MSG, by any other name

 

So, hopefully you’ve read our artificial ingredients primer, Ranch Revolution. It covered most of the fairly nefarious artificial ingredients and additives you find in processed food pretty well.

I’ve said before and will again that most of the health and dietary issues folks are saddled with come from these ingredients, way more so than gluten. If one did actually become gluten intolerant, I’d think of these as the gateway ingredients that make it possible. So many of these things negatively impact the GI tract, it’s no surprise that such maladies abound.

One of the most pervasive additives out there is MSG, MonoSodium Glutamate. In that referenced article, I noted the following:

“Onward; next we get ‘natural flavor (Soy)’. Sounds pretty harmless, right? No such luck. Manufacturers these days are acutely aware that a whole bunch of us don’t want Monosodium Glutamate, (MSG), in our food. Even if they say ‘No MSG’ on the label, they well may be lying to us flat out. Why? Because MSG is cheap, and very effective at adding umami taste, that mysterious savory note. Unfortunately, MSG just ain’t good for ya. Side effects can include burning sensations, weakness of the limbs, headaches, upset stomach, and hives or other allergic reactions. Ingredients labeled like the one we found here, as well as ‘yeast extract,’ or ‘hydrolyzed soy protein,’ are nothing more than MSG in disguise. And there’s another example of things the FDA lets manufacturers get away with that they maybe shouldn’t.”

My revisit comes as a result of my encountering yet another pseudonym for MSG recently, AKA the ubiquitous ‘Soy Protein’ moniker. I found this at a restaurant that offers a very comprehensive ingredient and additive list to customers. What caught my eye is that this list had a line for MSG, (and none of their stuff had that box checked), yet many did have Soy Protein as an ingredient; so, why is that an issue? Because Soy Protein is one of the many potential pseudonyms for MSG. Take a look at this chart from truth in labeling. It’s interesting to note that this page states that “everyone knows that some people react to the food ingredient Monosodium glutamate;” frankly, I don’t think that’s true, but read on…

All this prompted me to dive a bit deeper into MSG. As I noted above, MSG is famous for adding the Umami taste, the je ne sais quoi savory flavor that us humans dig big time, (I admit, however, I am not one of them; I can taste it and I don’t like it – it has a cloying metallic quality I find most unsavory indeed.) It was and is used in many Americanized versions of Far Eastern cuisines. On the other hand, it’s also accused of contributing to many maladies, so that’s where I started delving deeper.

Probably the best synopsis came from the Mayo Clinic. Their info regarding the deleterious effects of MSG pretty much mirrored those I wrote of, but their article included one vital word I did not; anecdotal. Meaning, of course, that MSG was accused but not proven to have caused or contributed to these ills. The article went on to note that research had been unable to definitely tie additive to malady.

Then I found this piece by Rachel Feltman in the Washington Post. Feltman, for the record, has a B.S. In environmental science and an MA in science reporting from NYU, and has also written for Popular Mechanics, Quartz and Scientific American, (AKA, she ain’t no hack journalist.) Feltman notes the natural root of MSG, (first derived from seaweed in Japan decades ago), and that its many glutamate cousins are predominantly naturally derived as well.

Back to that Soy Protein I found; look up this ingredient and you’ll find a broad school that touts its health benefits, including the Journal of the American Heart Asociation, which noted, “increasing evidence that consumption of soy protein in place of animal protein lowers blood cholesterol levels and may provide other cardiovascular benefits.”

Conversely, there are plenty of sites who label this stuff dangerous, but in all fairness, they generally tend to be poorly researched and lacking definitive sources for their claims. Fact is, when it comes to the science of food, proof matters more than the claim.

So there you have it. Rather than adding anything definitive to the debate, my further research generated more uncertainty.

I maintain, however, that my overarching premise regarding artificial ingredients and food additives remains sound. The fact is, there are far too many processed foods with far too much of this stuff in it. In all likelihood, MSG in moderation is probably fine. The key word, of course, is moderation; if a significant percentage of what you eat is processed food, I’ll bet you dimes to dollars that you’re getting way too much of a bunch of things that are not good for you in such volumes.

You always have been and always will be much better off using fresh, local, basic ingredients without additives of any kind, and making as much of your food as you can from scratch, at home. From granola to mustard, and mayo to tomato sauce, you’ll eat better and feel better. There’s really no debate about that.