The War on MSG

17 Jan

“No MSG.”

This self-congratulatory proclamation adorns countless food packages around the Anglosphere. We’ve all seen it, on bags of potato chips or Chinese takeout menus, on instant noodles or those “just add meat and sour cream” Mexican meal kits. Oh thank heavens, we think when we spot it. This food is safe. This food is natural. This food is good.

MSG must be one of the most maligned chemical compounds in existence. Imagine a frozen pizza label, with an image of gooey cheese and glistening red pepperoni, enthusiastically marked “Contains MSG!” In terms of point-of-purchase advertising, it may as well say “Contains POISON!” Nobody would buy it, and the company would be laughed out of business.

But why? Why does everybody always gotta hate on the glutamate? The dubious badge of MSG-free honor has become so common and platitudinous – much like “low fat” or “organic” – that nobody seems to question what exactly is so wrong with MSG in the first place. It’s as though people assume that because a food producer would make a point to declare their product void of MSG, then it must be bad for you. Clearly this is silly; if potato chip packets suddenly started announcing that they were “low in vitamin C!” we would be skeptical of the reasoning behind such a claim. But we are so accustomed to the idea that MSG is unhealthy that we accept it unthinkingly.

Perhaps it is time for us all to reconsider MSG. There is so much hearsay surrounding it that it may be best to start with some clear, simple, possibly mind-blowing facts:

  1. MSG is a naturally occurring compound present in many traditional foods; it is not an artificial flavoring nor a modern invention.
  2. MSG has never been conclusively demonstrated to cause health problems in clinical studies; reports on its potentially negative effects are largely conjectural or anecdotal.
  3. MSG can be added indirectly to food via products containing free glutamic acid, frequently rendering the “no MSG” label inaccurate, misleading, and/or pointless.
  4. MSG is a very pure form of umami, and it can help make food taste fantastic.

First, a bit of chemistry. MSG is the initialism for monosodium glutamate, a common salt of glutamic acid, which is one of twenty amino acids that combine to form proteins in living organisms (other well-known proteinogenic amino acids are tryptophan and lysine). Glutamic acid is a non-essential amino acid, meaning that the body synthesizes it naturally from other proteins and uses it for things like metabolism and neurotransmission. Salts of glutamic acid such as MSG or monopotassium glutamate are used (directly or indirectly, via other foods that are naturally high in these salts) to add umami, or savoriness, to foods. Umami is a Japanese word that literally means “delicious flavor,” and it is now commonly recognized as the fifth basic taste, following bitter, salty, sweet, and sour. Umami’s position as the “fifth element” of gastronomy reminds me of quintessence, especially because it is so fundamental and omnipresent in cooking.

Next, a bit of history. In 1908 the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda set to work trying to figure out what it was exactly that made his wife’s dashi so damn tasty. He began experimenting on konbu, the dried kelp that is used as the base of all Japanese master stocks. He discovered two things: 1) umami is a separate and distinct basic taste that contributes a savory character to food, and 2) glutamic acid and its salts are responsible for the umami in konbu dashi. He went on to patent monosodium glutamate under the name Ajinomoto (“essence of flavor”), which to this day is a top-selling global brand of MSG. (Years later, two other umami-producing compounds would be discovered, inosinate from katsuobushi and guanylate from shiitake mushrooms.) I was about to write that MSG has been enjoyed in Japan for over 100 years, but I caught myself because in actuality it has been enjoyed there, and here, and everywhere, for much, much longer. For as long as we have made stocks, cheeses and pickles and eaten peas, pork, and tomatoes, we have been relishing glutamic acid in all its myriad manifestations. Common, traditional foods particularly high in glutamate include soy sauce, miso, aged cheese, wine, beer, kimchi, scallops, asparagus, and yeast extracts like Vegemite and Marmite.

I had planned on trawling the internet for an assortment of common claims about the negative health effects of MSG, but as it turns out, I didn’t have to – this guy has done it all for me. His name is Steve and he seems to be quite an interesting fellow. Likes include freshly brewed coffee, spreading Christianity around Africa, and demanding to see Barack Obama’s birth certificate (here you are, sir). Dislikes? Messing with Texas, the antichrist, and most of all, MSG. Steve’s list of grievances with MSG is long, and his tone histrionic. The many, many side effects he attributes to it range from the familiar (migraines, obesity, “Chinese restaurant syndrome”) to the extreme (Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, death) to the bizarre (drunkenness, autism, night terrors). He compares MSG to marijuana and crack, and claims that “Cantonese food would taste like dish water” without it. He is an active geyser of misinformation and hysteria.

