“No MSG! No MSG!” I can hear the lady next to me in the Chinese restaurant yelling this at her server as she walks away to put in her order.
Why doesn’t this woman want MSG in her food? (and is she stupid enough to think they will leave it out?)
History of MSG
In 1908 a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda discovered that there was a common component that produced the signature flavor of meat, seaweed, and tomatoes. That component was “glutamate”. He, being the curious chemist that he was, isolated the component and was able to reproduce it. He named the taste umami, and being the wise businessman he was, patented the process of producing these glutamates using salt (which is monosodium glutamate or MSG) for mass production. There is no English equivalent for the word umami, but loosely translated it means “holy sh*t that tastes great”! And Mr.Ideka never had to worry about money again.
In the 1930’s and 40’s the FDA (American Food and Drug Administration) was still getting it’s roots established. It wasn’t until 1958 that the clause was added that required additives to show ““proof of a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from the proposed use of an additive.”. There were laws established that prohibited the use of “additives which have not been adequately tested to establish their safety.” But MSG didn’t have to play by those rules, because it was already on the market. It was “grandfathered in” and never was tested for safety as all additives now are.
Monosodium glutamate used to be extracted from seaweed when it was first being produced, but a cheaper and faster way was found: bacteria. Today genetically modified bacteria produce the acids and free glutamates that become MSG.
MSG is added, in some form, to almost every processed food there is in order to enhance the flavor. Restaurants freely use MSG type enhancers in order to keep you coming back to their eatery. MSG “wakes up” your taste buds and tells the brain that what you are eating is “some good stuff”. It has been referred to as “the fifth taste”. (the other four being salt, sour, bitter, and sweet) It’s no wonder that food manufacturers love to add this ingredient to their products. Today, MSG production is a multi-billion dollar industry producing over 300 million pounds of the stuff yearly (that’s not counting the millions of pounds of MSG’s offspring-see below). And as if in our food wasn’t enough, the US EPA just approved a “growth spray” for use on fruits and vegetables which is made up of free glutamates (MSG).
But on the “MSG is Great” website, it says that MSG is made of glutamates, just like the one’s found naturally in tomatoes, meat and mushrooms….
Yeah….. the “MSG is great” website also says that MSG is just like breast milk.
The proponents of MSG use (mostly big money food manufacturers like Heinz and Nestle) will tell you that MSG (as free glutamates) is found naturally in your body and is also found in many foods we eat every day like tomatoes, cheese, and mushrooms. Free glutamates are released when protein is broken down for digestion. What they don’t tell you is that the free glutamates found in foods we eat are bound to other proteins, metabolized, and then chemically identified as L-glutamic acid which can be used by the body in many body systems. But the processed glutamates such as those found in MSG are just a bit different. MSG contains the L-glutamic acid, but it also has with it D-glutamic acid. Both are free glutamates, but not quite the same. Think of L-glutamic acid and D-glutamic acid as a right shoe and a left shoe. They are both shoes, and look identical, but you can’t interchange one with the other (without blisters). L-glutamic acid is used in the body for normal brain function, as the building blocks to many enzymes and also in the intestines. But D-gluatamic acid isn’t recognized, doesn’t have receptors to hook up with, can’t be used, and therefore just builds up in your system. It is this excess glutamic acid that is damaging to the nerve cells. It can also interfere with the normal formation of enzymes that keep your body’s other systems functioning normally.
Also, when the glutamates are manufactured in the lab, there are by-products, and they’re not pretty. They are, among others, pyroglutamic acid, mono and dichloro propanols, and heterocyclic amines. Mono and dichloro propanols and heterocyclic amines are known carcinogens. These come along for the ride in your chop seuy.
What does MSG do?
MSG started to get bad press when people began contacting the FDA about symptoms, and the complaints were so common among Chinese food eaters, it was given the name “Chinese Food Syndrome”. The symptoms include headache, numbness, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and chest pain and usually occurred after eating a meal containing MSG. The name used in most literature today is “MSG symptom complex”.
The proponents of MSG state that:
research is under way to test individuals who believe they have reactions to MSG. This research, which monitors symptoms that range from mild and transitory to more severe, continues to find that most people who believe they adversely respond to MSG do not when evaluated in carefully controlled testing situations.
So they are saying the thousands of people from all over the US, who eat foods that contain MSG and have symptoms….. are just faking it?
Non-biased researchers that study MSG and its offspring (see list below) state there are very good reasons for these symptoms to occur. They label MSG as an excitotoxin. An excitotoxin is a substance that essentially kills nerve cells. High levels of glutamate cause an imbalance in the calcium uptake in the normal cells function. This destroys the cell, and can explain some of the symptoms that sensitive people experience.
Taken from Wikipedia:
The toxicity of glutamate was then observed by D. R. Lucas and J. P. Newhouse in 1957, when the feeding ofmonosodium glutamate to newborn mice destroyed the neurons in the inner layers of the retina. Later, in 1969, John Olney discovered the phenomenon was not restricted to the retina, but occurred throughout the brain, and coined the term excitotoxicity. He also assessed that cell death was restricted to postsynaptic neurons, that glutamateagonists were as neurotoxic as their efficiency to activate glutamate receptors, and that glutamate antagonists could stop the neurotoxicity.
