What's the deal with MSG?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Happy Friday!

TGIF! I am one tired pup! [source]

How are you this wonderful Friday? Do you have anything exciting planned for this weekend? This weekend is shaping up to be quite eventful for me! I am celebrating one of my closest friend's birthday this evening. Eric's brother and his wife are coming in to stay with us Saturday night. Then on Sunday, I'm having lunch with another friend whom I haven't seen in so long. Talk about a fun filled weekend! I am so excited to see everyone! :)

Last week, Meredith asked if I could do a post about the mysterious MSG. We all probably know that we should avoid it, but why? What is it, and why is it so bad for us?

monosodium glutamate in crystal form [source]

What is MSG?

MSG stands for monosodium glutamate and is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid. MSG is often used as a flavor enhancer in Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats.  Modern commercial MSG is produced by fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses.


Why is MSG bad for us?

Although the FDA has labeled MSG as a food ingredient that is "generally recognized as safe" (geeze that's comforting), the use of MSG remains controversial. Many people have reported experiencing the "MSG Symptoms Complex" after eating foods that contain MSG. It was originally called the "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" when Robert Ho Man Kwok reported symptoms of patients who consumed American-Chinese cuisine. These symptoms include headaches, flushing, sweating, facial pressure or tightness, numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, and weakness. Researchers have not statistically proven a link between MSG and these symptoms; however, they have discovered that a small percentage of people may have short term reactions to MSG. Symptoms are usually mild and do not require treatment. The only way to prevent these potential symptoms is to avoid food containing MSG. What are those you ask? Let's look at some examples.

Food additives that contain MSG:

Even if MSG is not on the label of your favorite packaged food, it doesn't mean you are in the clear. MSG is often disguised as other ingredients such as monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, plant protein extract, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, yeast extract, textured protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed oat flour, and corn oil.


Common foods that contain MSG:
  • Some broths
  • Prepared stocks, stock cubes, or bouillon   
  • Some Chinese food; however, many of them now omit this ingredient from their dishes. You will usually see a sign on the window or it posted in their menu if they do not cook with MSG. If you don't see it, simply ask.
  • Condiments such as BBQ sauce
  • Some salad dressings
  • Some canned, frozen, or dried prepared food
  • Common snack foods such as flavored jerky, flavored potato chips, or flavored tortilla chips
  • Seasoning mixes
The only way to know for sure if a food contains MSG is to check the label and make sure it doesn't contain any MSG hiding under another name. Like I said earlier, there is not a lot of research that proves MSG is terrible for you, however anything that has the potential to cause chest pain, fatigue, and headaches amongst other things is not something I particularly want to mess with. If you are reading an ingredient list on a food package and can't tell if it contains MSG because you can't pronounce half of the ingredients, that product probably isn't the healthiest for you anyway. As long as you are eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods and ask at your local Chinese restaurant to make sure they aren't using MSG, you are probably good to go! I am definitely no MSG expert, so if you have something to add or more questions I would love to hear them!

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Q's and A's:
Do you generally worry about MSG and try to avoid it?
Have you found it anywhere you weren't expecting?
What are your plans for the weekend?

In health,

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