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MSG and Food Additives

Updated on November 29, 2016
Allergy foods
Allergy foods | Source
Textured_vegetable_protein  a source of MSG
Textured_vegetable_protein a source of MSG | Source

Is your food poisoning you?

If you had a chance to compare the foods you buy to the foods your grandparents bought you might be in for a surprise. It was not very long ago when we all were buying foods in their natural state and did the processing in our own kitchens.

The entire reason that we have regional cuisines in the world is that food processing did not even exist until about the middle of the 19th century. Regional specialties like Southern cooking or a New England clam bake depended on the local climate, and what could be grown, hunted, fished and foraged. Now most of our food comes from enormous farms and ranches and before we get it a food company turns it into something easy to prepare. Okay, we still buy some produce, and a few of us still bake but far too many of us exist on a diet that comes out of a box or plastic package.

Allergies and Additives

Therein lies the problem, if you want your kids to avoid food allergies you can start by buying uncontaminated foods. Certainly there are food allergies that have nothing to do with additives and we can all recollect horror stories about some kid, allergic to peanuts who lost his/her life when exposed. For those of us without specific food allergies we still are presented with a long list of toxic substances in the processed foods we buy. Unfortunately for us, we can develop a food allergy at any point in life.

As a professional chef I've always been just a little skeptical of people claiming food allergies. Too many times I've seen someone claiming to be allergic to MSG who still eats food made with autolysed yeast, that's MSG by another name. Nevertheless in foodservice I had to stay current with what items caused allergies and I had to make sure none of them crept into my menu. The simplest and perhaps the only way to reach this goal was to avoid processed foods, anything that came in boxes, plastic tubs and jars. Whether organizing a restaurant kitchen or buying for your own home, it is very difficult to avoid processed foods. Do you make your own peanut butter? Mayonnaise? Jelly? Maybe salad dressings are all home made in your house, or maybe not. It is impractical at best to avoid all processed foods and not all additives are bad.

All Natural Beaver Butts

This all natural European Beaver might be flavoring your vanilla ice cream
This all natural European Beaver might be flavoring your vanilla ice cream | Source
Castoreum is a secretion from an anal gland in a beaver used in food. Yummy!
Castoreum is a secretion from an anal gland in a beaver used in food. Yummy! | Source

Why do food processors use additives?

Nutrition; turning grains into flours usually means removing the bran and the germ, they very parts of the grain that are the most healthful for us. The food processor wants to tell us that their food is good for us, so they add vitamins and minerals back to replace the ones lost during processing.

Texture; If food were left to its own nature when prepared or cooked it would not necessarily stay creamy, crisp, smooth, well blended, choose whatever adjective you like. Additives to the rescue, manufacturers have a lengthy list of additives to keep their foods in a presentable condition. My pet peeve is ice cream, look at the ingredients of any but the highest premium and you will see that you are eating things like various tree gums , seaweed and even cellulose made from trees.

Flavors may be lost or diminished during preparations and we all want flavorful food. Bring in the flavors and flavors can run a range from secretions from an anal gland in a beaver to simple extracts, sugar and salt. You might see "Castoreum" listed in an ingredient list or you may just see "natural flavors" well. castoreum comes from the exudate from the anal castor sacs of the beaver. Sounds yummy no? This is commonly used invanilla, raspberry and strawberry flavoring, perfumes and cigarettes. It may even help you find another beaver if you are looking for a mate.

Youtube "You can make dirt taste good with MSG"

Soy Sauce is another source of MSG

Wanjashan_Organic_Soy_Sauce | Source

Food Allergies

A food allergy is caused when your immune system mistakenly treats proteins found in certain foods that are harmless to most people as a threat to your health. Then your body releases a number of chemicals which triggers an allergic reaction.

The immune system protects the body by producing specialized proteins called antibodies. Antibodies trigger the release of chemicals to destroy the threatening substance. In the most common type of food allergy the body produces large amounts of histamine (and other chemicals)

"Histamine causes most of the typical symptoms that occur during an allergic reaction.

  • causes small blood vessels to expand and the surrounding skin to swell
  • affects the nerves in the skin, which can cause the skin to feel itchy
  • increases the amount of mucus produced in your nose lining, causing local itching and burning

In most food allergies, the release of histamine is limited to certain parts of the body, such as your mouth, throat or skin.

In anaphylaxis, the immune system goes into overdrive and releases massive amounts of histamine into your blood. This causes the wide range of symptoms associated with anaphylaxis."

