MSG: The Dirty Secret Hidden in Your Foods, Could Cause Obesity.

Could MSG Be Lurking in Your Doritos & Soup?

Innocently, I started writing an article about using old chicken bones to make chicken stock to avoid sodium, BPA, and MSG.  The more I delved into the the MSG subject, it became apparent how evasive MSG has become in our food.  The more I researched the angrier I got.  I too, “Ms. health Nut,” had been duped.  Simply looking for MSG as an ingredient wasn’t enough.  Worse yet, MSG can lead to obesity.

I have Been Duped to Believe I am Eating MSG Free

Maybe you are like me.

  • You tell restaurants no MSG when they prepare your food.
  • You read labels and look for the words, monosodium glutamate or MSG.
  • When you see the words, “no MSG added”  you feel rest assured you are safe.
And guess what? Like the Titanic, I only saw the tip of the iceberg.  You know what happened next?  (Leonard DiCaprio’s character died, Anna.  That’s in the movies, people. It’s sad. I cried too, but let’s talk about the MSG myth.)

Why is MSG added to Food?

MSG is “the sodium salt of the naturally occurring glutamic acid.”   In my opinion, Monosodium glutamate is the new salt. Like salt, it enhances food’s taste.  However, using MSG won’t increase your sodium levels.   So, yes be forwarned about what is in your low sodium products.

How does glutamate make food taste good?  According to a 2009 study conducted by Edmund Rolls, he concluded that glutamate makes food taste better due to its interaction with our brains.  The study revealed:

“Glutamate is thus a flavor enhancer because of the way that it can combine supralinearly with consonant odors in cortical areas in which the taste and olfactory pathways converge far beyond the receptors. Cognitive and attentional modulation of the orbitofrontal cortex also contributes to the pleasantness and appetitive value of umami.”

Brain trickery for lousy food.

Common Names for MSG

In the US, the FDA only requires food companies to list added Monosodium glutamate to their ingredient labels.   Some of its alias names according to the Australia’s government agency, NSW Food Authority, are:

  •  L -glutamic acid
  •  Monosodium glutamate, L-
  • Monopotassium glutamate, L-
  •  Calcium glutamate, Di-L-
  •  Monoammonium glutamate, L-
  •  Magnesium glutamate, Di-L-
  • Disodium guanylate, 5’-
  •  Disodium inosinate, 5’-
  •  Disodium ribonucleotides, 5’-

Note, the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, Standard 1.2.4 — Labelling of Ingredients requires manufactures to list MSG or flavor enhancer  by either the name above or a numerical number assigned to the chemical.  See here for the list.

I don’t know about you but that is whole lot of names to remember. By the way, there will be a quiz after this article to see how many names you can remember.

Hidden MSG-What They Don’t Tell You Won’t Hurt You

Okay, I thought I was out of the woods.  All I had to do was remember all of the Monosodium glutamate’s aliases and I was good to go.  As I continued researching, I found out that  free glutamate is added to our food.  Here is the rub.  It is hidden.

Free glutamate?  You have got to kidding.  Just put a stake in my heart now.  It is just so much easier.

 What the Heck is Free Glutamate, Anna?

Glutamates are naturally occurring in certain food such as Ripe peas, mushrooms, peas, Parmesan cheese, and corn.  However, the glutamates found in these products are bound amino acids.

On the other hand, chemically synthezied glutamates are created from foods such as corn, molasses and wheat.  These foods “are hydrolyzed, autolyzed, modified or fermented using chemicals, bacteria or enzymes” to create glutamates.  Yes, living better through chemistry.  (Or maybe eating better through chemistry.)

So Wouldn’t all Natural and Chemical Glutamates be Harmful?

Dr. Russell Blaylock, a board-certified neurosurgeon and author of “Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills,” explains in  an interview with Natural News  the difference between naturally occurring glutamates in food such as tomatoes and chemically synthesized glutamates.  Although the quote is lengthy, it really sums up the harm of chemically synthesized glutamates.  He states:

“However, when you hydrolize them, this is when glutamate becomes danagerous.  Sure, but you see, all of these types of glutamate are bound. They’re in oligosaccharides, polysaccharides. They are bound in amino acids groupings. They’re not free amino acids. If you have it as a complex protein, you absorb it in your GI tract. In the GI tract, there are almost no free amino acids if you eat foods such as tomatoes. The level of free amino acids is nil; it’s almost all absorbed as combined amino acids, and then it’s only broken down in the liver, where it’s released in very low concentrations that the body can deal with. It was never meant to have free amino acids in such high concentrations.

