Thursday, June 2, 2011

What is MSG? How Do I Eliminate MSG?

Everyone remembers the craze about a decade ago... "Avoid Asian food it contains MSG"

Most of us didn't know much about MSG back then, I venture to say most of still don't know much about MSG today.  MSG, Monosodium glutamate, is a food additive that enhances the flavor of what could otherwise be a bland meal.  It is a plant derived chemical additive.

MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid (non-essential to our bodies).  It is in a category of salts called glutamates.  These are used by our bodies for a reaction process called the citric acid cycle.  Glutamate is a very potent neural transmitter.  It also is responsible for the flavor sensation "umami", one of the five taste that we sense.

So what is the big deal about something that our body makes and uses and occurs naturally in plants?

MSG, the flavor enhancer that is added to our foods, is made by fermenting carbohydrates with yeast or bacteria.  This alone can give some people cause to worry or irritate those with a sensitivity to yeast.

Although hotly debated and researched, there are no great studies that can show conclusively that this, excitotoxin, is good or bad for you.  Several studies have shown that a certain percentage of the population may be sensitive to the free glutamate acid.  No studies have shown an over whelming societal impact on symptoms such as

  • -          Headaches
    -          Flushing
  • -          Tingling in face or hands
  • -          Disturbing the heart rhythm
  • -          May cause heart attacks
  • -          A growth resource for cancer
  • -          Disturbs hormone production
  • -          Causes obesity
  • -          Disturb the growth in children
  • -          Children may develop learning problems
  • -          Behavior impairments
  • -          Damage to the retina
  • -          Increased Alergies
  • -          May be linked to many disorders like MS, or other neurological disorders

Some people link MSG as one of those downfalls that are making us hold onto fat.  Will we ever know the truth about what all the things we eat do to our bodies? Can we say definitively that this one ingredient is a major contributor to so many things.

I have not done or read a lot of research on MSG, just a little.  I can say though that I have learned that MSG in several of it's forms will bring on a guaranteed migraine for me.  I think each person must make a decision on the facts and information that they have available to them, that may include an elimination diet.  I believe that this is the only way that you can truly tell the difference - don't eat it for a length of time to allow you body to clean that item out and reset/heal itself, then try it a little at a time to see if you have a reaction.

I  love BBQ chips (not a good food I know) and I would have them a few times a week if I could.  I have learned that if I eat them, just a few, about 3-4 hours later I will get a migraine.  MSG is called or labeled many different things (list later) and I have noticed that a some of these can also cause me to have terrible headaches or migraines.  So I have learned to avoid them, and really do my best to read all the labels and not purchase such things.

I began eliminating all MSG about 18 months ago.  It is very hard!  It is in almost everything and almost every restaurant uses it.  When we started asking the managers if they used it, what I cold have without it, and could they prepare other items without it - our eyes were opened.  They put it on almost everything!  It is in the seasoning on the meat, it is in the salad dressing, it's in the butter for your bread, it is in the oil that they put on the grill to cook, it can be the oil they add to the vegetables.  It really is everywhere!

A few days ago it struck me that we purchase some items for the children (or rather my spouse does) that have one of these ingredients in them.  If it's not something I'm going to eat why should I be willing to give it to the rest of my family?  Interesting thought!  We will be working more closely the next few weeks to eliminate MSG in all it's forms from out diet.

Here is a list of most of the items that I look for and avoid.  These may be a different way of labeling MSG, an ingredients that sometimes (or always) contains MSG, or something that will create MSG in your body.

Monosodium glutamate, glutamate, accent seasoning, natural flavor enhancers, natural and artificial flavors, soy protein, soy protein isolate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein or HVP, yeast extract, autolyzed proteins, vegetable protein extract, hydrolyzed vegetable oil, E621, calcium caseinate, modified food starch, maltodextrin, any broth or stock, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate.

Be aware that even though the product states it contains no MSG, or NO MSG added, it may still contain the free glutamate - which essentially is what MSG is in the food anyway.  Some of the above are examples of free glutamate.

If you wold like more information - I have found these sites to be a great resource.


  1. MSG makes me so sick. I feel like I'm going crazy mentally, my legs feel restless, I feel like I'm going to throw up, etc. My worst reaction comes from eating sour cream and onion chips. I have tried to avoid it for about the last 8 years.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jenny! I totally agree with you on sour cream and onion chips - my mom loves them and I used to eat them all the time. They must be really loaded with a lot.