The Many Names of MSG

I’m usually pretty good about spotting the key ingredients in a product that will cause me to put it back on the shelf. MSG is one ingredient that will cause me to do just that. But I recently learned of the many other names that this flavor enhancer can be packaged under.

Monosodium glutimate (MSG), is a flavor enhancer that was first isolated from it’s natural sources and patented in 1909 and gained widespread use in the U.S. in the 1950’s. A health scare in the late 1960’s associated MSG with the symptoms of headache, sweating, facial swelling, numbness and chest pain after eating Chinese food. From that, the condition took on the name “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”. Since then, most studies have failed to show that MSG affects most people in the manner described.

But since I don’t consider myself “most people” and I try to only eat ingredients that I can pronounce, MSG remains one of the ingredients that will cause me not to purchase a product containing it.

Monosodium glutamate is a manufactured form of glutamic acid, an amino acid that is naturally found in combination with protein in all living cells. Glutamic acid (glutamate) stimulates specific receptors in the taste buds by which the flavor of the food being eaten with it can be enhanced. The problem I have is that the concentration of the glutamate that manufacturers add is much higher that would naturally occur in the free form which can lead to reactions in some people.

The FDA requires that the label of any product containing monosodium glutimate identify it as such in the list of ingredients. However, if the manufacturer derives the glutamate from other sources, it is not required to label the product as containing MSG.

Other sources of glutamate in the ingredient listing might appear as: hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast, yeast extracts or protein concentrates. One additional catch is that a product can list “vegetable broth” as an ingredient and not need to mention the sub-ingredient of hydrolyzed soy protein within the broth.

So if it comes in a package and it tastes too good to be true, it probably is.

References: Wikipedia, New York Times

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About Paul Kulpinski, LMT

Paul Kulpinski is a licensed massage therapist, holistic wellness coach and co-founder of Mountain Waves Healing Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona with over 15 years experience in helping people achieve their optimum state of well being. Information contained in this blog should not be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to validate the information presented here with other sources including your personal physician for information specific to you.
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3 Responses to The Many Names of MSG

  1. Mary Ellen says:

    Thanks, Paul. It reminds me of the rule that if you must eat packaged foods, try to stick with those with five ingredients or less (and all of them recognizable!).

  2. That’s another good rule, Mary Ellen. I also use that one.

  3. Paul,

    I hope you will allow this comment: There is no double that a critical underpinning of a healthy diet is unquestionably the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits. Unfortunately, many adults do not like these fine foods – so kids are the concern. Parents and teachers interested in getting kids to develop a friendly attitude towards fruits and vegetables should take a look at a new book called “The ABC’s of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond.” Out only a few months and already being bought in quantity for class use.Great for kids of all ages as it is two books in one – children first learn their alphabet through produce poems and then go on to more mature activities. Out only six months it is already being used in educational programs. It is coauthored by best-selling food writer David Goldbeck (me) and Jim Henson writer Steve Charney. You can learn more at HealthyHighways.com

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