Monday Mission: Find Those MSGs

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Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to seek and destroy MSG (monosodium glutamate) in all its forms.  You’ll have to do some covert ops to determine MSG’s location.  You may start in a Chinese restaurant, but don’t get too comfortable. 

SPRING CLEANING BUTTON This week we’re talking food additives as part of the Spring Cleaning: Get the Junk Out! carnival with Lenetta of Nettacow.  She’ll share the scoop on the 10 worst food additives tomorrow and give you a chance to link up your posts, which might include:

  • research or information on any food additive
  • personal story of avoidance
  • ramblings about processed food
  • ANY RECIPE that helps you avoid packaged food with additives by making your own

Monosodium Glutamate: MSG

image A lot of people want to avoid MSG, as it’s gotten itself a pretty bad reputation over the last decade (?) or so.  While that’s easy to do in a Chinese restaurant, as long as you remember to ask, I was shocked to find this list of other names MSG hides behind on ingredient labels:

  • Glutamate
  • Glutamic acid
  • Monopotassium glutamate
  • Calcium glutamate
  • Monoammonium glutamate
  • Magnesium glutamate
  • Natrium glutamate (natrium is Latin/German for sodium)
  • Gelatin
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Textured protein
  • anything "hydrolyzed"
  • any "hydrolyzed … protein"
  • Yeast nutrient
  • Yeast extract
  • Yeast food
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Vetsin
  • Ajinomoto

If you see anything on that list in your ingredients label, the product definitely contains MSG.  There are also over 30 other names under which MSG may be hiding, including “natural flavors” or “seasonings”.   You can see the rest of the list at Truth in Labeling.  They also have a very good article on how MSG is processed into foods, why it can be hidden under other names, and places you might find it in your shopping cart.

I can’t memorize all these names, so I pay attention to a couple key words:

  1. hydrolyzed
  2. _____ protein
  3. yeast _______

When those words are in the ingredients list, I know I’m most likely dealing with MSG and I put the product back on the shelf.  My saddest discovery?  Goldfish.  I still buy them (I know, I know) but they’re used very sparingly.

image I remember after my husband’s uncle had a heart attack, he became diligent about two things when eating out:  ordering “dry toast” and “no MSG” at Chinese restaurants.  He knew he should be avoiding MSG, but the poor guy had no idea that he needed to order “no MSG” in so very many other places! 

He was probably only making a 0.5% change in his total MSG intake by ordering Chinese that way.  That’s my personal statistical analysis, by the way.  I took into account the number of times said uncle probably ate Chinese and divided by….just kidding.  I just guessed.

If you wanted to truly avoid MSG, you’d have to walk into your own kitchen and say, “Crackers, please, no MSG.”  In other words, you’ll find yourself making almost everything from scratch. 

Why Avoid MSG?

Some people are allergic to MSG and have terrible reactions anytime they consume something containing monosodium glutamate.  This is one way people have discovered all the sneaky forms of MSG, because people who suffered allergies were having reactions when MSG wasn’t necessarily on the label.  Some even react to shampoos and personal products with hidden MSG.

You may not have an allergy, but MSG is still an artificial food additive with some serious side effects.  See Lenetta’s post tomorrow for an explanation of MSG and why it’s called an “excitotoxin”.

Levels of Commitment

You may not be ready to ditch all processed, packaged foods, which seems like the only way to avoid MSG entirely.  Here are some choices for making improvements in your relationship with MSG without going cold turkey:

Baby Steps: Be informed!  Memorize the key words above and start reading labels.  Knowledge is power.

Making Strides: Pare down on MSGs that you buy.  Choose three items that you will refuse to buy with MSGs, probably the items your family consumes the most of.  Find packaged alternatives or make-from-scratch recipes.  (Check out the Carnival of Un-Processed Foods for ideas from around the blogosphere.)

Leap of Faith: Avoid monosodium glutamate in all its forms, at all costs.  If you think you might have an allergy or sensitivity (symptoms may include migraines or stomach pains), it would be worth it to at least try an elimination diet for a month to see what happens.  You’d have to be diligent on everything in a package, though!

Call to Action:  Song for the Asking wrote a super post last summer with a sample letter to Congress asking for regulations and labeling transparency for MSGs.  Read about her experience with an MSG allergy and find a sample letter that you can send, too.