Steve’s claim that he has solved his own personal health problems by eliminating glutamates from his diet may well be true. (His claim that a friend becomes “literally drunk” from MSG is probably not quite so true.) If his tachycardia went away by cutting out excess glutamic acid from his diet, good for him – I have no way of disproving that. But almost all his other claims are unfounded, and in fact many are called into question by sources that he himself cites. It would take me ages to wade through them all, so let’s just take a couple at random:

One article linked from the “Truth In Labeling” site that supplies Steve with most of his information cites a 2002 study meant to provide evidence of MSG-induced damage to the nervous system. The study involved feeding rats a diet of MSG for three months, finding that the rats had a buildup of glutamic acid in the vitreous humor and suffered from retinal damage. Scary. But the citation itself says that the rats were fed 10 grams of MSG a day. If that doesn’t sound like much, consider that lab rats weigh 500 grams on average. Even if we’re generous and suppose these particular rats weighed one full kilogram, then the math makes this study practically inapplicable to humans. I weigh 75,000 grams, probably about average for a human male. The rats were getting 1 gram of MSG per 100 grams body weight; this means that for me to eat an equivalent amount I would need to ingest 750 grams daily. This is an impossible amount – imagine three sirloin steaks and you’re in the ballpark. Hell, most of us wouldn’t even want to eat that much steak on a day to day basis.

Another article correlates a rise in MSG consumption with the rise in obesity in the United States. Could MSG cause obesity? Perhaps – it does so in rats, according to some studies. But let’s look at these studies more closely. Here again we see an unrealistically high daily dosage of MSG being administered to the rats, 2.5-5 grams, or on a human scale, about 200-400 grams; and yet they describe this as “concentrations that only slightly surpass those found in everyday human food.” They then conclude that MSG “exhibits significant potential for damaging the hypothalamic regulation of appetite, and thereby determines the propensity of world-wide obesity.” Does it? Let’s look at this handy pie chart: China, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand are among the largest consumers of MSG in the world. And what do these countries have in common? If you answered “they’re in Asia,” you’re correct. But more to the point, they aren’t fat countries; in 2007 the WHO reported that in China only 28.9% of the population was obese, in Indonesia only 16.2%, in Japan 22.6%, and Thailand 31.6%. Out of 194 countries they rank 148th, 175th, 163rd, and 144th for fatness, respectively. None of these countries could be said to have a serious obesity problem, which isn’t definitive evidence that MSG doesn’t contribute to a higher BMI, but it certainly suggests that the contribution is trivial if it exists at all. “Truth In Labeling” ignores more important factors even as it lists them: “overeating, inadequate diet, junk food, lack of exercise, psychological problems, genetics, and bad parenting.”

What I glean from all this research is that MSG is probably slightly neurotoxic, but only in concentrations far beyond what a normal person would consume. I could be wrong, and if I saw conclusive evidence that MSG causes dementia or nightmares or blindness or whatever then I would admit it. But so far I have yet to see that evidence. To people like Steve who claim all manner of personal health problems brought on by MSG, I would simply shrug and say, “sucks to be you.” I think most of us would agree that there’s nothing inherently wrong with with peanuts or lactose, and yet some people have peanut allergies, and some are lactose intolerant. Sucks to be them. And if you think that MSG gives you headaches or diarrhea, then I’m afraid it sucks to be you, too.

Why does it suck to be you? Because MSG is a wonderful, wonderful thing to cook with. It has been pointed out that MSG is only necessary when the food it’s applied to is bland on its own. There is some truth to this; MSG can add a moreish quality to food that would otherwise be fairly flavorless, which is why it’s found in so many industrially manufactured food products. But then just imagine what it can do to food that’s already good. I am reminded of my days in Japan. At some point it dawned on me why the plain grilled pork belly at my usual yakitori bar tasted uncommonly delicious; why Japanese mayonnaise is far superior to the American version; and why Parmesan cheese tastes surprisingly good in ramen. It’s because the pork, the mayo, and the cheese all contain MSG, which makes them exceptionally mouthwatering, savory, and bold.

