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Is There MSG in your HOMEMADE Soup??

The Truth About MSG in that Homemade Bone Broth

Although it seems like we’re uber strict about food in our household, we have only had ONE rule that can never, ever be compromised on, no matter what.

When we’re in social situations or gifted with food or traveling, we compromise.

We consume artificial colors in moderation.

We eat plenty of unknown trans fats, I’m sure, although I’m not happy about it.

We don’t freak out about white flour, sugar, or canola oil, even though I know they’re not good for us.

We’re cool with an 80/20 lifestyle and do the best we can to make nearly everything homemade or with well-scrutinized ingredients at home, and allow for plenty of leeway at other times.

But there has always been one thing my kids are absolutely, positively NOT allowed to consume: artificial sweeteners.

And then we added another one.

About a year ago, I had a talk with my husband and asked if we could add a new non-negotiable to the list: MSG. Banning it would exclude many bratwursts and sausages, flavored chips, processed creamy dips, and canned soups, for starters.

This article was reviewed by Michelle Riddle, a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Occupational Therapist, Director of Resilient Health, and author of SENSEable Living Creates Healthy, Happy Kids. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

I knew it would be harder to regulate than artificial sweeteners (although they are unfortunately sneaking into many foods beyond the “diet” products they used to be relegated to, sadly!). In fact, we’re still figuring it all out and I’m sure that we miss the mark quite often when we eat out. Most recently, I read that steakhouses almost certainly brush their grilled meats with MSG to enhance the smoky flavor. I haven’t yet asked a server if the cook could avoid brushing extra seasoning on, but someday I’ll remember and I’m so curious to hear what the answer will be!

Here’s why we bother avoiding MSG:

MSG is a hazard because it is an excitotoxin that disrupts normal brain function, can hurt fertility and increases risk for major neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Immediate ill effects like headaches, tingling, weakness, or nausea can be seen in both children and adults.

The worst part about avoiding it is how many unassuming names it hides under – worth taking a look at this list to attempt to memorize as you read labels.

And now there’s a question about whether MSG shows up naturally in protein-rich foods like beef, chicken…and homemade bone broth.

So Is There MSG in your Meat?

roast chicken with vegetables

Sausage and seasoned meat patties are a major place to watch for MSG in the ingredients, and it’s often still listed in the ingredients there as plain old “monosodium glutamate” instead of one of its many pseudonyms. But regular meat like chicken and beefwithout any additives – also registers high in glutamic acid, the protein component of MSG, as do eggs and milk.

What’s the deal with that?

I started looking into this subject after I read this post that seemed to say that for anyone with a damaged gut, bone broth could be dangerous. What??? I was always under the impression that good, homemade bone broth was actually healing to the lining of the gut.

Homemade Gelatin Cubes with Real Fruit like DIY gummies for kids

In the comments of that post, powdered gelatin (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!) is brought into question as well, so I dug into the research to share it with you all, since I know it’s awesome to be able to add extra collagen to your soups, smoothies and coffee and make homemade gelatin snacks too.

Is Natural Glutamic Acid the Same as MSG?

Bowl of chicken bone broth nourishing and delicious

No. There is a difference between glutamic acid, also called glutamate, and monosodium glutamate. Glutamic acid is an amino acid that helps the body synthesize protein. It’s classified as “conditionally essential,” meaning that the body can make it under ideal conditions, but most people need to consume it as well, especially if your body is sick or weakened in any way.

In nature,

glutamic acid is bound up as part of the protein and typically only released as free glutamate when a healthy body makes it happen.

In processed foods,

free glutamate is often added via ingredients like yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein and more.

