Initially, I started to write this post thinking of and referring to MSG as POISON. After some research, I found there are many angles to this ingredient and whether it is harmful or harmless. Ask almost anyone what they know about MSG and you’ll get a bunch of reactions and responses. Read along and judge for yourself if evil is lurking in YOUR food.
THE SCIENCE-Y STUFF
Glutamic acid is a nonessential amino acid important to the synthesis of proteins contributing to a healthy immune and digestive system and in energy production. It naturally occurs in fish, meat, eggs, poultry, legumes, and dairy products.
MSG, Monosodium Glutamate, is classified as a type of amino acid too. The sodium salt of glutamic acid has exactly one (mono)sodium/salt atom attached to an atom of glutamic acid. In food production, manufacturers use it as a flavor enhancer. It also occurs NATURALLY in tomatoes, cheeses, seaweed, mushrooms, potatoes, corn and green tea. In Japan, in 1908, Ikeda Kikunae extracted MSG from seaweed (Kombu) broth and crystallized it for flavor enhancement of other foods. Its distinctive taste was called UMAMI, “tasty” in Japanese. But this method wasn’t efficient enough to produce commercially. High volume extraction and production is where the problems begin. Naturally occurring Glutamic acid works with the body in many important ways and works together with other amino acids. As a result, not only the processing and extraction of glutamate but also the high concentration in processed foods disrupts the natural balance.
CHINESE RESTAURANT SYNDROME
Today MSG is produced through a fermentation process and extracted from glutamate, mostly sugar beets, molasses and cane sugar. Typically, most amino acids break down in the liver. But some, like glutamate, are more difficult to flush out of the body. As a result, Glutamate causes the nerves to fire and if they fire excessively cause a form of neurotoxicity. In light of that, MSG causes some negative side effects like: (commonly called CHINESE RESTAURANT SYNDROME)
- Headache or Migraine
- Feeling Flushed
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Numbness or “pins & needles” in extremities
- Chest pain and/or heart palpitations
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Brain fog
- Hive like breakouts
All things considered, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) categorizes MSG as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe). Many studies done by different groups haven’t gotten consistent negative results. In light of that, none of the research shows MSG as toxic or a reliable cause of the side effects studied.
NOW, that being said, MSG used as a flavor enhancer, links to a host of health issues like fibromyalgia, obesity, fatty liver, high insulin and blood sugar, high cholesterol, liver toxicity, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, disturbance to the gut-brain connection, neurological and brain damage! PHEW.
MSG is well known for its flavor enhancing abilities. In fact, it’s does such a good job that since it’s a nerve stimulant, it changes how taste buds taste food. As a result, even nasty tasting food taste great.
SHOULD YOU AVOID MSG?
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to avoid; there are over 40 ingredients used by manufacturers containing MSG. Not only is it used as a flavor enhancer, it’s a natural by-product of processing proteins found in many natural and organic foods too.
So, why shouldn’t you avoid protein-rich foods like grains, meats, dairy, and vegetables that contain glutamic acid!? In these naturally-occurring foods the glutamic acid is released with other amino acids rather than in high concentrations on its own. They all work together and don’t cause a toxic reaction.
Many processed foods, including natural and organic foods, contain processed proteins with glutamic acids. The FDA doesn’t require food manufacturers to put MSG on the label unless the “added ingredient” is 99% pure MSG. If it’s produced as part of the processing you won’t see it on the label but it is still there.
HOW DO I KNOW IF IT’S IN MY FOOD?
In a Facebook post earlier this week, I listed some of the common ingredients MSG may be show up as. Here is that list again:
- Glutamic Acid
- Monosodium Glutamate
- Monopotassium Glutamate
- Calcium Glutamate
- Monoammonium Glutamate
- Magnesium Glutamate
- Natrium Glutamate
- Anything hydrolyzed
- Calcium Caseinate
- Sodium Caseinate
- Yeast Extract, Yeast Food, Yeast Nutrient, and Autolyzed Yeast
- Soy Protein Isolate, Soy Sauce, and Soy Sauce Extract
- Malt Extract
- Whey Protein Isolate
- “Seasonings” (*specific ingredients are not required to be listed as an ingredient inside an ingredient)
- “Protein Fortified”
*When manufacturers pour MSG into a product it must be listed, if it is processed into a product it does not have to be listed.
WHAT FOODS WILL MOST LIKELY CONTAIN MSG?
- Highly processed, flavorful (salty) snack food, flavored chips especially.
- Broths & Soups
- Convenience Foods
- Protein Powders: Unfortunately, many protein powders contain forms of soy and whey protein, and contain processed free glutamic acid. Since free glutamic acids are a product of processing proteins, it’s tricky to find a protein powder that doesn’t contain them. The key is the amount or concentration of these glutamates in each product, as well as gauging your own sensitivity level and ability to break them down.
LONG TERM EFFECTS?
As with just about anything, different people have different levels of sensitivity. Sensitivity builds up in our bodies until we meet a certain threshold and the danger and effects of MSG are cumulative. I started having reactions, just about all of the reactions listed above, when I worked at a Chinese food restaurant for about a year and ate the food nearly every day. My theory is it built up to a toxic level and created an on-going sensitivity to it.
Studies show no link between MSG and obesity. No earth-shattering results have been found. But, even if there isn’t a substantial connection between MSG and obesity, think of the effects of highly processed foods and the connection to overeating. There seems to be something there, don’t you think?
IS EVIL LURKING IN MY FOOD? IT’S UP TO YOU TO DECIDE.
With all this information, you see that MSG and processed free glutamate is a confusing issue. While I enjoy a delicious salty snack of chips with spicy seasonings as much as the next person, I limit myself. The problem is, once I start, it’s hard to stop and then I feel like crap. Sound familiar? Pay attention to how your body reacts to foods and if you have a reaction try eliminating or avoiding that food. If you’re eating whole, unprocessed foods you will avoid the occurrence of MSG and all its forms. In a nutshell, if you’re eating processed foods you’re most likely ingesting plenty of the stuff. And in my humble opinion — that ain’t good for anybody.
Thanks for reading along! As always, please comment and share if you are so inclined.
In Health & Happiness,