Everyone knows that some people have reactions after eating the food ingredient monosodium glutamate — reactions that include migraine headaches, upset stomach, fuzzy thinking, diarrhea, heart irregularities, asthma, and/or mood swings. What many don’t know, is that more than 40 different ingredients contain the chemical in monosodium glutamate — the processed (manufactured) free glutamic acid — that causes these reactions. These ingredients have names like maltodextrin, gelatin, citric acid, and sodium caseinate, that don’t give the consumer a clue to the presence of MSG.
Important to understanding the cause or causes of MSG reactions is the fact that glutamic acid found in whole, unadulterated, unfermented protein does not cause adverse reactions. To cause adverse reactions, the glutamic acid must have been processed/manufactured or come from protein that has been fermented. A whole, ripe (but not overripe), unfermented tomato will not cause an MSG reaction. Neither will fresh mushrooms.
The following lists of common ingredients that contain processed (manufactured) free glutamic acid are your starting point for coping with MSG. The lists have been compiled over the past 20 years from consumers’ reports of adverse reactions and information provided by physicians, manufacturers, and food technologists.
Names of ingredients that always contain processed free glutamic acid:
(E numbers are use in Europe in place of food additive names.)
Glutamic acid (E 620)
Glutamate (E 620)
Monosodium glutamate (E 621)
Monopotassium glutamate (E 622)
Calcium glutamate (E 623)
Monoammonium glutamate (E 624)
Magnesium glutamate (E 625)
Any “hydrolyzed protein”
Soy protein; soy protein concentrate; Soy protein isolate
Whey protein; Whey protein concentrate; Whey protein isolate
Names of ingredients that often contain or produce processed free glutamic acid:
Bouillon and broth
Carrageenan (E 407)
Citrate (E 330)
Citric acid (E330)
Anything “enzyme modified”
Anything containing “enzymes”
Any “flavors” or “flavoring”
Pectin (E 440)
Anything “protein fortified”
Soy sauce extract
Names of ingredients suspected of containing or creating sufficient amounts of processed free glutamic acid to serve as MSG-reaction triggers in highly sensitive people:
Brown rice syrup
Lipolyzed butter fat
most things low fat or no fat
Modified food starch
Reduced fat milk (skim; 1%; 2%)
anything Vitamin enriched
Names of ingredients that work synergistically with MSG to enhance flavor. If they are present for flavoring, so is MSG.
Disodium 5’-guanylate (E 627)
Disodium 5’-inosinate (E-631)
Disodium 5′-ribonucleotides (E 635)
To print this information
A neat, printable table listing the common ingredients known to trigger MSG reactions can be downloaded from www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources_printable.pdf.
Reminder. These are some of the places where MSG resides
Low fat and no fat milk products often contain milk solids that contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG), and many dairy products contain carrageenan, guar gum, and/or locust bean gum. Low fat and no fat versions of ice cream and cheese may not be as obvious as yogurt, milk, cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, etc., but they are not exceptions.
Protein powders contain glutamic acid, which, invariably, will be processed free glutamic acid (MSG). Individual amino acids are not always listed on labels of protein powders.
At present there is an FDA requirement to include the protein source when listing hydrolyzed protein products on labels of processed foods. Examples are hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein, hydrolyzed pea protein, hydrolyzed whey protein, hydrolyzed, corn protein. If a tomato, for example, were whole, it would be identified as a tomato. Calling an ingredient tomato protein indicates that the tomato has been hydrolyzed, at least in part, and that processed free glutamic acid (MSG) is present.
There is a growing trend toward labeling a product “No MSG”, “No Added MSG”, or “No MSG Added” when the product actually contains processed free glutamic acid (MSG). Any product labeled in this way should be approached with caution.
Food and fertilizer/pesticide products labeled “organic” are not necessarily free of processed free glutamic acid (MSG). We have recently seen organic maltodextrin, organic soy sauce, flavoring, and yeast extract in Wolfgang Puck Organic Soup; corn starch and citric acid in Muir Glen Organic Classic Minestrone (labeled “No MSG”); and organic corn starch, flavors, organic chicken broth concentrate, organic soy sauce powder, organic corn maltodextrin, yeast extract, flavoring, and organic flavor in Organic Imagine Chicken & Wild Rice Soup.
Disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate are relatively expensive food additives that work synergistically with inexpensive MSG. Their use suggests that the product has MSG in it. They would probably not be used as food additives if there were no MSG present.
MSG reactions have been reported from soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners, and cosmetics, where MSG is hidden in ingredients with names that include the words “hydrolyzed,” “amino acids,” and/or “protein.” Most sun block creams and insect repellents also contain MSG.
Drinks, candy, and chewing gum are potential sources of hidden MSG and/or aspartame, neotame. and AminoSweet (the new name for aspartame). Aspartic acid, found in neotame, aspartame (NutraSweet), and AminoSweet, ordinarily causes MSG type reactions in MSG sensitive people. (It would appear that calling aspartame “AminoSweet” is industry’s method of choice for hiding aspartame.) We have not seen Neotame used widely in the United States.
Aspartame will be found in some medications, including children’s medications. For questions about the ingredients in pharmaceuticals, check with your pharmacist and/or read the product inserts for the names of “other” or “inert” ingredients.
Aspartame will be found in almost all chewing gum.
Binders and fillers for medications, nutrients, and supplements, both prescription and non-prescription, enteral feeding materials, and some fluids administered intravenously in hospitals, may contain MSG.
According to the manufacturer, Varivax–Merck chicken pox vaccine (Varicella Virus Live), contains L-monosodium glutamate and hydrolyzed gelatin, both of which contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG) which causes brain lesions in young laboratory animals, and can cause endocrine disturbances like obesity and reproductive disorders later in life. It would appear that most, if not all, live virus vaccines contain some ingredient(s) that contain MSG.
Reactions to MSG are dose related, i.e., some people react to even very small amounts. MSG-induced reactions may occur immediately after ingestion or after as much as 48 hours. The time lapse between ingestion and reaction is typically the same each time for a particular individual who ingests an amount of MSG that exceeds his or her individual tolerance level.
Remember: By food industry definition, all MSG is “naturally occurring.” “Natural” doesn’t mean “safe.” “Natural” only means that the ingredient started out in nature, like arsenic and hydrochloric acid. Processing, no matter how toxic the method and/or the ingredients used, is irrelevant to a product being called “natural”.