Our body has glutamate receptors, lots of them, because glutamate is an important neurotransmitter, involved in key functions like learning and memory. When the body is in control of how much glutamate is flying around, all is well. But MSG adds additional glutamate that the body hasn’t processed; it just has to deal with it as it bombards all those receptors. (But you know, no big deal if we add a bunch of MSG to kids’ foods and feed it to them at school…not important…)

In healthy bodies, glutamic acid is normal, necessary, and doesn’t act like MSG in the body. Unfortunately, in unhealthy individuals, problems may arise:

The problem develops when glutamine gets past the blood brain barrier and is metabolized to glutamate. In healthy individuals this does not happen willy nilly but is tightly controlled by the body. Glutamine is supposed to convert as needed to either glutamate, which can excite neurons, or to GABA, which has a calming effect. Both are needed by the body and brain. The glutamine found naturally in healthy foods such as homemade bone broth should not be a problem, but all bets are off if MSG in the diet has led to glutamate build up and brain damage due to excitotoxicity. –Dr. Kaayla Daniel, co-author of Nourishing Broth: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World

In other words, broth, meat, milk and eggs shouldn’t be a problem for those with a healthy gut and brain. So even though there are levels of glutamic acid in normal, whole foods, for most of us, they are actually something to be celebrated, not feared.

Most sources list levels of glutamic acid in a serving of meat ranging from 4-8g (4-5.5 for beef, more in chicken) in about 3 ounces (~85 g). There are about 22g of protein in a 3-oz. serving of beef, so that makes the percentage of glutamic acid range from 18-22% and possibly up to 27% for chicken. Other sources I read listed both beef and chicken as about 15% glutamic acid. Fish, cheese, eggs and seeds all come in at similar ranges (slightly lower on the whole), but soy is very high – perhaps over 50-75%!

What About Gelatin?

Bone Broth with Serious Gel

Gelatin (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!), the joint-healthy part of bone broth that makes it “gel,” can also be dehydrated and powdered (think Jello mix if you’ve never seen real gelatin, which is very good for you). Because it’s a protein, there is, of course, glutamic acid in it, which is what Monica Corrado, author of Cooking Techniques for the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet, was pointing at when she penned The Dark Side of Bone Broth. The longer your broth is cooked, the more gelatin it may have, and therefore the more potential glutamic acid.

She’s saying that people with compromised blood-brain barriers, with “nervous system disorders such as ADD, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorders,” should not drink bone broth (or by extension perhaps eat gelatin) because of the potential for a reaction to glutamate.

Again, this is not usually a problem with a healthy gut and brain.

Is gelatin a problem for others?

Perfect Supplements collagen

The level of glutamic acid in collagen peptides is around 2,200 mg per ~18g of protein – about 12-13% of the protein is in the form of glutamic acid.

Compared to beef, chicken, fish, eggs and cheese – that’s about average or below average.

Collagen (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!), by the way, is what happens when you boil your homemade stock too long and you lose the “gel,” not because the health benefits are gone, but simply because it’s broken down a bit into something with less sturdy substance – collagen. So according to Corrado, long-cooked bone broth is the worst offender when it comes to higher levels of glutamic acid, which is why I compared collagen.

It is true that certain high-risk individuals may react with an MSG-sensitivity-esque response to gelatin or collagen – they would respond the same way to homemade bone broth, beef, chicken or fish as well if it’s a reaction to glutamic acid being shuffled around and becoming too much glutamate. Even the bound glutamic acid can sneak in and wreak havoc if your blood-brain barrier is losing its integrity.

For those people, a short cook-time on a meat broth, not a bone broth, is warranted. (More info on that in Corrado’s book, Cooking Techniques for the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet.) And if you react poorly to meat and stock, don’t buy gelatin or collagen. It’s unclear exactly how MSG sensitivity works, but it’s likely that foods high in glutamic acid (while harmless and actually helpful for many people), mimic the MSG enough to mimic symptoms.

It’s something to watch for if your gut/brain is severely damaged.

For most of us, we can read these facts and move on with our lives:

“Ok, great. Beef and chicken have glutamic acid. It’s not in its free form, which I should still watch out for in processed foods, and it’s in homemade bone broth and gelatin too.”

Check. Got it.

Now if you DO need to avoid glutamic acid in foods…

The New Secret About How to Make Bone Broth Safely

If this is a concern to you, a few simple changes to making homemade chicken stock:

Please pass this post on to anyone who might need it!

And if you need convincing that chicken stock really is as simple to make as it sounds watch my kids do it!

The Truth About MSG in your Homemade Bone Broth

Sources:

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

26 thoughts on “Is There MSG in your HOMEMADE Soup??”

