Like many food additives, the exact effect that monosodium glutamate — better known as MSG — has on health is unknown. There are some people who have MSG intolerance, and when they eat foods containing it they react with symptoms like headaches, sweating, rashes, irregular heartbeat and shortness of breath. Not everyone has those immediate reactions to MSG.
There are many scientific studies that say MSG is safe (often these studies are paid for by the companies that make MSG), and the USDA says it is “generally recognized as safe.” Yet, for those who have an obvious intolerance to it, it isn’t safe. There are many people who have anecdotal evidence of how MSG caused health problems and how eliminating it from their diet solved the problems.
Anecdotal evidence certainly isn’t the same as scientific proof, but it’s still something to be considered when making decisions about your personal nutrition. A few years back, I wrote about the theory that eating locally produced honey regularly can diminish seasonal allergies. Dozens of people responded that it works for them, even though there’s little scientific evidence.
Do you really need 100 percent scientific proof that MSG (or any other ingredient) causes long-term health problems to want to avoid it? No. If you want to avoid a food additive for any reason, you should be able to.
One common misconception is that MSG is only in Chinese food. It’s not. It’s in many packaged foods – especially soups and dry spice mixes.
Here are some foods that contain MSG that you might not be aware of.
Take a good look at the ingredients on your canned and boxed broths, as well as broth-based soups. I most frequently buy Wegmans organic chicken or beef broth in the box which do not contain MSG, but I happen to have a can of College Inn chicken broth sitting around. One of the ingredients? Monosodium glutamate.
Those really inexpensive, super salty, packages of instant Ramen are full of MSG. You may have already known this one, but I think it’s very important to point out because teens and college students often live off of this packaged food. My son had one package at a friend’s house and came home begging me to buy more. I spent a while trying to create a homemade alternative, but I couldn’t quite get it. We finally compromised with Annie Chun’s Soy Ginger Ramen. It contains no added MSG or preservatives, and while it costs $2 a package instead of the $.20 a package of the other type, it’s absolutely worth it considering how many afternoons my son comes home ravenous from school and makes himself a bowl.
Dry soup and dip mix
Those Lipton Onion Soup Mix or Hidden Valley Ranch packets you keep in the pantry for emergency dip situations contain MSG. Not all brands contain it, though, so read your packaging. Or, better yet, make it yourself.
Chi Chi’s taco seasoning mix contains MSG. McCormick’s does not. Read your labels. Or, take a few minutes and create your own taco seasoning mixture from the spices you already own. I haven’t bought a package of the stuff in years.
Ranch-flavored Doritos and Walmart’s Great Value Sour Cream & Onion Potato Chips are just two packages that contain MSG that I was able to find with a quick search.
Reading the nutrition labels on the back of food packaging – not the marketing labels on the front of food packaging – is essential if you want to know what’s really in your food.
Have you found MSG in an ingredients list of a product that surprised you?
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