Sneaky Names for MSG: Check Your Labels

The dangers and prevalence of MSG will shock you! This flavor enhancer is linked to a host of health issues, including fibromyalgia (1), obesity (2), fatty liver (3), high insulin and blood sugar (3), high cholesterol (3), liver toxicity (3), metabolic syndrome (4), high blood pressure, disturbance to the gut-brain connection (5), neurological and brain damage (6).

The danger lies in that MSG is almost impossible to avoid.

Why? The reason is twofold:

  1. There are over 40 different ingredients that manufacturers use, that all have MSG.
  2. It is not just a flavor enhancing additive – it is a natural by-product of processing proteins. These MSG by-products are found in many of your favorite organic health foods.

Keep reading to discover how to avoid this insidious poison.

What is MSG?

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, got its reputation as a flavor enhancer extracted from seaweeds in China. In the early 1900’s, the process was perfected in Japan and became commercially available.

In the 1960’s, the phrase “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” was coined by the New England Journal of Medicine. Twenty minutes after eating Chinese food, some sensitive people would experience tingling, numbness, brain fog, chest pressure and pain.

In the 1970’s, researchers found that pharmaceutical MSG would kill brain cells in a laboratory. Shortly thereafter, they realized that commercially available MSG would have the same effect.

MSG is simply the addition of one (mono) sodium molecule to the amino acid glutamic acid, which is found naturally in many foods. When any amino acid builds up in the body, most people have the ability to break it down in the liver without alarm. However, some amino acids, such as glutamic acid (glutamate) and aspartic acid (aspartame or “nutra sweet”), may be more difficult to convert and flush out of the body.

Both glutamate and aspartame cause the nerves to fire, and when they are in excess, the nerves can fire excessively and cause a form of neuro-toxicity.

 

hidden names for msg microwave noodle soup image

Not Just a Flavor Enhancer

By now most of us have heard of MSG’s role as a flavor enhancer. But how does this work? Concentrated free glutamic acid or MSG act as nerve stimulants and will change how the taste buds taste food. A yucky or even a really bad tasting food will taste fantastic when high levels of glutamic acid are introduced as a flavor enhancer.

The insidious nature of MSG is that it may occur whenever a protein is broken down in the body.

When folks are sensitive to MSG, they are reacting to free glutamic acid in the blood. Remember, MSG is made when the free glutamic acid binds with a sodium molecule. Whenever protein is broken down in the body, glutamic acid is freed from a protein (in which it naturally occurs), and you have the potential of free glutamic acid building up in the blood and a possible toxic MSG reaction.

 

MSG Reactions: Whole vs. Processed Foods

While this happens naturally when ingesting protein-rich whole foods like grains, meats, dairy, and even vegetables, the glutamic acid is released in concert with many other amino acids, rather than in high concentrations on its own. As a result, unadulterated whole-food-based proteins do not cause a toxic MSG reaction in the body (7).

On the other hand, many processed foods – including organic health foods – contain processed proteins that harbor free glutamic acids.

The FDA does not require manufacturers to label these foods MSG unless the “added ingredient” is 99% pure MSG.

If MSG is produced as a result of protein hydrolysis or a byproduct of protein processing, the FDA does not require MSG to appear on the label.

Moreover, a product labeled “No MSG” may still have MSG or free glutamic acid as a result of protein processing, as long as pure MSG was not added.

The truth is that protein-hydrolysis-based glutamates or MSG are found in just about every highly processed food. Even vegetable proteins are hydrolyzed to make veggies burgers and many other frozen or pre-prepared vegan and “health foods.”

When purchasing processed health foods, look for these common ingredients loaded with MSG that do not require an MSG listing on the label:

o  Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
o  Textured Vegetable Protein
o  Yeast Extract

 

hidden names msg whole food proteins image
Unadulterated whole-food based proteins do not cause a toxic MSG reaction in the body.

The Bottom Line

  1. MSG or free glutamates as a flavor enhancer is found in highly processed foods, usually under an alias to make it impossible to know for sure what you are eating. Refer to the list below for the many hidden names of MSG.
  2. MSG or free glutamic acid is also found in many health foods as result of vegetable protein breakdown or hydrolysis. These MSGs or free glutamic acids are not added into food as a flavor enhancer but exist in varying quantities in many foods as a result of protein breakdown.
  3. Some folks break down glutamates better than others, so when it comes to glutamates as a result of protein breakdown, this is a highly individualized issue.However, MSG as a flavor enhancer should simply be avoided.