Depending on what you are allergic to it may be simple or very complex to avoid that substance. If you are allergic to shrimp it is pretty simple to avoid them, no one is sneaking shrimp into another food. Shrimp are too expensive but you might also need to avoid cross contamination when two foods are cooked in the same fryer etc. In most restaurants the same fryer and the same fat will be used for many different foods.

Harold McGee on MSG

MSG | Source

Food intolerance or sensitivity

How about the many other additives? What do you do if you are allergic to MSG? There are those who swear they are allergic to or have reactions to MSG and there are those who swear there is no allergy to MSG. Allergists have been having a discussion about whether or not MSG is an allergen. An Allergist will tell you there is difference between food allergy and food intolerance or sensitivity . In a food intolerance as opposed to a food allergy, there is no immune response, you won't develop hives and you may not need an antihistamine to survive. If you have a food sensitivity you will still have symptoms. The free glutamic acid in MSG is a neurotransmitter, it causes nerve cells to fire in your mouth and in your brain. This is the very property which allows MSG to add flavor but in sensitive people this response goes awry. In a person with MSG sensitivity, this excess stimulation of the nervous system may still trigger a histamine response, mimicking a true allergy and requiring an antihistamine to quell the response. MSG has been blamed for deadly reactions in some restaurants but the MSG industry has tried to shift the blame to a histamine reaction to another food. The debate continues, but the evidence coming in so far points to MSG being harmless.

The recent Umami fad is evidence that MSG, at least in natural form, is harmless and delicious. According to FDA, we consume 13 grams of glutamic acid in food every day, and it comes to us in one of three ways:

Proteins are long chains of amino acids bound together, and most proteins
contain some glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is found throughout our bodies, where it is crucial to cell metabolism.

Some foods, like Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, seaweed, or soy sauce also contain
“free” glutamic acid.

The third way we tconsume glutamic acid is from MSG — the FDA estimates
that most of us eat a little over a half a gram of it every day. Go ahead and enjoy your Doritos, canned soup, or KFC fried chicken but each of these and many more foods are created with some form of MSG inthe recipe.

Typical symptoms of an MSG sensitivity include numbness on the back of the neck, shoulders and arms; general weakness, heart palpitations, facial pressure, headaches, nausea, chest pain and drowsiness. Plus, MSG sensitivity may produce a secondary histamine response with the symptoms listed earlier.

One thing is certain, if you truly try to avoid MSG in your diet, you will be eating a much healthier diet than most of America. Avoiding processed foods, KFC fried chicken, along with an extensive list of "bad for you foods" is a good idea, regardless of the MSG content.

Marmite is popular in Britain and full of MSG
Marmite is popular in Britain and full of MSG | Source

MSG Trickery

If you are sure you need to avoid MSG you should be aware of this bit of subterfuge by the food manufacturers. There are over 40 food ingredients besides "monosodium glutamate" that contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG) or create MSG during the ingredient’s production. Each, according to the FDA, must be called by its own, unique, "common or usual name." "Autolyzed yeast," "maltodextrin," "sodium caseinate," and "soy sauce" and any soy product like "tofu" or "TVP" are the common names of some ingredients that contain MSG. Manufacturers know that monosodium glutamate has a bad reputation so they give the consumer no clue that there is MSG in the ingredients. Buyer Beware!

As is often the case the FDA has given more consideration to the profit of business than the health of consumers. FDA food website including contact info if you wish to opine about how they are doing

The following table is from

Truth in labeling | Source


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    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 4 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Smiling Man, Glad you stopped by

    • The Smiling Man profile image

      The Smiling Man 4 years ago from USA

      Good stuff chef.

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 4 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Billybuc

      Yep, we're approaching the point where we won't have any food that is not controlled by Monsanto and their ilk

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Such a valuable article. Say the name Monsanto and watch the steam rise from my head.

      Passing this one and sharing...well done!

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 5 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Mperottet

      You're absolutely right. My research into our food supply led me into gardening. The more I learn the worse the information seems to become. Simply put, our food supply is no longer safe.

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I'm a concerned about nanoparticles being placed in our food, and not being regulated. You have to worry about the long term effects of all of this. Well written interesting hub - voted up!

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 5 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Christine

      Yeah we are slowly poisoning ourselves with processed and GMO foods

    • Christine Miranda profile image

      Christine Miranda 5 years ago from My office.

      Great article. So many of today's health problems are due to our overly processed diet. Voted up & more.