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 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
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.
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.