Other Additives Ramblings

Since we’re talking additives this week, I just have to share two tidbits with you:


  • My aunt discovered that she felt terrible after taking the new Extra Strength Tylenol caplets.  Want to know what the problem was?  They are red.  The food dye in her medicine was making her sick.  When she called to ask why the red dye was in the caplets, Tylenol had no reason other than marketing.  It makes the medicine look like their brand.  Sigh. 
  • Here is a must-read post at The Grain Girl chronicling one mother’s story of diagnosing a son’s behavior disorder and incredible healing after detoxing from food additives.

What red food coloring do your children consume?  Are you concerned about additives?  How are you going to deal with MSG in your kitchen?


In case you missed it, I launched the Healthy Snacks To Go eBook today as well.  Buy your copy today!

I also guest posted at The Local Cook Saturday about faith and health.

Be sure to catch all the incredible Spring Cleaning topics!  Sign up for a free email subscription or grab my reader feed. You can also follow me on Twitter or get KS for Kindle.

Photo credits: Old Shoe Woman and Divine in the Daily and theloushe

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25 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    I am one of those people who absolutely cannot have MSG! I get horrible migraine headaches and can even lose my vision. After three years of daily migraines and every medical test known to man, the doctors had no answers except to medicate me. Then I read about MSG and tried removing it from my diet and it worked! I have a blog where some of the topics include information about MSG and some simple recipes that we make that can be made MSG free.
    .-= Vanessa´s last blog ..April Groceries =-.

  2. says

    MSG is something I’ve always tried to avoid, but like you I was shocked to find out the “under cover” names it goes by. After being diagnosed with fibromyalgia last year, I’ve found it to be one of my biggest pain triggers and avoid it at all costs.

    • Brittany Lichty says

      I am currently taking my second grad level biochemistry course. Glutamate/glut amid acid is not the devil, neither is MSG. We have been shown studies that actually show that people with self-diagnosed MSG sensitivities and such showed no different reaction to MSG versus a placebo, except when MSG was given in a ridiculously large amount not typically consumed by humans. Just a heads up that all the hype you hear about MSG/aspartame/high fructose corn syrup needs to be scientifically evaluatedbefore everybody goes crazy.

  3. says

    I added artificial food colors to me daughter’s list of sensitive foods. I used to get sugar free popsicles to avoid corn syrup, (even some of the fruit bars have it – you have to get “no sugar added”), until I found that the food color was giving her almost as bad a reaction as the corn! It had been a good allergy day and withing 15 minutes of eating that nasty artificial popsicle her eyes were dilated and she was going crazy. I quickly invested in a 10 minute quick pop maker and got a supply of good natural fruit juices. Best decision ever. It’s hard enough to avoid crud in anything processed with more than 5 ingredients. Children’s medicines are stuffed full of dyes and high fructose corn syrup too. And it’s just appalling to look at the mainstream snacks’ ingredient labels. So many things we have had to simply cut out or find recipes to make from scratch. Not always a bad thing, but very time consuming… I was very pleasantly surprised while vainly searching for an okay stock the other day to see the allergen statement on Kitchen Basics stocks: We strive to reduce the risk of allergen reactions by specifying that our ingredients must not contain *milk, *eggs, *peanuts, *glutens, soy, tree nuts,** fish, **shellfish, or corn. We do not autolyze, hydrolyze, add or produce MSG.

    *Allergen Tested.
    ** Except those found in our Seafood and Clam Stocks – which are clearly marked.

    Send letters, write emails! It does make a difference. Slowly but surely. I have emailed many companies that have made good changes to let them know I am happy about it and will now BUY their product. They really like to hear that. It’s probably more effective than sending emails saying I cannot purchase your product because of the ingredients or whatever reason. I always get replies for the positive emails…
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Chestnut chocolate truffle torte =-.

    • Katie says


      What a great wealth of information! Thank you for the note about contacting companies; so true. That stock is very conscious of its role in the world, eh? :) Katie

  4. says

    MSG (and related) are one of the first things I biffed from my diet when I was preggo with Lil’ Bit. I find that now that I’ve almost entirely gotten rid of it (except for the occassional Cheddar & Sour Cream chips–sometimes, I just gotta have some!) I find that if I eat any substantial qty of them I get sick to my stomach, shaky, and headachy — nasty stuff that! If you live in MI, Better Made Potato Chips out of Detroit makes a fabulous BBQ potato chip that has none of the junk. I think last I checked Jay’s Sour Cream & Onion was okay, too. Unless I’m the only one with a thing for chips, in that case then, nevermind :). Great discussions this month!

