That is one of my favorite lines by the character Kramer on Seinfeld. Jerry is ordering Chinese take out and asks Kramer if he wants anything. His response was a noodle dish and “get extra MSG”. It made me laugh, because when I first saw that episode, I thought Chinese food was the only way you’d get any MSG. I didn’t know exactly what it was or just how prevalent it is in our food supply.
What is MSG?
The U.S. FDA has classified MSG (monosodium glutamate) as a food ingredient that is GRAS (generally recognized as safe). MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid and one of the important components of protein. When glutamic acid is found in foods, it’s always in a “bound” form. Our bodies can handle the bound form of glutamic acid. It’s when it’s in a “free” state that causes sensitivities and we can have a reaction from it. MSG manufacturers not only free the bound glutamic acids from foods, they create it chemically. Here is the main problem with free glutamic acid: it is the very same neurotransmitter that your brain and many organs including your ears, eyes, nervous system and pancreas use to initiate certain processes in your body. MSG can cross the blood-brain barrier and is an excitotoxin.
Excitotoxin: a substance added to foods and beverages that literally stimulates neurons to death, causing brain damage of varying degrees. Can be found in such ingredients as monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame (Nutrasweet), hydrolyzed protein, and aspartic acid. ~ Russell L. Blaylock, MD “Excitotoxins, The Taste That Kills”.
MSG is a flavor enhancer commonly added to soups, salad dressings, gravies, broths, canned vegetables, processed meats and a lot of snack foods. It can stimulate the taste receptors on the tongue, and trick your brain’s pleasure pathways into getting you to eat more. Food manufacturers reap the benefits from consumers’ cravings and over consumption of these foods. If that’s not bad enough, MSG stimulates the pancreas to release insulin when there doesn’t even have to be carbohydrates in the food for that insulin to act on. Now remember, insulin is the “hunger” hormone. The blood sugar drops because of the insulin flood, and you are hungry an hour later. What’s that saying about eating Chinese food and still being hungry?
Food manufacturers market some of their products as “no added MSG”. That doesn’t mean that MSG is not in the other ingredients like autolyzed yeast extract. Progreso soups’ ad campaign last fall is an example of this deceptive marketing. NO ADDED MSG, our soups are healthier. Yada, yada, yada (you can tell I’m a Seinfeld fan) Well, what about the hidden MSG? Legally, they can claim that because they removed the outright monosodium glutamate, but left in the hidden forms of it. Most anything that you buy that says “spices” or “natural flavors” contains MSG. The food industry avoids putting MSG on the label by putting MSG in spice mixes, and if the mix is less than 50% MSG, manufacturers don’t have to put it on the label.
Which ingredients contain MSG?
Now how do you identify when a food product contains MSG? Well, the obvious ingredient listing is when it states MSG or monosodium glutamate. But it is also hidden in many ingredient listings under different names/additives. These additives always contain MSG:
- Sodium caseinate
- Calcium caseinate
- anything “hydrolyzed”
- hydrolyzed protein
- Autolyzed yeast
- Yeast extract
Now here’s the tricky part. There are a slew of ingredients that OFTEN contain MSG or create MSG during processing. Here’s that list:
- Malt extract/flavoring
- Natural pork/chicken/beef flavoring (not so natural!)
- Citric acid
- Bouillon and broth
- Soy protein/soy protein isolate/concentrate
- Whey protein/whey protein isolate/concentrate
- natural flavors/flavorings
Remember, by FDA definition, all MSG is “naturally occurring”. Natural doesn’t mean safe. Natural only means the ingredient started out in nature.
An example of just how much MSG is in a typical snack food that a lot of kids consume today, Flamin Hot Cheetos has listed in its ingredients monosodium glutamate (MSG). It also lists the many ingredients where MSG is hidden: autolyzed yeast extract, maltodextrin, citric acid, hydrolyzed soy protein, whey protein concentrate, sodium caseinate, natural flavor and carrageenan. Why don’t we just call them “Flamin Hot MSG Sticks”? (Don’t even get me started on all the artificial colors in them!) High school and college students’ favorite instant meal Cup Noodles or Top Ramen are chock full of MSG. It’s the first listed ingredient in the soup after salt. Brain food?! I don’t think so.
Fast food restaurants have MSG in many of their products. The worse offenders by far are Taco Bell, Burger King and McDonald’s. Did you know every time your child eats Chicken McNuggets and fries they are ingesting MSG? Are you “loving it”?
Reactions from ingesting MSG
Ingestion of MSG is known to produce a variety of adverse reactions in some people. We do not know why some people experience reactions and others do not. We only know that the reactions listed below are sometimes caused or exacerbated by MSG. Here are just a few:
- Rage/mood swings
- Migraine headaches
- Runny nose/sneezing
- Heart palpitations
- Irritable bowel
- Joint pain
- Pressure around eyes
- Blurred vision
- Thirst/dry mouth
My kids and I experience a few of these reactions when we’ve eaten foods with MSG. I don’t feel very well afterward, and I know my kids don’t because of their behavior following the infraction. Our family tries our best to eat foods without any type of MSG derivative and it’s difficult. As you can see from the list above, there are so many ways MSG is in our food supply without even trying to “get extra MSG”.
For more information on MSG, visit these websites:
Filed under: ADHD, Biomedical interventions, Diet | Tagged: ADHD, autism, autolyzed yeast extract, Biomedical interventions, Burger King, carrogeenan, Cup Noodles, excitotoxin, Flamin Hot Cheetos, flavorings, health, hydrolyzed protein, maltodextrin, McDonald's, monosodium glutamate, MSG, natural flavors, sodium caseinate, soy protein, Taco Bell, Top Ramen, whey protein |