Just last night I made some BLTs, and after dinner I had some leftover tomatoes and avocados (they were actually BLATs). I decided to sprinkle on some MSG and gobble them up. Somehow it just made them taste more of themselves – fresher, sweeter, brighter. It’s similar to adding salt, but different – it adds a depth and a satisfying aftertaste that can only be described as a big boost of umami. Of course there are other ways to add umami to food: dashi, soy sauce, Parmesan, ketchup, etc. But MSG is the most pure. It allows the original ingredients to shine without any interference from superfluous flavors, and that’s what makes it so lovely.

You can try an experiment at home. Get yourself an ingredient – meat, fish, vegetables, it doesn’t matter. Divide it into four portions. Leave one unseasoned. Season one with salt. Season one with soy sauce. Season the last one with MSG. (You can get it at Asian grocery stores, or even at mainstream supermarkets if you look carefully.) Cook them all the same way, any way you like, then taste them, and you’ll get a good idea of what MSG does and why it can be so useful. (As a twist to the experiment, find a friend who claims to be MSG sensitive, blindfold them, give them the food and see how they react.)

As cooks and eaters we are denying ourselves a tremendously useful ingredient for no good reason. Of course there may be minor health risks from eating too much MSG, as there are from eating too much of just about anything. But in terms of flavor, it takes us where ordinary salt can only dream of going, into the deep, shadowy, sensuous world of umami. If MSG is risky, then it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

On their main page, the authors of “Truth In Labeling” proudly and prominently display a catchphrase that’s as pithy as it is desperately stupid:

If MSG isn’t harmful, why is it hidden?

I retort and close with a quotation that’s equally pithy (and a little glib) but much more incisive:

If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn’t everyone in Asia have a headache?

Further reading:

Dashi and Umami: The Heart of Japanese Cuisine by Yukiko Takahashi

The Day I Ate as Many E Numbers as Possible” by Stefan Gates, BBC News

19 Responses to “The War on MSG”

  1. mpitelka Monday, January 17, 2011 at 23:02 #

    Tim, you forgot the canonical Jordan Sand, “A Short History of MSG: Good Science, Bad Science, and Taste Cultures”, Gastronomica 5:4 (Fall 2005). Jordan, I hope you will not be surprised to learn, is a Japanese historian who teaches at Georgetown. He also has researched home decor during the Meiji Period and the Edo-Tokyo Museum. -Morgan

  2. Tim Monday, January 17, 2011 at 23:25 #

    Damn it Morgan. Just when I was starting to get over the idea of going to SOAS and becoming a food folklorist…

  3. James Kuypers (@JamesR404) Monday, October 3, 2011 at 16:07 #

    Hi Tim,

    I see you cite beer as an example of something containing MSG (free glutamic acid)? Can you give one example of a brand that includes this? I haven’t seen msg or any of it’s known aliases on the labels of any beers I drink.

    Perhaps you are confusing it with the *process* of fermentation that is used to create beer as well as MSG?

    Just like to see as much clarification as possible.

    I myself am trying to avoid episodes of urticaria, as can be done with any allergic reactions
    , I’m trying to diagnose the cause by process of elimination. So far I’m trying to avoid as many food additives as possible to see if that makes a difference. Hence my interest in your article on MSG =]

    Thanks in advance for any additional information you can give me.

  4. Mike Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 22:30 #

    Beer: You need to try Dark Star – http://darkstarbrewing.co.uk/beer/

  5. Mark Gailmor Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 14:58 #

    Thank you so much for this informative blog. As a longtime vegan of 25 years I go out of my way to separate fact from fiction. One of my favourite foods, miso, recently came up in a discussion about naturally occurring msg. I began to research after someone pointed out a talk that Dr. Richard L. Blaylock, M.D. gave on Excitoxins. If you aren’t aware, Dr. Blaylock is the medical lackey for Alex Jones, who is one of the biggest conspiracy theorists on earth. Yes, I am passionate about fluoride and it’s toxicity. I refused to believe that msg, especially naturally occurring msg is going to put me into a mental ward. I watched his video and found out hat during his entire talk he doesn’t cite any major research done. He discusses how msg affects the brain and yada yada yada but doesn’t ever provide an actual link between msg and alzheimers. So again, thank you for your well written article on msg. I will continue to make my own miso and share this wonderful staple with others. I’m certainly not going to fear something that hasn’t been proven. If excitotoxins really are doing so much damage to our bodies then wouldn’t half of the AMA have come out to applaud and support Dr. Blaylock? Wait, could we have at least 50 to 100 doctors that support his research? If you haven’t seen it, here’s a direct link to his one hour talk on excitotoxins.