Well, when you hydrolyze them — or you use yeast extract or enzymes to break down these various proteins into their free, released amino acids — they’re not natural any longer. What you’ve done is artificially release the amino acids in an unnatural way, and when they enter your GI tract, they are absorbed as free amino acids, then your blood level of that glutamic acid goes up significantly. As I said, it can go up as high as 20-fold, in some cases 40-fold. Your blood brain barrier is not constructed to handle such high levels of glutamate, because it doesn’t naturally occur that way. It can handle the lower levels, but it can’t handle these very high levels. So this argument, “Oh, it’s natural,” is just a lot of nonsense.”

Hidden MSG.  Link to Obesity?

Why do we care about MSG?  In a 2008 study, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Northwestern University, Guangxi Medical University, and Yu County Hospital found that there was a link to obesity and the consumption of MSG.

“MSG intake was significantly related to prevalence of overweight. This study is of public health interest because MSG is increasingly used worldwide. This study also provides the first human data on this issue and raises a concern about MSG use and body weight in addition to allergenic effects.”

Other Effects of MSG

Although the effects of MSG are highly debatable in the medical community, there are several articles and books that indicate additional effects of the use of MSG.  Livestrong’s article reports that a diet high in MSG may cause stomach cancer.  Discovery’s Fit and Health article reports a study linking MSG to damage of the retina.  In addition, some people have reported headaches, chest pain, nausea, and other symptoms.  Son #2 has migraines once in a while. I think they were induced by MSG.

So why Isn’t Free Glutamates Required to be on the Label?

As noted above, the FDA requires that if MSG is added to the food, it must be included in the label.  However, the FDA defines “natural flavoring” as

“(3) The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in 182.10, 182.20, 182.40, and 182.50 and part 184 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter.” [Source.]

The words, “protein hydrosalate” threw up a red flag. According to the FDA, protein hydrosalate contain 5 to 20% free glumate, and are used in the same manner as MSG in canned vegetables,  soups, and meat.  (Note, the FDA resource is a PDF attachment to since it is no longer on the FDA’s site.)

So, I got a little suspicious.  Do you blame me? I am not the only one.

Truth in Labeling Campaign, a not for profit organization, indicates that hidden MSG is in many other ingredients.  They state,

“Even if a manufacturer tells you there is no MSG in a product, there may be autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed pea protein, carrageenan, sodium caseinate, enzymes, and a whole slew of other ingredients that contain or create processed free glutamic acid (MSG) during manufacture.” [Source.]

Just to give you an idea how deceptive labels can be check out Truth in Labeling list of soups which shows you where there is hidden MSG. (Check out the organic ones too on the list.) Don’t think you are out of the woods simply because you buy organic products.

List for Hidden MSG

Living Without, a magazine for people with allergies and food sensitives lists the following ingredients that have MSG in them:

These ALWAYS contain MSG These very OFTEN contain MSG

These ALWAYS contain MSG

Autolyzed yeast

Calcium caseinate



Glutamic acid

Hydrolyzed protein

Monopotassium glutamate

Monosodium glutamate

Sodium caseinate

Textured protein

Yeast extract

Yeast food

Yeast Nutrient

These very OFTEN contain MSG

Barley Malt

Calcium caseinate Bouillon

Gelatin Broth

Glutamate Carrageenan

Glutamic acid Enzyme-modified substances

Hydrolyzed protein Flavoring

Monopotassium glutamate Flavors

Monosodium glutamate Malt Extract

Sodium caseinate Malt flavoring

Textured protein Maltodextrin

Yeast extract Natural flavor/flavorings

Yeast food Natural pork/beef/chicken flavoring

Yeast Nutrient Pectin

Protein-fortified substances


Soy protein

Soy protein isolate or concentrate

Soy sauce

Soy sauce extract


Vegetable gum

Whey protein

Whey protein isolate or concentrate

When I originally read the list, I am surprised my family couldn’t hear me say “holy sh*t.” I had been eating a mound of MSG.   If you want a printable chart, see this chart linked to one of the Healthy Home Economist’s posts.

Health Food Claims

Think You Are Out of MSG  Woods With Health Foods?  Think again.

Think You Are Out of MSG Woods With Health Foods? Think again.

Many health foods contain hidden MSG.  Natural News reported about the MSG contained in veggie burgers.  Many contained autolyzed yeast extract,  hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and yeast extract.  All those names are on the list above.

Rule of thumb.  Print the form above.  Check the labels.

So, now I understand why my sons tell me that food at a restaurant tastes so good.  Their taste buds are accustomed to MSG, the hidden enhancer.

Join the Conversation:

  • Do you avoid Monosodium glutamate?
  • Which health food do you avoid?
  • Were you as shocked as I was about the prevalence of MSG in our food?
  • How does your country handle the MSG labeling issue?
  • Add to the conversation.

Photo by BC’s Mom (soup)

Photo by Peter Woodman (Veggie Burger.)

