Monosodium glutamate (MSG) isn’t just found in low quality Chinese food, it’s actually a common way to create that umami flavor cheaply in many convenience and processed foods. In fact, it’s been used to enhance the flavor of foods for over 100 years.
First invented by the Japanese biochemist Kikunae Ikeda in 1908, it was produced by a bacterial fermentation process similar to the production of yogurt. According to the FDA, it’s been deemed safe.
“FDA considers the addition of MSG to foods to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Although many people identify themselves as sensitive to MSG, in studies with such individuals given MSG or a placebo, scientists have not been able to consistently trigger reactions.”
But even still, many people report sensitivities, most commonly headaches, chest pain, facial numbness, sweating, and swelling.
MSG doesn’t have any flavor on its own but when added to foods it blends and balances flavor. It adds a salty component with much less sodium. Many of the foods that contain MSG may surprise you. Here are some foods that you should look out for at the grocery store and in chain restaurants:
2. KFC Fried Chicken
4. Hidden Valley Ranch
7. Boars Head Cold Cuts
8. Parmesan Cheese
10. Protein Powders
13. Potato Chips
Notice if you’ve had any of the reactions above and if so, read food ingredient labels and begin to avoid MSG, which is most commonly found in processed foods. But MSG can also occur naturally in foods.
According to the FDA:
MSG occurs naturally in ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and protein isolate, as well as in tomatoes and cheeses. While FDA requires that these products be listed on the ingredient panel, the agency does not require the label to also specify that they naturally contain MSG. However, foods with any ingredient that naturally contains MSG cannot claim “No MSG” or “No added MSG” on their packaging. MSG also cannot be listed as “spices and flavoring.”
So if you were wondering why you might still be having a reaction to MSG, even though you seemed to have cut it out, this is why.
[Editor's Note: If you want to eliminate unhealthy ingredients and chemical additives from your diet for good, click here to sign up for a Naturally Savvy Get Healthy Challenge.]
Image: Becky Stern