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.
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?
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 beef – without 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.
In the comments of that post, powdered 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?
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.
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?
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., 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
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?
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.
, 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:
- Cook for a short time, not long. Under 4 hours.
- Use very meaty bones rather than bare bones.
- Details: Cooking Techniques for the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet
- More details: Nourishing Broth: And Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World
And if you need convincing that chicken stock really is as simple to make as it sounds watch my kids do it!
- American Nutrition Association
- Dr. Kaayla Daniel, PhD
- Wikipedia – glutamic acid
- Wikipedia – monosodium glutamate
- Nutrition Data
- Eden Foods
- Diet and Fitness Today