 

Hidden names for MSG and free glutamic acid:

Names of ingredients that always contain processed free glutamic acid (7):

  • Glutamic Acid (E 620)2
  • Glutamate (E 620)
  • Monosodium Glutamate (E 621)
  • Monopotassium Glutamate (E 622)
  • Calcium Glutamate (E 623)
  • Monoammonium Glutamate (E 624)
  • Magnesium Glutamate (E 625)
  • Natrium Glutamate
  • Yeast Extract
  • Anything hydrolyzed
  • Any hydrolyzed protein
  • Calcium Caseinate
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Yeast Food
  • Yeast Nutrient
  • Autolyzed Yeast
  • Gelatin
  • Textured Protein
  • Soy Protein
  • Soy Protein Concentrate
  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Whey Protein
  • Whey Protein Concentrate
  • Whey Protein Isolate
  • Anything: protein
  • Vetsin
  • Ajinomoto

 

Names of ingredients that often contain or produce processed free glutamic acid (7):

  • Carrageenan (E 407)
  • Bouillon and broth
  • Stock
  • Any flavors or flavoring
  • Maltodextrin
  • Citric acid, Citrate (E 330)
  • Anything ultra-pasteurized
  • Barley malt
  • Pectin (E 440)
  • Protease
  • Anything enzyme modified
  • Anything containing enzymes
  • Malt extract
  • Soy sauce
  • Soy sauce extract
  • Anything protein fortified
  • Anything fermented
  • Seasonings

Glutamic acid found in unadulterated “whole food” protein does not cause adverse reactions. To cause adverse reactions, the glutamic acid must have been processed/manufactured or come from protein that has been fermented (1).

 

The following are ingredients suspected of containing or creating sufficient processed free glutamic acid to serve as MSG-reaction triggers in HIGHLY SENSITIVE people (7):

  • Corn starch
  • Corn syrup
  • Modified food starch
  • Lipolyzed butter fat
  • Dextrose
  • Rice syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Milk powder
  • Reduced fat milk (skim; 1%; 2%)
  • Most things labeled Low Fat or No Fat
  • Anything labeled Enriched
  • Anything labeled Vitamin Enriched

 

hidden names msg woman holding dietary supplements image
Unfortunately, many protein powders contain processed free glutamic acid.

Protein Powders: Be Selective

Unfortunately, many protein powders contain forms of soy and whey protein, as listed above, that will always contain processed free glutamic acid. Since free glutamic acids are a product of processing proteins, it can be tricky to find a protein powder that does not potentially contain them. The key is the amount or concentration of these glutamates in each product, as well as gauging your own personal level of sensitivity and ability to break them down, that becomes the issue.

 

Don’t Stress – Just Eat Whole Foods!

A list so long can be overwhelming, and can provoke the feeling of, what is there left to eat? When trying to avoid MSG, the main focus should be on a diet of whole, unprocessed foods including vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds, organic and grass-fed meats, and organic dairy. Make sure your proteins are clean, preferably organic and grass-fed, and cook them at home or enjoy them at a restaurant whose practices you support, rather than eating excess processed foods.

After looking at the above list a few times, you’ll get the hang of which kind of ingredient names connote MSG, and easily avoid them. As Jack Lalanne advised, Don’t eat anything with a wrapper! And if you can’t do that, try to avoid processed foods with more than five whole-food ingredients.

References

References: 1. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2012 Jul 4. Epub 2012 Jul 4. PMID: 22766026 2. Br J Nutr. 2011 Mar 24:1-10. Epub 2011 Mar 24. PMID: 21429276 3. J Lipid Res. 2009 Aug;50(8):1521-37. Epub 2008 Nov 11. PMID: 19001666 4. Eur J Pharmacol. 2011 Jul 15;662(1-3):1-8. Epub 2011 May 1. PMID: 5. Digestion. 2011;83 Suppl 1:37-43. Epub 2011 Mar 10. PMID: 21389727 6. Acta Neurol Scand. 2010 Feb;121(2):120-6. Epub 2009 Oct 5. PMID: 19804473 7. http://www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources.html

Comments

  1. Eric says

    i take whey protein isolate and never have the same reaction when consuming monosodium glutamate. If fact I feel pretty good taking whey protein as opposed to MSG that makes me feel fatigued and sickly. Are you sure whey protein has MSG?

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Eric,
      Yes, MSG is commonly sneaked into whey protein formulas. There are brands out there without it though, so you may have found a good brand without it.
      John

  2. kathleen stagney says

    First, thank you for providing this information. It was a surprise to see that even ORGANIC foods can have MSG or derivatives. Please keep spreading the word about these toxins which SEEM to pervade our food. Is there any other source that will give information about the harmful additives (chemical or other ) ,commonly put in our foods ? Also, are there other sources for the lists of “safe names ” used for these toxins ? Thank you for your time and research. We need more education about this.

  3. Ishmael Yusuf says

    Hi John,

    One of the best articles on this topic I have ever read. Many people out there are suffering and they can’t seem to explain the cause of their symptoms. For example people who moved from African to America and are now eating foods that are alien to them. Your information here helps so many even though you may not see it apparent. Thank you very much for sharing such details.

    MSG is now all too clear in my understanding.

