Food

What is it Wednesday: MSG

I don’t know about the rest of the country and the world, but here in Kansas we are are being roasted by some incredibly high temperatures.  And when it gets hot, I don’t want to do anything.  I don’t want to cook or clean and it’s too hot to go out to the garden.  I haven’t even felt like blogging and I can do that from inside my air conditioned home!  Since Monday I’ve pretty much parked it with a book as soon as I got home, hence the fact that my blog has been ignored for the past two days.

But today I really wanted to post a WIIW on MSG.  A couple weekends ago Benzo and I were over at the ILs house to celebrate FILs birthday.  We had a Mexican feast to which I contributed lentil tacos.  As we were dining I reached for the taco sauce and out of habit, turned it around to check out the ingredients.  I noticed that one of the last items was MSG.  I casually said “this has MSG in it” out loud.  I didn’t really mean anything by it, I was just commenting on the ingredients.  To which one of my SILs replied, “what makes MSG so bad?” 

Hmm….good question.  I’ve heard that MSG is bad for you, but why exactly?  No one at the dinner table really had an answer so I knew I would have to do some research! 

What is MSG?

MSG stands for monosodium glutamate.  Per Wikipedia MSG is a “sodium salt of the naturally-occuring non-essential amino acid glutamic acid.”  It is a food additive used to enhance flavor.

In the U.S. the FDA has given MSG the GRAS classification (generally recognized as safe) but the use of MSG is still controversial. 

How is MSG made?

From Truth In Labeling:

Today, the glutamic acid component of the food additive “monosodium glutamate” is generally made by bacterial or microbial fermentation wherein bacteria used are often, if not always, genetically engineered. In this method, bacteria are grown aerobically in a liquid nutrient medium. The bacteria have the ability to excrete glutamic acid they synthesize outside of their cell membrane into the liquid nutrient medium in which they are grown. The glutamic acid is then separated from the fermentation broth by filtration, concentration, acidification, and crystallization, and, through the addition of sodium, converted to its monosodium salt.

Why is MSG added to food?

Besides being a flavor enhancer, I found these reasons on MSG Truth:

  • MSG tricks you into thinking the food you are eating is high in protein and thus more nutritious
  • MSG stimulates the pancreas to produce more insulin.  When insulin increases, blood sugar drops.  When blood sugar drops, you feel hungry again.  When you are hungry you eat more food.
  • MSG enables food manufacturers to lower costs.  Since MSG makes you think a food is higher in protein than it really is, food manufacturers can use less real food in their products, thus saving money.

What makes MSG so bad?

From the Mayo Clinic website, people have reported various reactions to MSG including headache, nausea, chest pain, heart palpitations, sweating and flushing.  However there has been no direct link found between MSG and these symptoms by researchers.

However this article claims that MSG is responsible for the obesity epidemic in America because it is addictive and raises insulin levels (note the author is unknown so I have no idea how credible this source is).  Many processed and packaged foods contain MSG.  The blog Ban MSG Now also takes a strong stance against MSG and tells the author’s own story about his problems with consuming MSG.  Unfortunately that blog is no longer being updated.

From what I have read it seems that people who are against MSG feel that no direct link has been established to health problems because the symptoms are so varied.  Some people have headaches while others have nausea.  And the degree of symptoms is variable as well.

My Thoughts

I know of at least one person who very strictly stays away from MSG.  Her body has a very bad reaction to it (I think in the form of headaches) so she will always ask at restaurants if they use MSG.

It seems to me that certain people are more intolerant of MSG than others.  Some have a very bad reaction to MSG like my friend, while others can consume it with few or no issues (that they are aware of).

Personally I’ve never really gone out of my way to avoid MSG.  But I also try to eat whole foods as much as possible, so I assume I naturally don’t consume a lot of MSG.  At least in my own home anyway.  I could be consuming it every time we go out to eat.  I do get headaches now and then and I wonder if they could be caused by MSG.

I will also add that Benzo has commented several times that Chinese food never fills him up.  He always feels hungry an hour later.  MSG is typically found in Chinese food so that may explain it!

I think that if you are experiencing headaches, nausea or fatigue and you can’t figure out where it’s coming from, you might consider watching your MSG intake.  Keep a food diary of everything you eat and when your headaches (or other symptoms) arrive.  See if you can identify a pattern.  Ask questions as restaurants and read ingredient labels.  It’s certainly worth a shot and if it does turn out to be MSG it would be great to see your symptoms disappear!

Your Thoughts

I would like to hear your thoughts on MSG.  Do you watch out for it in your diet?  Or have you not really thought about it?  Does MSG cause known symptoms in your body? 

Other Sources

In addition to the links above, see these sources:

European Food Information Council – The Facts on MSG
Truth in Labeling – MSG Sometimes Hidden in Food

** Please keep in mind that I am not a professional in the medical, scientific or dietary fields.  I am a regular person who is interested in food and I only examine the information that is out there on the Internet.  I am very aware that anyone can post anything on the Internet so I cannot vouch for the credibility of these sources.  My intention with this post is to simply start a discussion on MSG and hear other people’s thoughts and opinions.  Thanks!

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3 thoughts on “What is it Wednesday: MSG

  1. I don’t really much eat MSG because I tend not to buy a lot of packaged food and the packaged foods I do buy are hippy dippy like “no this and that and that”. I don’t think I have a huge sensitivity to it though. I do get migraines with artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, so I avoid those like the plague… I know my mom avoids MSG at all costs because it does bad things to her, so she asks in restaurants and such, but I never had. Very useful and helpful post!! I’ve always been curious to know more about MSG, but hadn’t taken the time to research.

  2. I’ve avoided it for years. Not so much that I inquire about it at restaurants or when dining in someone else’s home, but I don’t use it or buy products that contain it. And if I weren’t already avoiding it, I would now, having just learned about the genetic engineering involved–I’m one of those non-GMO non-GE people!

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