  6. Mark Gailmor Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 15:32 #

    Oh, and in doing a bit more research on Blaylock look what I found.

    http://www.skepdic.com/blaylock.html

  7. barrkel Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 15:43 #

    I don’t think MSG is harmful. I think it’s unpleasant in large quantities, just like sugar and salt are unpleasant in large quantities. It has a very distinct taste; a cloying savouriness, like the aftertaste of a tube of Pringles. Not a pleasant taste. MSG needs to be used in extreme moderation lest it swamp and ruin food.

  8. Rabbit Warrior Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 16:09 #

    Arsenic and cyanide are naturally occurring..so is plutonium, you wanna go eat some of that?

    I have actually worked in a neurophysiology research lab where they were testing various compounds on rat brains,, among them glutamate.
    Glutamate is is in fact a neurotoxin causing an isolated neuron to fire repeatedly until it expired. These results were repeated several times.

    Think i will go by the evidence of my own eyes.

  9. Tim Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 09:49 #

    Can you share some articles or hard data?

    I don’t doubt glutamate’s neurotoxicity in extremely high concentrations. But I do doubt that the average human’s consumption of glutamate – even in high-glutamate diets such as that of the Chinese – reaches anywhere close to those concentrations.

    If you can show conclusive evidence that MSG or glutamic salts in general – even when consumed in reasonable amounts – cause adverse health effects in humans, neurologial or otherwise, I’ll admit I’m wrong and retract my article. In the meantime, I point to the empirical data I already presented regarding MSG-rich diets in east Asia, and I ask you to compare them with neurological disorders in the same countries; I’d legitimately be interested in seeing this data and any potential correlations, as I haven’t yet researched it myself.

    And since you obviously missed this point, I never said or even implied that just because something is natural it’s good for you, as you seem to think I did. (Dropping arsenic and cyanide into the argument is idiotic and irrelevant, and you know it.) My point in noting that MSG is naturally occurring is just that: it isn’t necessarily artificial, so it’s misleading and pointless for food manufacturers to label their food “MSG free” or “all-natural” when, in fact, MSG isn’t always artificially produced, and the given food may contain naturally occurring MSG in the form of other ingredients.

    Go by the evidence of your own eyes if you will, but that’s exactly what I’m trying to argue against in this article – conjecture based entirely on anecdote or unrelated personal observation. Feel free to post links to peer-reviewed articles that you feel more conclusively demonstrate your position, and I’ll decide where I stand after reading them.

  10. Scott Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 17:26 #

    Look, all this is gobbledygook until you have a reaction to it. I have had many and they are horrific. I don’t have an allergy to excitotoxins, just a reaction as they are not food. My own symptoms usually occur within 12-24 hours of ingesting it and exercise of a strenuous nature triggers it. My thought process short-circuits and I have short-term memory loss. One time I was working out after chinese food and My kids came down the basement, I felt a strange wave pass over me and I could not remember my kids names. I knew they were my kids but could not remember their names, along with other things. It’s scary as hell. I can’t even remember that it is MSG that causes it at the time but I know I have to drinks large amounts of water to clean out my system. The main effects disappear after 24 hours but it takes about 6 weeks for all of my vocabulary to return. I kid you not. I don’t care about presenting research because I know what I have experienced too many times. Now my point is this, why is it in our food? Suddenly MSG is missing from the labels and yeast extract (something we never saw until 5 years ago) is in everything. Why do we need it in our food except that it makes people think food tastes better than it does. As a chef, Tim, I would think you would want people to like your food on the merits of your skill level, technique and preparation, not because they have been neurologically misled. Why is it in everything, WHY? Somebody is making money off of deceiving taste buds and a lot of it not to mention the people who honestly do react from it.

    • Tim Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 21:41 #

      Very well – you have horrific reactions to MSG. I am legitimately not able or willing to dispute that. What I am very much willing to dispute is your insinuation that MSG is problematic in general, and that its inclusion in my cooking somehow detracts from my skill level.

