Most of us know that we should stay away from MSG, but it can be extremely hard to avoid these days due to all the crazy, sneaky sources of MSG in our food supply. Even foods that we think aren’t processed to variable degrees, or we believe to be healthy, can actually be filled with MSG. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a flavoring agent that creates an addictive taste to food and is used in everything from health foods to junk foods. Usually, when a food contains high levels of sodium, but doesn’t list the word salt on the ingredient label, it probably contains MSG. To help you learn how to stay away from this nasty food ingredient, which causes all sorts of health issues such as headaches, heart palpitations, fatigue, thyroid problems, digestion issues and food addictions, be sure to keep this list of sneaky sources of MSG on hand.
1. Any Word with Glutamate
The word "glutamate" is one of the first signs that the food you’re eating contains sneaky sources of MSG. Glutamate refers to free form, processed glutamic acid, which is the source of MSG. It is a by product of naturally occurring glutamic acid, which is simply a non-essential amino acid found in certain proteins. Glutamic acid is not the enemy, but its processed version glutamate is, which means the original makeup of glutamic acid has been chemically altered, which creates the problem. Glutamic acid is in fact, essential to learning and memory, however when processed to the extremes that glutamic acid is, it becomes potentially dangerous. Be sure to look out for any word with glutamate on the ingredient label, as this is always a sign of MSG.
2. Anything “hydrolyzed”
"Hydrolyzed" is nothing more than a fancy term that means a chemical reaction during which one or more water molecules are split into hydrogen and hydroxide ions which may go on to participate in further reactions. I know that sounds complicated, but here’s what you need to know: proteins of most all kinds that are processed go under a hydrolyzed process to heighten the final product’s effectiveness and overall appeal and use. Most protein powders undergo this process, unless the company clearly states their product is MSG- free. Hydrolyzed protein is often found in many protein bars, diet products, or most all processed foods, so always be on the lookout for this word. If you see it, you can be sure the food contains MSG. So much for those certain brands of protein bars that I hate to admit I enjoy; they are full of this stuff! Buy MSG-free protein powder or protein products, or certified organic protein bars, which don’t contain MSG naturally.
3. Yeast Extract
You’ll find this nasty ingredient in just about all fast food out there, but also find it in “healthy” brands at the supermarket too. In fact, most healthy grilled chicken or grilled fish and all meat products and salad dressings at fast food restaurants contain yeast extract, which sounds harmless, but is essentially, another word for MSG that makes their food taste good. Yeast extract is nothing more than a flavor enhancer that has been labeled as “natural” by the food industry, yet it is a prime source of MSG that even natural food companies are allowed to put in their foods. If you see this ingredient, put it back on the shelf. I
4. Textured Protein
This source of MSG is a tricky one, because it has varying degrees of how MSG is formed, according to different takers on the matter. Here’s what you need to know: textured protein, is also known as textured vegetable protein, which is a derivative of soy protein. It is not something you can make in your kitchen like cooking soybeans (endamame), or making tempeh or tofu. Instead, textured protein is made in commercial factories and industrial settings where they use an aluminum wash that contains high levels of MSG to enhance the production and taste of the product. The end product does not result in high levels of MSG despite production methods and does not have MSG added to the final product. MSG is naturally formed in this process, which is why it contains MSG. MSG is also found in many other processed grain foods due to this same process. What does all this mean? Basically, the more processed a food, the more likely it contains MSG, so just stick to the “whole foods” method of eating itself and you’ll be safe!
Gelatin is an animal product that is derived from animal bones, and it contains natural sources of glutamic acid. Gelatin that is naturally found in homemade bone broth is not harmful, but rather the processed version of gelatin is, which is what you’ll find in certain processed foods that used gelatin as a thickening agent, such as supplements, or foods like instant pudding, etc. Again, avoiding processed foods is the best way to avoid MSG most of the time, so stick to the real stuff and buy less food with an ingredient label just to be safe.
6. Whey Protein Concentrate
I’m not going to lie: I use whey protein and don’t have a problem with it for the most part. The key to buying whey protein is to stick to the cleanest varieties you can get, which won’t contain MSG in its processed form. Since glutamic acid is a naturally occurring amino acid, it is found in most all animal foods, yet the way some animal proteins, such as whey protein, are processed, glutamate can be form. Buy brands of whey protein that are free of added MSG and you’ll be safe. These can be hard to find, but sticking to organic brands is a great way to ensure you’re not getting in any added MSG in your whey protein.
7. Soy Protein Isolate
Most all processed proteins contain MSG since the processing steps create an avenue for glutamate to form from naturally occurring glutamic acid. Don’t buy foods with soy protein isolate and if you eat soy, stick to whole soy foods instead, such as endamame, organic soymilk, tempeh or organic tofu.
8. Anything “protein Fortified”
"Protein fortified" is a fancy term that means the food you’re eating has processed protein in it. It isn’t healthy, isn’t natural and is used to enhance the nutritional profile among various foods to make consumers believe they are getting a healthier product. Think of it this way: if they have to add a bunch of steps to make it full of protein, it probably isn’t good for you. When something is protein fortified, glutamic acid turns into glutamate through the processing, which forms MSG. Stay away from processed proteins and stick to the real deal!
9. Anything “enzyme Modified”
This can be tricky since many of us hear that enzymes are good for us. Afterall, I love using digestive enzymes to help with digestion, but this isn’t the same thing as the term, “enzyme modified,” which means that the food is highly processed and enzymes are chemically added to the product, which forms naturally occurring MSG through the release of glutamic acid into glutamate.
I think we can all be certain that the key to avoiding MSG is avoiding most processed foods. Even foods that have no salt can still contain MSG, so always, always do your research and check the label. The term “natural flavorings” can also signify MSG sources, but don’t necessarily. This can make it extremely difficult as a consumer to avoid MSG. The key thing to remember is do the best you can, and notice how a food makes you feel after you eat it. If it doesn’t seem to cause any negative effects on you, then you may be able to tolerate small amounts of MSG, but for the most part, I would advise avoiding it whenever you can. Afterall, the national food labeling system lists MSG as a natural food ingredient, but that doesn’t mean you should consume it. Arsenic is also natural, but it doesn’t mean we should be ingesting it! Do you avoid MSG in your foods?