Glutamate agonist = MSG and all it’s offspring.
Luckily, one “glutamate antagonist” we know is curcumin, the spice that is in curry. You can read about all the other benefits of curcumin here. Curcumin can block the uptake of MSG.
Here’s a brief list of the effects it can have on you:
- MSG is affects the dilation of your arteries. That is why sensitive people will get migraines and blood pressure issues either high or low.
- MSG causes an increase in insulin production because of the glutamine receptors in the pancreas, the organ that makes insulin. This can cause problems for diabetics, who have trouble controlling their insulin levels. It also explains the reason why you are hungry 1 hour after eating Chinese food. The insulin causes a drop in your blood sugar and tells your brain to eat. This is also why MSG is linked to obesity.
- The FDA passed a law in 1995 that states food that contain free glutamate must be labeled as such. This was as a result of a study linking MSG to asthma.
- The tiny hairs in your ear react to glutamate receptors in order for your to hear. The overstimulation of these receptors cause ringing in the ear for some.
- MSG as free glutamates have been shown to increase metastatic cancer cell growth and glutamate antagonists (are you paying attention?) like turmeric slow cancer growth
- MSG competes for taurine, an amino acid that makes digestive enzymes. An increase in free glutamates means a decrease in taurine causing, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea.
There are many other systems that are affected by MSG, but I don’t have room to list them all!
Why isn’t it banned?
As noted above, MSG was grandfathered in after the regulation laws were place.
The FDA is sticking by its brand of GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for MSG, but agrees more studies need to be done and recognizes that there are some people who are sensitive to MSG.. Unfortunately non-biased studies need funding and the big food manufacturers have found creative ways around funding for studies and getting the outcomes they want. Money talks and big money screams and threatens.
In the 1970’s baby food manufacturers “voluntarily” agreed to remove MSG from baby food, all the while stating that there is nothing wrong with MSG, and they are just doing what the public wants them to do. However, all they did was remove pure MSG and substitute it with hydrolyzed protein and caseinate, soy extracts and broth – all significant sources of glutamate, as you will read. (I hope)
So if I buy “no MSG” labels I’m OK, right?
Because of all the negative scientific research and the public reports of MSG symptom syndrome, food producers needed to come up with a way to hide MSG. They started making free glutamine products from corn, sugar, wheat and soy. These products contain the same free glutamates as MSG, they just have a nifty new name. A name that no one will recognize as MSG.
While soy is healthy, soy extracts, such as soy protein, soy lecithin, protein isolate, and soy protein concentrate, are not. Once the soy protein is broken down and certain substances are extracted, it is no longer the healthy soy we know that reduces heart disease and prevents certain types of hormonal cancer. Unfortunately, this is the protein of choice in “health foods” that are processed and packaged. Glutamate levels can exceed that of MSG when the soy extracts and isolates are used.
Soy baby formula should be the last choice and used only when your baby is allergic to other formula bases. (Of course, breast is best.)
Free glutamates can also be made from corn, sugar beets, molasses or wheat. You can find them in your food labels as “vegetable protein” or “hydrolyzed protein” or “autolyzed yeast”. These ingredients can sound very harmless, even good for you, (like barley malt), but they are just part of the free glutamine family.
Here’s the list of ingredients to watch for:
These ingredients are known to contain Monosodium Glutamate:
* Autolyzed yeast
* Calcium caseinate
* Glutamic acid
* Hydrolyzed corn gluten
* Hydrolyzed protein
* Monopotassium glutamate
* Monosodium glutamate
* Natrium glutamate
* Sodium caseinate
* Textured protein
* Yeast extract
* Yeast food
* Yeast Nutrient
These ingredients often contain free-glutamates:
* Barley Malt
* Enzymes and enzyme-modified substances
* Fermented substances
* Malt Extract
* Malt flavoring
* Natural flavor/flavorings
* Natural pork/beef/chicken flavoring
* Protease enzymes
* Protein-fortified substances
* Soy protein
* Soy protein isolate or concentrate
* Soy sauce
* Soy sauce extract
* Vegetable gum
* Whey protein
* Whey protein isolate or concentrate
So, you may ask for “no MSG” in your Chinese food, but you may end up with a boatload of hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which is just as bad.
Real food tastes good. You should not have to add any “enhancing agents” to food to make it palatable. Unfortunately in our world today, if we eat a lot of fast food and processed food, our taste buds are conditioned to tasting that umami. In order to provide your body with the best fuel, try to limit processed food. Stick with single ingredients and put them together so you know what you’re eating. Please try some of my recipes!
Just because the FDA tells you a food (or a drug for that matter) is safe, remember, the FDA once stated that lead was safe…and asbestos! Dozens upon dozens of foods and drugs have been removed and recalled because after years of “testing” and after the FDA gave approval, it was discovered that they were wrong. It happens every day. Just ask any lawyer.
Thanks for your time!