      “I don’t care about presenting research,” you say. Then why should I or anybody else care about your opinion? I would be genuinely interested if you presented research, especially if it pertains to an intolerance or allergy to MSG in certain individuals, like those caused by lactose or peanuts. But if you really don’t care to do so, then you will never convince those of us who don’t suffer similar reactions from MSG (and there are literally billions of us) that it’s harmful to the populace at large.

      “Why is MSG in everything?” you ask. Please, don’t ask rhetorical questions that have good answers or rebuttals. First of all, MSG isn’t in everything. It isn’t even in most things. But for much of what does contain MSG, it’s in there because MSG is a naturally occurring compound in delicious, umami-rich ingredients, like soy sauce, fish sauce, Parmesan and Cheddar cheeses, kimchi, salted tomatoes and potatoes, Worcestershire sauce, sea vegetables, Vegemite, belacan, anchovies, and sauerkraut. MSG is in “everything” because the entire world enjoys a savory character in food, and this savory character is often derived from the very special reaction between sodium ions and free glutamates.

      “I don’t have an allergy to excitotoxins, just a reaction as they are not food,” you claim. Now you are getting closer to a legitimate argument, one that actually explicates the potential dangers of MSG, if there are any. I am totally willing to accept that MSG causes bad reactions in specific individuals, but dismissing my entire post as “gobbledygook” based on personal, anecdotal evidence is not at all compelling.

      I am disheartened by your comment, and insulted that you would call my cooking skill into question because I use MSG, in either its pure form or the form of any number of ingredients that contain it naturally. It is on par with NaCl in terms of its harmfulness and should be regarded as such. As for your claim that consumers are being “deceived” about the presence of MSG in their food, I suggest you 1) reread my article, 2) brush up on your E numbers, and 3) come to grips with the fact that MSG can scarcely be avoided in savory food, at least in some small amount.

  11. jim Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 21:30 #

    Where do they get all those obese mice for obesity studies? They create them with MSG. Thats a fact. I’ve personally read many obesity studies that used “MSG-fed mice”. Nobody is going to die from a cigarette either but if you do it over and over……Whats amazing is how much abuse the body can take before health is compromised. But theres no cure for stupidity. Sorry but comparing MSG to Vit C is damn ignorant. Free glutamate is not natural, it is created with acids, enzymes, and/or excessive heat. Free amino acids by-pass digestion and raise blood concentrations to dramatic unnatural levels. Yes the problem is disruption of hypothalamus, and necrosis of neurons. Our liver makes glutamic acid and aspartic acid only when its needed. You can add it to your own food and nobody will give a rats ass, but hiding it in almost all food under many different aliases removes people’s right to choose, which last time I checked is UN-AMERICAN. You couldn’t avoid free glutamates (or fluoride) even if you tried! MSG, Aspartame, and fluoride are very harmful to humans despite what vested interests aggressively push. http://www.msgtruth.org/avoid.htm

    • lee Friday, April 12, 2013 at 08:45 #

      Hmm still no proper references cited by the naysayers. I was on the fence about MSG but after this, I’m with Tim on this one. Sorry but if you can’t pony up peer reviewed research that has been properly done, then I’m not willing to defend your position.

  12. Frank from NJ Friday, June 7, 2013 at 00:14 #

    Oh well as usual, I am about a year late to the discussion, but because I like the sound of my own typing, I’ll go ahead and tell you about my experiences, and you can make out of them what you will. (You were going to do that anyway, I just sound very polite by writing that.)

    All my life well at least since 15, when I remember my first episode I’ve had heart palpitations. They worried me but everyone including doctors, assured me it is normal to have some. Anyway they got worse as I got older and I finally ended up in the hospital with lone afib. I learned about afib and cut out the many things I was doing that could be causing it, such as drinking relatively regularly, smoking and not getting any exercise outside of work. Still had skipped beats and mini episodes of a long string of them but the heart would go back to a normal rhythm after awhile. Long story short, (Too late I know) I ended up in the hospital again same afib, (Sinus rhythm all screwed up and heart beating about 183 beats per min). Finally a friend noticed I had more palpitations after I ate at a certain restaurant I favored. Immediately I thought ‘Chinese food, well maybe its the MSG’, so I avoided any Asian eatery, but I still had the missed beats. I was good for a week then it was Friday, it was payday and I’m a guy so I ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut. Withing 10 min after being done, my heart went into gymnastics again. “Well can’t be MSG, I thought, who would put MSG in pizza?” Wrong MSG and it’s many incarnations are legion, lol, Like the bible reference there? I threw that in so anyone who doesn’t agree, can later say, “Nope can’t be true, must be a nutter. Listen to that crazy talk, slipping in biblical references! Who does that, he’s nuts I tell ya.” You are welcome doubting Thomases. Anyway, finally I did some research to figure out what places use MSG. Results are since cutting out MSG from my diet; skipped beats down to single digits per week, where before it was in the hundreds during time of episodes. Oddly enough I can now figure out the odd timing too, when I was broke I wasn’t eating out so had less to none of the symptoms, when I was flush with cash, because being an exterminator lets you live the rock and roll lifestyle, I was rife with them. Hindsight is 20/20 after all.

