How to Keep MSG from Creeping into Your Food and Affecting Your Health

How to Keep MSG from Creeping into Your Food and Affecting Your Health

It’s bad enough we have to inspect labels on food for ingredients we know are not good for us. But sometimes we’re not even aware that what’s on the label isn’t healthy or safe. Those of us who are health-conscious like to choose known healthy foods, but what about “invisible” ingredients.

What if we are conscientious about reading the list of ingredients on items from the bakery, cereal aisle, dairy shelf, or deli counter? Can we really be sure the manufacturer hasn’t slipped in something that would make us change our minds about buying an item? Ingredients in our packaged foods can have names that we don’t recognize or even pronounce. Names can be sneaky. MSG is one of them.


Is MSG Hiding In Your Food?

There’s been a lot of talk over the years questioning the pervasive use of MSG, a flavor that’s added to a wide range of food products and restaurant dishes. Some studies have concluded that MSG contributes to obesity, metabolic syndrome, brain degenerative disease, reproductive disorders (infertility), or causes adverse reactions such as headaches, cramps, upset stomach, bloating, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, and others.

So if you see the words” monosodium glutamate” or its abbreviation MSG, on a package, be forewarned. The trouble is, MSG can be hidden in ingredients and can be cleverly disguised under other names.

The non-profit organization came up with three lists of ingredients that may or may not contain glutamic acid, the chemical in MSG suspected of causing health issues. They’re divided up into:

  • Ingredients that ALWAYS contain glutamic acid
  • Ingredients that OFTEN contain glutamic acid
  • Ingredients that are SUSPECTED of containing glutamic acid

The lists are way too long to repeat here, so here’s a link to read for yourself. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? You might want to carry a “cheat sheet” when you go grocery shopping.

Dr. Mercola, a popular holistic doctor, takes a broader stance on MSG. “In general, if a food is processed you can assume it contains MSG,” says Mercola. Mercola assembled a list of ingredients sneaking in MSG. His list resembles that of’s. Among them are some recognizable ones:

  • Gelatin
  • Textured Protein
  • Yeast Extract
  • Soy Sauce
  • Bouillon
  • Stock
  • Broth
  • Malt Extract
  • Barley Malt
  • Carrageenan
  • Pectin
  • Enzymes
  • Corn Starch
  • Citric Acid
  • Powdered Milk


Eating Out

The challenge with keeping MSG out of your food becomes more difficult when you’re eating out. MSG is a favorite at restaurants, particularly those serving Chinese food. “Hold the MSG” is a common request food servers hear from their more choosy customers. And you can ask your server to do the same. Don’t feel like you’re putting them out. Some of the more conscientious restaurants even advertise they don’t use MSG or they state on the menu which dishes are MSG-free.


Reactions to MSG

There are going to be times where you’re going to get an unintended dose of MSG … maybe because you didn’t look close enough at the product label, didn’t know the pseudonyms for MSG, or it turned up in your meal unexpectedly. So you should be aware of some of the reactions you might experience.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) reports a list of symptoms that have been reported to them. They include:

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
  • Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness


Reactions to MSG are different for each person. Some of us have low tolerances to MSG and react to very small amounts. Also, reactions can occur immediately or as late as 48 hours after eating. Some people experience a mild uneasiness after ingesting MSG. And some people have no reaction at all (which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not doing you harm down the road).

Studies done in the U.S. in the 1970s suggested that about 25 to 30 percent of the population were intolerant to the MSG levels found in food.  Since that study, another more recent study in 2010 found that adverse reactions to MSG – acknowledged being added more often to food than in the past –  rose by 40 percent. Not surprising.


Is Anybody Regulating MSG?

If any authority has the power to keep MSG out of your food, it’s going to be the FDA. But you’re not going to find much protection from them. The FDA has a labeling requirement for foods suspected of carrying health risks and classifies MSG as a food ingredient that’s “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). To their credit, the FDA does require that MSG be listed on the label; you just have to be able to recognize MSG’s other names.

According to the FDA, MSG isn’t a bad player, but its use remains controversial. The FDA considers the reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG that it receives “anecdotal” and concludes that “research has found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms.”

Decide for yourself. Here are several studies and compilations of studies that have shown negative effects of MSG:


If you know you have adverse reactions to MSG or suspect you do, use vigilance by reading labels, asking questions, questioning packaged and processed food unrecognized ingredients, and looking at the research.

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