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.
This mission was originally posted in Spring, 2010 as part of the Spring Cleaning: Get the Junk Out! carnival. It was pegged in the top 10 of most influential missions by readers this summer, and it’s been one that has made a huge difference in my life as well.
Monosodium Glutamate: MSG
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:
- Glutamic acid
- Monopotassium glutamate
- Calcium glutamate
- Monoammonium glutamate
- Natrium glutamate (natrium is Latin/German for sodium)
- Calcium caseinate
- Sodium caseinate
- Textured protein
- anything “hydrolyzed”
- any “hydrolyzed … protein”
- Yeast nutrient
- Yeast extract
- Yeast food
- Autolyzed yeast
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:
- _____ protein
- 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.
But in 2012, it’s been years since we had Goldfish. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I threw away a few bags from around the time of this original posting when we moved last summer.
Also, as I read the MSG ingredient list again, I noticed one that I think I see far too often: Sodium caseinate. I’ll have to work to commit that to memory and be more on guard for it. That’s why it’s good to revisit topics!
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 this post 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.
What food additives do you watch out for when you do buy something (or are offered it) with an ingredients list?
Need More Baby Steps?
Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.
That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.
Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.