  1. You wrote, “In nature,
    glutamic acid is bound up as part of the protein and only released as free glutamate when a healthy body makes it happen.”

    This is not true. There is a ton of natural foods with free glutamate in it. oysters, wheat/gluten, tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, aged cheeses and peanuts. All have free glutamate. So the notion that all natural glutamate is bound in protein, is false.

    1. Hi Joe,
      Thanks for opening up this conversation. After just a bit of research it sounds like you may be right, but I’m still unclear on totally free glutamate and “free” after the body does some processing. Mushrooms are one of the foods that can add umami flavor to cooking, which is also what MSG does, so I’m not surprised that they may be related.

      I’m going to get this post medically reviewed and beef up my sources — LOL pun intended. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention!
      Best, Katie

  2. So what about bone broth powder (like dr. Axes)? Should we not use it? I thought it was supposed to heal leaky gut?
    So confused!

  3. Thanks for the insightful article! I think this is very important information for people who suffer from migraines. I had theorized that I essentially poisoned myself with collagen supplements after almost a year of controlling my migraines with a pseudo ketogenic/whole foods diet. I took the supplements daily for about a month and I think the glutamate built up and somehow increased my sensitivity. I am still suffering 3 months later. I am trying to reset by eating ketogenic again. Ketone bodies help to promote GABA which balances out the glutamate.

  4. Thanks for writing about this topic Katie. I just saw a video yesterday on NutritionFacts.org (volume 30) about a concern with lead levels in chicken bone broth and it was done on pastured chickens?! I’m recovering from leaky gut and was using bone broth on a regular basis, now I’ll need to rethink it or make some changes you suggested, if I do make it. Reminds me that things are usually never simple or one sided, right!

    1. Whoa, I’m really surprised about the lead, Cherie. 🙁 I wonder how the broth was cooked. I’d heard some urban legends about slow cooker broth having lead problems…and then of course there’s the water you start with (did it have a lead problem to begin with?). So tricky!!!

      1. Yeah, I thought about that too, but the control study took that into account and said it still had several times the concentration of lead then the levels in the water. So, I’m going to email Dr. Axe when I get a chance and see what his response is. I’ll let you Katie know if I get a reply.

        1. Oh, and I was mistaken, the chickens were organic, not pastured. Maybe their water or feed had higher levels to begin with? Needs to be another larger study done.

  5. Thank you for your research and sharing the information. I have to admit though, it all gets overwhelming. Especially when you think your making good diet decisions and then information comes out that it may not be good for you after all. Oh my! 🙂

  6. Sarah Mueller

    My husband can sense MSG in minute quantities and starts to get a migraine WHILE he’s (accidentally) consuming it! He notices it in certain brands of chicken, potato chips, salad dressings (even some “organic” ones), and plenty of other things. It amazes me that it’s legal to use.

  7. Beverly Siek

    I am following this conversation with great interest….hope to read all future posts…. I have tried for maybe 30 years to avoid MSG. It is a proven migraine trigger for me, which is outside this discussion,but anything relating to MSG and nutritional content is of interest to me. I gave up canned soups years ago, salad dressings, and read nutritional labels like crazy….I just appreciate any additional info I see posted on a subject that greatly affects my day to day life. Thank you for your research into this subject!

  8. We are exploring the msg connection to our son’s excitatory movements (hand flapping) right now. Wondering if you’ve ever heard of the REID program? They have a large Facebook group devoted to discussing how a non-glutamate diet is healing their kids’ ASD and complex motor stereotypies (what my son has).

    I think like you say, that glutamic acid in broth and collagen would normally be fine, but for kids where the glutamate/GABA levels are askew in the brain (like research shows they are for autistic children), even these healthy things (bone broth, tomato paste, grapes, etc) can prevent healing and developing a glutamate/GABA balance.

    1. I agree…I have suffered from msg sensitivity most of my life. It started in the 1980s when the food industry started adding msg to food. I cannot even take vitamin supplements because they contain processed corn derivatives like magnesium stearate and citric acid that has an msg effect on my body. Unfortunately all supplements have been processed. When glutamates build up in my body the nerves in my left leg and right foot go numb and feel like they are swelling, then become so painful that I can barely stand on them. Commercial organic meat broths that contain added yeast have an msg effect on my nervous system in addition to concentrated tomato sauces and anything that has been processed. My sister calls me the canary in a coal mine…if I can eat it without a reaction, anyone can eat it.