    But here is the one thing I want you to take away from that rather long winded dissertation on the eating habits of the mid-life New Jersey male; I only found out about this ‘MSG symptoms” thing AFTER I had made up my own mind based on my own experiments. I was not influenced in anyway before hand because quite frankly I didn’t care and if it made my food taste better, have at it! Unlike some, I figure if the government lets it be in the food, it should be okay. Sadly it’s not. Does it affect everyone? Of course not. Neither does peanut allergy yet it has to be clearly labeled.

    Lastly some thoughts, although your article was a fine one, very entertaining, I found myself automatically starting to dismiss it after the little tidbits about Steve. Really straw man arguments? I expected better of you. If I found out John Wayne Gacy, loved food with MSG, could I then declare all arguments that are ‘pro-MSG’ moot? (Oh yes I did indeed want to say Adolph Hitler, the darling of internet straw man arguments, but I felt like being creative.)

    As for headaches and other symptoms, no clue,. I only get palpitations. Also it’s not MSG, (from my layman’s understanding and research,) its what happens to the MSG after being processed and the huge dose you get.

    Would it kill the food industry to be honest and label it? What happened to the free market? If people don’t want it, then make a product they do want. Instead you are condoning, or am I reading that wrong, the food industry hiding and purposefully obfuscating where the MSG is, because the population isn’t smart enough to understand. How very condescending that position seems.

    I am still doing research and conducting experiments to make sure I am correct. I found this page because one of the things I noticed that gave me heart palpitations was beer, and I wanted to figure out if beer had MSG in it. Google suggested this page from that query. So keep an open mind, realize that many of the studies done ‘proving’ how safe MSG is were funded by…gasp and surprise…. the food industry. Sorta like the tobacco industry saying …”Well our independent study group said it as ok.”

    • Tim Friday, June 7, 2013 at 15:47 #

      Hello Frank. Thanks for your comment. First of all, like I say, I am totally open to the idea that there is such a thing as a MSG allergy. It strikes me as unlikely, but it may be the case. And if avoiding MSG prevents you from feeling badly after eating then I agree that you should keep avoiding it. Also, bear in mind that MSG is a sodium compound and therefore can trigger hypertension just like our old friend NaCl. Your palpitations may have been caused by an excess of salt.

      I also agree that MSG should be labelled clearly, and actually I think everything should be labelled with far more detail than current legislation dictates – ‘natural flavors’ is a particular peeve of mine. (That could be anything!) However, it’s tricky business because MSG occurs naturally in so many basic ingredients. Soy sauce, for example, is chock-full of it, but even if you were to break it down into its constituent elements (wheat, soy beans, water, salt), MSG wouldn’t appear on the label because it’s a chemical component of the end result, and not one of the things that goes into brewing soy sauce. Soy sauce also contains alcohol, various acids, proteins, carbohydrates, and hundreds and hundreds of other compounds of which MSG is just one. They couldn’t possibly list them all. It might be worth noting it as a warning – like they do with gluten or nuts – but because MSG is so incredibly maligned, it would be severely detrimental to soy sauce manufacturers (not to mention cheese, Marmite, ketchup, and sauerkraut manufacturers). So I’m not sure it’s wise. Not until negative MSG reactions are more widely understood and accepted by the scientific community.

      As for Steve: it may be true that he is a straw man. Except that a lot of what he says, in all his impassioned paranoia, is actually not far removed from what a lot of people think about MSG. People have it in their heads that MSG is bad, but they can’t pinpoint why – Steve simply compiled all of MSG’s purported negative effects in one place, which was handy for my article. He wasn’t so much a straw man as a jumping-off point. And of course it didn’t hurt that he comes across as crazy. :)

      One last thing: my post actually contains an error on the beer issue. It doesn’t contain MSG (at least not in any significant amount), but it does contain glutamic acid, which is a necessary by-product of grain fermentation and yeast autolyzation. Glutamic acid combines with sodium ions to create MSG, but it isn’t MSG. So you should be fine with beer.

