Although armed with high-level adaptability, the human body can react adversely to several substances. Certain food sensitivities and intolerance trigger health complaints and cause discomfort to some individuals. A particular example is monosodium glutamate (MSG), a commonly used flavor enhancer that provides the umami or savory taste in food. If you are sensitive to this ingredient, here are foods with MSG that you must avoid.
Before we cut to the chase, let’s first discuss the safety of MSG usage. This flavoring agent is classified as generally safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, s been reported to cause adverse reactions in sensitive individuals. For this reason, when MSG is added to food products, the FDA mandates to have it indicated on the label.
Countless testimonials and several warnings from medical experts link MSG to complaints such as skin flushing, sweating, headache, facial tightness, nausea, heart palpitations, tingling sensations in various parts of the body, chest pain, numbness in the mouth or throat, and fatigue. However, according to registered dietician Katherine Zeratsky, there’s inadequate definitive evidence that these symptoms are directly caused by MSG. Still, researchers recognize that some people may have short-term adverse reactions to MSG consumption.
The symptoms discussed are often not a cause of worry, as they are likely to dissipate without medical treatment within several hours or a couple of days. If you wish to prevent a reaction, the only solution is reducing your intake of foods containing MSG. Janet Renee, a clinical dietician and health writer emphasizes the importance of reading product labels and being keen on checking lists of ingredients.
Although some products do not have MSG listed on their labels, it’s not guaranteed that you won’t experience symptoms as some components create free glutamic acid through processing, cooking, or fermenting.
Dr. Stephen Atkins, a specialist in integrative medicine reports that free glutamic acid is the substance that triggers reactions in MSG-sensitive people. However, manufacturing is the perpetrator of the formation of free glutamic acid and when consumed in small amounts through unfermented or unprocessed food, it doesn’t cause any affliction. It’s therefore important to also educate yourself on food ingredients that produce free glutamic acid so you won’t be fooled by labels stating that a product is MSG-free.
Without further ado, let’s move on to a list of food items that commonly contain MSG.
Chinese dishes are probably the most well-known food in which MSG is added. This is because Chinese delicacies are often flavored using soy sauce and thickened using cornstarch—both contain MSG. In fact, in the 1960s, the term “Chinese restaurant syndrome” is coined to pertain to MSG symptom complex. This controversy compelled many restaurants to advertise that they do not use MSG in cooking.
Although more commonly associated with Chinese restaurants, most fast-food joints serve meals that contain MSG. This is especially true in fried goods such as fried chicken, chicken nuggets, French fries, onion rings, burgers, and the like. It’s even used as a seasoning in most sauces, dips, gravies, and soups. Some dine-in restaurants also use MSG to enhance the flavor of their dishes. It’s suggested that you inquire about the MSG content when you order. It’s also good to lessen your frequency of eating out and enjoy home-cooked meals more as this allows you to know each ingredient that goes into your food.
Packaged and processed goods are often flavored with MSG. These include potato chips, cured and smoked meats, packaged salad dressings, salty snacks, powdered soup mixes, bouillon cubes, instant noodles, fermented condiments, milk powder—probably anything processed. It’s advised that you carefully check food labels for suspect ingredients that may have different names but generally signal MSG.
Hidden Sources of MSG
According to Ashley Koff, an expert in nutrition and dietetics, some ingredients that indicate MSG content include protein substances such as autolyzed plant protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured protein, whey protein isolate, soy protein, and soy protein isolate or concentrate. Yeast ingredients like yeast extract, yeast food, and autolyzed yeast also either contain or create MSG. Other terms you have to be wary of are glutamate, glutamic acid, and monopotassium glutamate.
Food products that are labeled as enriched, protein-enriched, vitamin-enriched, enzyme-modified, protein modified, and ultra-pasteurized also contain MSG. Some isolated compounds of casein such as calcium caseinate and sodium caseinate surely indicate high MSG amounts. Flavorings, seasonings, and additives such as caramel flavoring and coloring, carrageenan, broth, stock, flowing agents, citric acid, gelatin, corn syrup, pectin, malt extract, barley malt, and dough conditioners have MSG as well. Thickening agents such as gum and cornstarch also contain MSG. The same can be said with any fermented items including annatto and soy sauce. As for dairy products that have MSG, these include lipolysis butterfat, aged cheeses, and dry milk solids.
Many whole foods also contain MSG. However, it’s rare to have reactions from consuming unprocessed food items as the MSG content is usually minute and insignificant. For instance, fresh pork contains 10 milligrams of MSG while ham has over 330 milligrams. Various fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, meats, and seafood has MSG as well. However, it’s not good to cut these food groups from your diet unless medically recommended as these provide essential nutrients to the body.
Treatment for MSG Symptom Complex
As explained previously, symptoms of MSG sensitivity are often mild and don’t require medical attention. Over-the-counter pain medication eases headaches. Drinking lots of water also help expel MSG from your system and shorten recovery time.
However, when you have to consult a doctor if you experience severe symptoms. Prescription drugs such as antihistamine relieve more serious complaints such as swelling of the mouth or throat, difficulty breathing, or heart palpitations.
If your symptoms are tolerable, you won’t be required to stop eating food products that you like. You can reduce and prevent reactions by consuming foods that contain MSG in small quantities or portions. It’s also good to consult a professional nutritionist to help you plan a well-balanced diet that won’t leave you feeling deprived.