numbers are use in Europe in place of food additive names.
The following work synergistically with MSG to enhance flavor. If they are present for flavoring, so is MSG.
Disodium 5’-guanylate (E 627) Disodium 5’-inosinate (E-631) Disodium 5'-ribonucleotides (E 635)