  9. Maybe I’m a bit dense, but this confused me a little. Homemade soups and chowders have always been the mainstay of family meals for centuries. You have left over meat bones from a main meal (Turkey, say) and you throw them into a pot of water to simmer overnight. So, if I’m understanding this post correctly, there’s msg in my base soup broth from this simmer? How did the msg get into the broth? I have noticed that most of my soups do gel up after having had them for a meal and then pull it out again for leftovers. I add spices and veggies, sometimes noodles, but not bullion cubes or any flavor enhancers. The gel dissipated back into broth when reheated.

    1. Hey Mrs. Reed,
      Basically it’s not actual MSG, but it’s some of the components that make up MSG that are naturally in meat and concentrated in long-cooked bone broth. So the bottom line is – some people are saying that homemade bone broth will act like it has MSG in it, but if your system isn’t sensitive to MSG already, there’s likely no risk and far more benefit from the awesome nutrition in bone broth. If you worry about MSG, you could do a shorter-cooked broth or use more meat with the bones. But don’t stop making homemade soup – it’s good for you! 🙂 Katie

  10. Stacey-Lee Swart

    This article talks about how MSG might not be an unhealthy as we all thought. I think the world freaked out about it without enough research being done. Of course, everything in moderation, no one should be eating spoonfuls of pure MSG!

    http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20151106-is-msg-as-bad-as-its-made-out-to-be

  11. Hey there, thanks for sharing!

    CONFUSED by your statement about MSG in bone broth: So Gaps talks about making meat broth for short periods of time and bone broth for long periods, because the bone broth has too much gelatin for a person on intro to digest and meat broth is easier to digest…so what does that have to do with MSG? Thanks, Nicolè

    1. Nicole,
      I’m not exactly sure myself, but the article here says that short-cooked meat broth has less glutamate and is better for people with damaged guts – and that the GAPS folks approved her site. Gelatin is a protein, so maybe it’s all the same story, just stated differently? I don’t know if that helps at all but I hope so! 🙂 Katie

  12. Great job presenting well-researched facts and presenting them in an unbiased fashion! I really enjoy your blog and am learning so much from you and other real-food enthusiasts.
    So, a question… how do you know if your blood/brain barrier is in trouble?

    1. The million dollar question, I imagine, Valerie! If you have obvious reactions to MSG and/or meat or broth, that would be one signal I suppose. I wonder if anyone with gut issues like IBD, IBS, SIBO etc. should be wary? Or anyone at risk for neuro diseases like Alzheimer’s in the family? That’s one I was wondering myself…

      Thanks for the sweet compliment! 🙂 Katie

  13. Would anything with the “umami” flavor therefore be dangerous, because that flavor comes from glutamates? I am thinking about mushrooms, soy sauce, coconut aminos, etc.

    If your blood brain barrier is compromised, is there no going back? How long does healing take?

    Also, how about pressure cooking? Is that okay, or does it exacerbate the problem?

    1. Really good questions, Julie!!

      I hadn’t thought about that first one…but maybe? And really, remember that they’re not “dangerous” per se, just for people who may react to glutamates. I think!

      From what I understand, the blood-brain barrier is related to gut health, and there are lots of way to help heal the gut. 🙂

      And the gal who wrote “The Dark Side of Bone Broth” was asked about pressure cooking in the comments and basically said that they didn’t do research on that. Either it’s better because it’s short cooked or it’s just the same because there’s still gelatin forming, which is the protein! Always more questions when answers when I start digging into conflicting stuff like this 🙁

    2. I get migraines from MSG and I do react to both gluten-free soy sauce and coconut aminos but I think it is because they are fermented. I have read that fermented foods contain free glutamates. The glutamates in bone broth are not free glutamates, but just glumates I think? I don’t know if I react to bone broth but have been trying to find out more about it before trying because of the glutamates thing.

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