Most likely you have heard of MSG and may associate it most with being something tasty that is added to your Chinese takeout food. But you may not know what MSG actually is or why a friend of yours always asks for “no MSG” when you go to restaurants.
So What Is MSG Anyway?
Vegetable protein hydrolysate is just wheat or soybean that has been partially digested using a natural method and is a natural flavor enhancer. MSG, or Monosodium glutamate, is a product of the process of partially digesting (hydrolyzing) vegetable protein – which is how MSG is commercially manufactured. The sneaky thing is that it’s only mentioned on a label if it’s added in a chemically pure form, and not if it’s a product of protein hydrolysis.
Thus, MSG is often a “phantom ingredient” on the list of contents on many foods. Meaning, MSG may be present even if it is not be listed as an ingredient on the label.
If MSG Is A Natural Food Enhancer, Why Does It Matter If It Isn’t Listed As An Ingredient On The Food Label?
Most consumers don’t know where or how MSG is encountered because it is often an “invisible ingredient.” Nor do they connect the symptoms that occur hours to days after the ingestion of MSG to the MSG itself.
Some symptoms that have been reported after the ingestion of MSG: Skin-burning sensation, chills, swelling, headache, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, speech difficulty, psychological dysfunction, depression, insomnia, blurred vision, difficulty focusing, buzzing in the ear (tinnitus), running nose (rhinitis), sneezing. Also, chest pain and/or tightness, irregular and/or fast heart rate, wheezing (asthma), cough, thirst, nausea, gastrointestinal pain, diarrhea, frequency of urination, loss of bladder control in children, muscle aches, joint aches.
What gets even more confusing is that the intensity of the symptoms, as well as the presence of one or more symptoms, will vary with the amount of MSG ingested. Most people that are sensitive to MSG will fail to connect their more subtle, delayed symptoms with the ingestion of MSG. So, unless the symptoms are severe and immediate, they will not be able to diagnose MSG as being the cause.
**If you have already determined that you are not allergic to soybean or wheat, you should suspect MSG as being the culprit rather than the vegetable protein itself.
How To Spot MSG-Containing Substances On Food Labels – It Won’t Always Say “MSG”
Many ingredient labels may not list MSG even though it is there, so you need to familiarize yourself with some other ways MSG-containing substances appear on food labels without actually saying “MSG”:
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
“All natural flavorings”
Fermented soy sauce
Fermented soy products
Some foods that typically contain MSG and/or MSG-related substances are: Seasoning salts, bouillon, meat tenderizers, spaghetti sauces, ketchup, sausages, bacon, prepared meats, canned tuna in vegetable broth, prepared frozen meals (“TV dinners”), canned or frozen soups, salad dressings, potato chips, and more. Restaurant meals often contain MSG-related ingredients. Requesting that a restaurant not put MSG in the food may simply result in the consumer receiving a lower dose.
I Have A Hypersensitivity, Not An Allergy To MSG?
If you find that you do not tolerate MSG, then your problem is a hypersensitivity, not an allergy, to MSG. Allergy tests can be negative every time because hypersensitivity is a biochemical intolerance and not an allergy. What this means is that the person genetically is unable to metabolize a particular molecule. Since MSG is a harmless amino acid, any problems that arise from it being ingested are because of the person’s inability to metabolize it, not any harmful intrinsic properties of the substance itself.
The best way to determine if MSG may be causing your problems is to keep good notes of what you eat, when you eat it, and then when your symptoms occur. If you find that you are hypersensitive, complete avoidance is the solution!
Allen DA Baker. W.: Asthma and MSG. Medical Journal of Australia 1981; 2:576.11
Ghadimi A Kumar Set al: Studies on monosodium glutamate ingestion: biochemical explanations of Chinese restaurant syndrome. Biochemical Medicine 1971; 5:447-58.
Schaumberg Byck R, Gerstl R, Mashman JH: Monosodium glutamate; its pharmacology and role in the Chinese restaurant syndrome. Science 1969;