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.
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 SustainableTable.org 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
These very OFTEN contain MSG
Calcium caseinate Bouillon
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
Soy protein isolate or concentrate
Soy sauce extract
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
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.)