  5. says

    It’s just horrifying to me that there are so many food additives out there. And that they are legal. And that all these people say “whatever, it’s perfectly safe!” and think WE are the crazy ones!!

    There is a new “healthy” frozen yogurt store at our local mall. And they advertise all about their active cultures. They were giving away free samples so we went inside. My husband picked up their ingredient and list and “skim milk” and “corn syrup” jumped out at him and he said “No way, we are not eating this” and we walked out. I know, I’m lucky to have a husband who is so on board! But the even sadder part is, those are the least of the food additives these days. Other than those two ingredients the frozen yogurt really wasn’t bad (the toppings, on the other hand…Cap’n Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, sprinkles, etc.).

    It just annoys me!! But we don’t buy packaged foods almost ever so luckily we are already avoiding.

    Last thing — the link to my blog post today is also a GIVEAWAY of Katie’s “Healthy Snacks to Go” ebook if anyone wants to hop over for a chance to win!
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Infant Allergies and Treatments =-.

  6. says

    I have tried to avoid MSG, but to see all the names that it goes under made me cry! I can’t believe it! I thought I was doing so well, and now I feel like a failure!! Oh well, better informed and making strides, right? Thanks for the list…I am going to print it out and take it to the store with me from now on!
    .-= heather harris´s last blog ..My Girls =-.

  7. says

    I like using Tylenol for myself because of the long history of safe use of acetaminophen (when you know what it is in and don’t overuse it!) but I was surprised that in infant drops you cannot buy flavor free drops. Luckily they do have a dye free version for infants. This may work for adults as well in you can determine the proper dosing.

  8. Leah F says

    I have to avoid MSG because of migraines. Unless you are making alot of your own stuff, it can be hard. My husband and I are slowly making the transition to less processed foods and I am noticing a difference.

    I had to talk to my daughter’s sitter today because she was giving her sugar-free KoolAid! Bekah is only/barely one! ARGH!

    • Katie says

      Gaaaahhhhhh! I’m totally sympathizing with you! Sugar free is worse than sugar-y in my opinion…

  9. Kelsey Byron says

    I am new to avoiding msg as I have only recently discovered a sensitivity. This website has been very informative: I went to Whole Foods today and think I’ve found a soy sauce that won’t bother me. I also bought a few cans of plain organic tomato sauce. I got home and found that it contains citric acid, which probably contains msg. :( It’s hard. Fortunately, I already make so much of our food from scratch, but there are so many ways for msg to sneak into our food.

  10. says

    I try to get medicines for my kids in dye-free versions. Mostly because, especially for infants, most of it seems to come right back out and boy does it stain! I’m trying to buy less and less packaged food, and I’m definitely trying to switch to “less” harmful versions of what I do buy. So I’m sad to see that MSG appears in so many disguises.
    .-= nopinkhere´s last blog ..Skirt Mania =-.

  11. Nicole says

    Thanks for giving us such great info. I have been trying to avoid msg, and like others am overwhelmed by the different names it can be under! Ugh! I feel like there are no safe foods out there! Oh, well…keep trying I guess, right!

  12. Sandi says

    I am so glad to know that I am not the only wife/mom that has to make evertything from scratch and read labels to keep my family from being sick all the time from the Excototoxins that are in our food supply. I have found that the older my husband and children get, the worse it is. And I think it is because the FDA is a llowing more and more into our foods.

    Thanks for all the insperation, -Sandi-

  13. liza says

    Most here in Asia we live eat fresh veggies fresh fish cook it put little vetsin on it… And am wondering why we don’t have those kinds of problems you all talking about here, but when I was yet living there in the U.S… I gained weight, had bad mood all the time, feeling bloated most of the time, can’t have a good night sleep so restless. I don’t know why was that… So, I went back here somewhere in Asia… got good sunshine eat fresh veggies fresh fish less red meat less cheese and eat lots of fruit… now am felling so great!! my cooking still the same put a little vetsin no problem at all.

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