What Is MSG?
Monosodium glutamate is a chemical compound that was first touted as a flavor enhancer by food manufacturers. Although many people think of it as being used in Chinese restaurants it is actually added to many processed foods. Many people have an allergy to MSG and must read labels very carefully, but some manufacturers have begun to hide MSG within other ingredients. Therefore an ingredient such as “yeast extract” may in fact contain MSG without MSG actually being listed on the label.
To a true vegan, MSG is one of the worst food additives on the market because it is used so prolifically in canned soups, crackers, salad dressings, frozen dinners and many other processed foods, restaurant meals, school lunch menus and baby formula.
Which Foods Contain MSG?
Many processed foods such as bouillon cubes or seasoning packets contain MSG and should be strictly avoided by those who have an allergy to or wish to avoid MSG. Foods labeled “low sodium” can also be suspect. Seasoning salts, gravy mixes, broth mixes, onion soup mixes, Italian foods, canned soups and any item with soy protein, casein, wheat gluten, malted barley and non fat powdered milk should be avoided unless specifically stating that they do not contain MSG.
Why Avoid MSG?
Dr. Russell Blaylock, a board-certified neurosurgeon and author of “Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills,” may have said it best when he warned his readers of the dangers of MSG. He explains in his book that MSG is an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain damage to varying degrees, potentially triggering or worsening problems with brain function.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration labeled MSG as “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or (GRAS), less than 10 years later a condition known as “Chinese restaurant syndrome” entered into the public’s awareness. Chinese restaurant syndrome is a collection of symptoms some people have after eating Chinese food with MSG.
No one knows for sure just how many people may be allergic or sensitive to damages from MSG. Sensitivity to MSG could be linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and more. Studies from the 1970s suggest 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. population was sensitive or “intolerant” to MSG, at levels found in food. Since that time it has been estimated that number has grown to up to 40 percent of the population. Many popular vegan websites have reported that MSG is worse for your health than alcohol or nicotine.
Although MSG causes sensitivity in many people, vegans can take heart that there are new strides being made in truth in labeling and also many new products being introduced that are both safe and delicious. A good substitute to get the “savory” flavor found in most seasoning packets is using regular natural ingredients such as salt, sugar, pepper or mushrooms as flavor enhancers. As awareness grows, more avenues are opening up for those looking for products that are MSG-free.