    Many thanks and shukrans,

    Ishmael

  4. Joni says

    Thank you for the information very easy to understand. I found this site when I was trying to find out what the different names for MSG were. Just recently I found a article on what different effects MSG can have on a body and several things are things that I am experiencing like Restless leg syndrome, insomnia, fatigue, fibromygia just to name a few. So I have been trying to avoid foods with high MSG and its helped drastically this info from your site will make it easier to identify msg Thank you

  5. andrew trainer says

    Thanks for this information. I got exactly what I came to look for. A better awareness of how to avoid this stuff among so many safe names used to disguise it. Thanks.

  6. Eric says

    It is a lie that MSG has been linked to any disease. The scientific community has scrutinized it closely for years since the panic first started trending. Before believing people who literally make their living by lying about things to try to scare you so you will by their snake oil, do a quick search of the scientific literature.

    Check out this very easy to understand video about MSG:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLxxnk5MI74

    It isn’t linked to any disease people, don’t believe this snake oil salesman.

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Eric,
      Thanks for the link. Interesting that in the video link you provided, MSG is compared to aspartame which is another product that has some very scary research behind it as well as plenty of studies saying that it is safe.
      For every study saying that a product is unsafe, there is another one stating the opposite. As consumers, we just have to make a choice and decide who we want to trust and what type of food we want to eat.

    • Jaime McMullin says

      Hmmmm, either you are living with blinders on or someone is paying you to write comments like these. Look around, people are sick, very very sick. The rates of disease is exploding leaving doctors scratching their heads wondering why. Now compare the rates of disease with putting additives in our foods along with pesticides and gmos and no one has to wonder any longer!
      You say this guy is selling snake oil? Really? Everyone needs to make a living but are you really going to defend a billion dollar industry that stands to lose millions from people simply becoming aware and changing their diets? Then try to shut down a small guy who doesn’t stand to make a whole lot by writing an article on how we should cut chemicals out of our diet?
      By the way, it is a common and well known practice among scientists that you give rats msg to make them fat in order to study weight loss drugs, obesity and such.

  7. lin says

    What about the whole foods that contain natural msg such as tomatoes and grapes? If you avoid those foods too you end up eating nothing. I’m very sensitive to msg but when I eat food containing hydrolyzed vegetable oil I don’t notice a reaction but now after reading this article I’m only going to walk away with anxiety because majority of foods in the grocery store contain one or more of these ingredients & you have to eat to survive! Nuts for a fact can be life threatening for some people and for me I couldn’t eat food containing stock or broth but food containing ANY flavours or flavourings then how do you even eat ice cream???

    • lin says

      I read somewhere that our bodies need glutamic acid (amino acid). I’m not a fan of msg because of the deception that comes along with it. You could be eating rotten food but the msg will make it taste good. I’ve also had personal negative health experiences while eating food with msg which has actually made me terrified of all proteins because they could be potential allergens. However, I still try to be reasonable because the body is made up of proteins and they are necessary for survival. My question is is natural msg really as harmful as manufactured msg & does concentration matter, for example liquid broths might have a higher concentration & therefore a worse effect than solid potato chips?

      • John Douillard says

        Hi Lin,
        There are potential issues when glutamic acid is isolated from other amino acids as they can convert into MSG. Plus, any form of MSG can be an irritant to the gut and is best to avoid particularly if you have a sensitive digestion.

  8. Moonyean Fairley says

    I have been unable to find organic milk and milk products that are not ultra pasteurized. I do not understand the connection with msg except that maybe something in the processing that makes them undesirable. I certainly can see that ultra pasteurization destroys anything that is good in the milk. Now I have to decide which is better non organic milk or organic milk that is ultra pasteurized.

    Thank you so much for all your hard work to compile this information.

    Moonyean

  9. tru leigh says

    I have Restless Leg Syndrome. Most of the time it’s only mildly annoying and doesn’t bother me much. One night I made some Spanish Rice I got from the dollar store. I noticed the first ingredient was MSG. That night I woke up feeling like my legs were on fire. I don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to figure out the connection.

  10. Melanie says

    I can always taste msg… even when it isn’t recognizable on the label. It produces a burning sensation in my mouth and throat after a few bites if the food that contains it. Doritos do it to me badly. Last night we had brats – which said they were msg-free. I got that burning sensation, and my aunt mentioned that they disguise msg under other names, which I had no clue about. That’s when I found your article. Thank you for the valuable information!

  11. Melanie says

    I can always taste msg… even when it isn’t recognizable on the label. It produces a burning sensation in my mouth and throat after a few bites of the food that contains it. Doritos do it to me badly. Last night we had brats – which said they were msg-free. I got that burning sensation, and my aunt mentioned that they disguise msg under other names, which I had no clue about. That’s when I found your article. Thank you for the valuable information!

  12. sue says

    One of the most important health issues you didn’t state regarding MSG is that it is a major contributor to atrial fibrillation (a-fib) a considerable heart arrhythmia. Thank you for your article and the list of MSG’s hidden names. I was familiar with many but surprised at many others. We also need to be aware of the signals our body does give us when we eat something it doesn’t like, especially in our children. Thank you again.

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