The Truth About Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Updated: Sep 2

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a ubiquitous yet quite toxic food additive usually used to enhance the flavor of foods. Monosodium Glutamate is table salt from the common amino acid glutamic acid is one of the main ingredients; hence sodium is in the name.

Monosodium Glutamate is made by fermenting starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, and molasses, meaning it is filled with salt and sugar, both things we should be limiting (1).


Risks of Consuming Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Hidden Names For Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Foods That Contain Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

 

Risks of Consuming Monosodium Glutamate


Unfortunately, despite plenty of reports to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) of adverse events following consuming MSG, the FDA still considers it safe despite the various forms of toxicity it has been linked to and thoroughly discussed in scientific journals (2). According to the Mayo Clinic:

“MSG is also a flavor enhancer commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that's "generally recognized as safe," but its use remains controversial. For this reason, when MSG is added to food, the FDA requires that it be listed on the label (3).

On the contrary, according to Absolute Health:

“Researchers have confirmed that amino acid glutamate when in its free state (when not bound to a full protein like meat) can lead to a negative reaction in some people. The glutamic acid in MSG works as an excitatory neurotransmitter in one’s brain, stimulating nerve cells to convey its signal. Also, cases of headaches, rapid heartbeat, sweating and tightness in the chest have been reported due to MSG consumption. Researchers have confirmed that amino acid glutamate when in its free state (when not bound to a full protein like meat) can lead to a negative reaction in some people. The glutamic acid in MSG works as an excitatory neurotransmitter in one’s brain, stimulating nerve cells to convey its signal. Also, cases of headaches, rapid heartbeat, sweating and tightness in the chest have been reported due to MSG consumption.
A study done on the effects of MSG in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome and chronic pain condition, fibromyalgia, found that the subjects experienced gastrointestinal pain, diarrhea, headaches, muscle pain, extreme fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction. When the subjects were put on a diet low in free glutamate, these symptoms improved. Another research proved a connection between higher consumption of MSG and the prevalence of overweight adults in China. Additionally, it was proven that injecting a newborn mouse with a large dose of MSG caused harmful neurological effects.
A three-gram dose per meal is more than enough to cause severe symptoms. Note that, a three-gram dose in a serving is about six times the average daily intake. It’s also true that high glutamate activity in the brain can cause harm and a large intake of MSG can spike the blood levels of glutamate. Another study confirmed that a megadose of MSG raises the blood levels by 556 percent. To test for glutamate sensitivity, you should avoid eating free glutamate food for a period of two weeks or a month. Instead, eat whole and non-processed food, use whole herbs and spices, avoid foods that are naturally high in glutamate and make marinades and salad dressings from scratch (4).

Some people have reactions from consuming monosodium glutamate, known as MSG symptom complex. MSG symptom complex is referred to as a group of symptoms some individuals may experience after eating food containing MSG; symptoms commonly include:

  • Headache

  • Skin flushing

  • Sweating

  • Numbness or burning in the mouth

  • Numbness or burning in the throat

  • Nausea

  • Fatigue

  • Chest pain

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Abnormal heartbeat

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Swelling in the face

  • Swelling in the throat (5)

The FDA mandates MSG to be labeled on foods as monosodium glutamate or MSG, but what about foods that naturally contain MSG that aren't required to list it? There are many foods like tomatoes, cheeses, and protein isolates (6).


Hidden Names For Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium Glutamate isn't always easy to spot on the ingredients list of your food because there are several hidden names for Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) such as:

  • Monopotassium Glutamate

  • Glutamate

  • Glutamic Acid

  • Gelatin

  • Calcium Caseinate

  • Sodium Caseinate

  • Hydrolyzed Plant Protein (HPP)

  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)

  • Autolyzed Plant Protein

  • Autolyzed Yeast

  • Yeast Food or Nutrient

  • Yeast Extract (7,8)

Foods That Contain Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)


Fast Food

Fast food is fast and convenient now, but it also may be fatal later. Chinese food is most common to contain MSG, and many people end up with MSG symptom complex shortly after consuming Chinese food brimming with MSG (9). Many other fast-food chains use MSG in their food, like Chick-fil-A (10) and Kentucky Fried Chicken (11).

Fun Fact: Did you know that a study found that consuming fast food as little as once a week increased the risk of dying from coronary heart disease by 20 percent? That same risk can increase up to 50 percent if you eat fast food two or three times a week (12).

Processed Food

Processed foods, especially meats like deli slices, jerky, sausages, bacon, pepperoni, hot dogs, and other smoked meats, often contain MSG (13). MSG not only enhances the flavor of the meat it also increases its sodium content (14). Did you know that salt reduces the amount of urinary protein, which is a significant risk factor for developing kidney disease (15)?

Fun Fact: Table salt is a combination of two minerals-about 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

The approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of salt is:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575mg sodium

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150mg sodium

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725mg sodium

  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300mg sodium

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day and is leaning more towards an ideal limit of 1,500mg per day for an adult (16).

Fun Fact: Processed foods are loaded with sodium and phosphorus. Studies have shown that high phosphorus and sodium intake may be harmful to the kidneys (17).

Keep in mind; that processed food is not limited to just animal products; this is also plant-based processed foods. As someone who has adopted a plant-based lifestyle, I try to limit my processed foods to once a week.


Condiments

Condiments often contain MSG, including salad dressings, ketchup, barbeque sauces, soy sauces, mayonnaise, and more (18). These condiments are often loaded with additives and MSG, so it's always best to look for organic or make your condiments when possible.


For a homemade, plant-based salad dressing, try my Ranch Salad Dressing recipe here, and be sure to use MSG-free mayonnaise.


Instant Noodles

Instant noodles commonly contain MSG. Most of us have had Ramen Noodles at some point in our lives but have you ever looked at the sodium content? Their chicken flavor has 830 mg of sodium per serving, partially thanks to the monosodium glutamate (19).

Fun Fact: The consumption of instant noodles are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, elevated blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure levels (20).

Chips

MSG is used to intensify food taste, so it's no wonder it's often used in chips. Some of your favorite brands, like Doritos (21) and Pringles (22), use MSG to give it that savory flavor you enjoy so much, yet it's destroying your body.


Frozen Meals

Frozen meals may be fast and convenient, but just like fast food, they may be fatal later. Most frozen meals are brimming with toxins, and this includes MSG to keep the taste savory after being frozen and then microwaving it (23), which kills most of the nutrients in the food. To learn more about microwaves and their dangers, check out The Truth About Microwaves here.


Soup

Soup may be the first thing you make when you're feeling under the weather, but most canned soups and mixes use MSG to intensify that savory flavor that you, the consumer, craves. For example, Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup contains MSG (24), so much for feeling better fast.


What do you do to ensure you're not consuming MSG?


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