      • Frank from NJ Sunday, June 9, 2013 at 15:43 #

        Hey Tim and thanks for getting back to me with the beer info. Did I mention enough that I miss beer? I am trying to figure this out as I go along. Any evidence I give you, obviously is purely speculative at this point. Beer is a prime example. Alcohol is bad for afib, regardless of the type, but I noticed wine does not give me palpitations. So now that I know Glutamic acid is in beer, Now I need to find out if it’s in wine too. Beer was the first thing I noticed way before I was even looking into msg. If it’s not in wine then this will be another circumstantial thing that keeps pointing to the whole, msg suspicion, if it is in wine too then I would need to look further into something else.

        This is from a website, an obviously anti-msg website so I take the info with a grain of salt, >>>This substance is known as monosodium glutamate or MSG. It is 78.2% free glutamic acid, 12.2% sodium, and 9.6% water. It is odorless and has no distinct flavor, although some describe a salty/sweet flavor. This factory created substance is comprised of L-glutamic acid, D-glutamic acid, pyroglutamic acid, carcinogens, and other contaminants. This factory made version causes sensitive individuals more serious reactions than any other form of glutamic acid. Keep in mind, D-glutamic acid is rarely found in nature, and never in the natural foods we eat.<<<

        So again from what I've been reading its the free glutamic acid or larger than normal doses of it, that causes it. Apparently, free glutamic acid is more likely than the bound version which is found in nature. There are people who are allergic to everything, and I may be a RARE example, but I am starting to get the feeling that I'm not as alone on this as I would like to be.

        Lastly I have mentioned before I am an exterminator, so I am more than familiar with hysterics and bad science passing as truth. Most people wouldn't know the truth about pesticides or pesticides effects on nature. But they read some hippy website that is not backed up by anything except some joker who has a monetary agenda and suddenly they are experts. This goes back as far as Rachel Carlson's silent Spring which is 50% truth, 25% conjecture and 25% pure histrionics, yet to this day it's still quoted by experts. Drives me batty. Anyway thanks again for the info and sorry for my and others who I am sure to show up responses. It's frustrating, when you know something is wrong and you can almost pin point the reasons, but a) you don't have enough info and b) you don't know which to believe. It's aggravating. Well I'm off to check wine out now, have a great day.

      • Tim Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 08:50 #

        Hi again Frank. Like I’ve said, if you’ve pinpointed something as the most probable cause of bad health effects, and that something is MSG or glutamic acid, then you’re best to avoid it. It may be an allergy, it may be psychosomatic, or it may be that it’s simply found in conjunction with something else that’s actually the ‘real’ culprit. I don’t know. But if you’ve noticed a pattern that avoiding certain things makes you feel better, then keep avoiding them!

  13. Jon Monday, June 30, 2014 at 03:25 #

    I think the fact is, that msg in whatever form they hide it is widely abused in the food processing industry. We should all know by now how void of most nutrition most things are in a package. Sterile,lifeless,enzymeless,full of unnatural preservatives which that only help keep shelf stable and profits going good, not health. Anything processed needs to be redflagged and questioned right away to know what your eating. I understand that msg or anything that they don’t have to call msg that is 98% free glutamate is a flavor enhancer,made to help prevent any shelf life “offness” and used at industrys own advantage, not your health. Its in almost everything so therefore we are consuming larger amounts of it now than years ago. If people cant see how fat America is now than then, then yes, this nation is being completely dumbed down. Im not saying its only msg, its a combo of all the other garbage as well. All the manipulated corn chemicals. , etc. MSG is even added to vegetable waxes, pesticides, about everything imaginable which most people don’t know or probably even care. So lets just keep letting it happen. There are facts, watch Dr Blaylocks videos.

    • Tim Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 08:45 #

      I agree that overprocessed foods are often nutritionally problematic, but that doesn’t constitute an argument against the use of MSG in particular.

      Dr. Blaylock is a quack and a liar, widely discredited by the medical and scientific communities: http://www.skepdic.com/blaylock.html

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