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    • 2


      Stephanie, you are already doing something most people don’t do which is making most of your own products. So many people buy off the shelf and think it is okay. Even the health foods aren’t always great for you either. Do you have a link to stock recipe? Anna

  1. 3

    Lisa P says

    Basically, if it is hard to stop eating the thing, it probably has msg in it. Sun Chips and rice cakes, packaged rice and noodle mixes, crackers. I know when my taste buds are being hijacked and I try to avoid eating those foods again.


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The brain can use glutamic acid as fuel. Glutamic acid can detoxify ammonia by picking up nitrogen atoms, in the process creating another amino acid, glutamine. The conversion of glutamic acid into glutamine is the only means by which ammonia in the brain can be detoxified. Glutamic acid helps to correct personality disorders and is useful in treating childhood behavioral disorders. It is used in the treatment of epilepsy, mental retardation, muscular dystrophy, ulcers, and hypoglycemic coma, a complication of insulin treatment for diabetes. It is a component of folate (folic acid), a B vitamin that helps the body break down amino acids. Because one of its salts is monosodium glutamate (MSG), glutamic acid should be avoided by anyone who is allergic to MSG. Glutamine Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid found in the muscles of the body. Because it can readily pass the blood-brain barrier, it is known as brain fuel. In the brain, glutamine is converted into glutamic acid which is essential for cerebral function and vice versa. It also increases the amount of GABA, which is needed to sustain proper brain function and mental activity. It assists in maintaining the proper acid/alkaline balance in the body, and is the basis of the building blocks for the synthesis of RNA and DNA. It promotes mental ability and the maintenance of a healthy digestive tract. When an amino acid is broken down, nitrogen is re-leased. The body needs nitrogen, but free nitrogen can form ammonia, which is especially toxic to brain tissues. The liver can convert nitrogen into urea, which is excreted in the urine, or nitrogen may attach itself to glutamic acid. This process forms glutamine. Glutamine is unique among the amino acids in that each molecule contains not one nitrogen atom but two. 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Glutamine should not be taken by persons with cirrhosis of the liver, kidney problems, Reye's syndrome, or any type of disorder that can result in an accumulation of ammonia in the blood. For such individuals, taking supplemental glutamine may only cause further damage to the body. Be aware that although the names sound similar, glutamine, glutamic acid (also sometimes called glutamate), glutathione, gluten, and monosodium glutamate are all different substances. Glutathione Like carnitine, glutathione is not technically one of the arnino acids. It is a compound classified as a tripeptide, and the body produces it from the amino acids cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. Because of its close relationship to these amino acids, however, it is usually considered to gether with them. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that is produced in the liver. The largest stores of glutathione are found in the liver, where it detoxifies harmful compounds so that they can be excreted through the bile. Some glutathione is released from the liver directly into the bloodstream, where it helps to maintain the integrity of red blood cells and protect white blood cells. Glutathione is also found in the lungs and the intestinal tract. It is needed for carbohydrate metabolism and appears to exert antiaging effects, aiding in the breakdown of oxidized fats that may con-tribute to atherosclerosis. It can mitigate some of the damage caused by tobacco smoke because it modifies the harmful effects of aldehydes, chemicals present in cigarette smoke that damage cells and molecules, and it may protect the liver from alcohol-induced damage. A deficiency of glutathione first affects the nervous system, causing such symptoms as lack of coordination, mental disorders, tremors, and difficulty maintaining balance. 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If necessary, glycine can be converted into the amino acid serine in the body. Histidine Histidine is an essential amino acid that is significant in the growth and repair of tissues. It is important for the maintenance of the myelin sheaths, which protect nerve cells, and is needed for the production of both red and white blood cells. Histidine also protects the body from radiation dam age, helps lower blood pressure, aids in removing heavy metals from the system, and may help in the prevention of AIDS. Histidine levels that are too high may lead to stress and even psychological disorders such as anxiety and schizophrenia; people with schizophrenia have been found to have high levels of histidine in their bodies. Inadequate levels of histidine may contribute to rheumatoid arthritis and may be associated with nerve deafness. Methionine has the ability to lower histidine levels. Histamine, an important immune system chemical, is derived from histidine. Histamine aids in sexual arousal. 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Further, it is known that homocysteine has a toxic effect on cells lining the arteries, makes the blood more prone to clotting, and promotes the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, the so-called "bad cholesterol"), which makes it more likely that cholesterol will be deposited as plaque in the blood vessels. Like other amino acids, homocysteine does perform a necessary function in the body. It is then usually broken down quickly into the amino acid cysteine and other important compounds, including adenosine triphosphate (ATP, an im portant source of cellular energy) and Sadenosylmethionine (SAMe). However, a genetic defect or, more commonly, de ficiencies of vitamins B6 and B12 and folate (folic acid) can prevent homocysteine from converting rapidly enough. As a result, high levels of the amino acid accumulate in the body, damaging cell membranes and blood vessels, and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly atherosclerosis. 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