MSG- hidden and not-so-hidden

1 05 2008

Everyone knows about MSG, right?  It’s a flavor-enhancer found in many foods, especially chicken products and anything chicken-flavored.  Oh, and Chinese food, right?  MSG headache?  You know what I’m talking about.

We all know we’re not supposed to give it to babies, because MSG acts on the neurons in their brain, causing them to continuously fire until they die.  It causes brain damage, and is cautioned against for pregnant and nursing mothers and children whose brains are still developing.  It’s also dangerous for people with degenerative brain diseases, like Parkinsons & Alzheimers for obvious reasons.

Ok, so MSG is one of the things I watch for.  Especially when I buy soup, because it used to be in a lot of Campbell’s soup.  But I have to tell you something.  Actually I want to SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS!!!  Did you know that the FDA decided at some point that MSG didn’t have to be labeled as MSG?

MSG is a chemical naturally present in many foods, foods like corn, soybeans, and tomatoes.  It can be extracted by processes that break down and isolate the proteins, usually including a filtration step that filters out unwanted protein structures and leaving the MSG proteins.  (This is a layman’s simplification- I have not actually studied how they produce the stuff, I’m just telling you what I’ve read.)  In order to get the MSG they put in ranch dressing, they take one of these foods, break it down, isolate the proteins, concentrate it, and pour it in the dressing.  This is called “injecting” MSG, and if a company does this, they must list MSG as an ingredient on the label for God and everybody to see.

HOWEVER, let’s suppose that you want to make textured vegetable protein from soy beans to make a vegetarian meat substitute.  In this case, as you are breaking down the soy beans, you create MSG as a (ahem) by-product.  Since the MSG was not injected into the food as a spice, you do not have to list it as MSG (according to the FDA) you can list it as “soy protein isolate.”   Hmmmm…..

Since there are many foods that have MSG proteins present in them, this loophole provides all kinds of opportunities for companies to put fun, flavor-enhancing MSG into their products without actually having to put MSG on the label of their box.  For an example, let’s take a look at the back of a cheerios box.

“Ingredients: Whole grain oats (includes the oat bran), Modified corn starch…”  Wait right there!  Modified corn starch?  Well, corn starch is a thickener.  I use it to thicken sauces, especially for desserts.  But what does modified mean?  According to several label watchdog groups, it’s corn starch that has been modified to become MSG! 

The Catalina dressing they eat on their salads lists it as “modified food starch.”  Another good name for it is “Soy Protein Isolate,” or “Whey protein isolate,” which is the second ingredient in the Quaker Instant Oatmeal Weight Control box.  Apparently any kind of isolated protein is almost certainly MSG.  As is Hydrolyzed Protein (Hydrolyzed means “broken down by hydrogen”), Protein Extract, Yeast Extract, Autolyzed Yeast, Hydrolyzed Oat Flour, Textured Protein, and Plant Protein Extract.  It has more names, but those are some of the more common ones I found in my cabinet.

But wait, it gets worse!  Not satisfied with that level of sneakiness, they had to get sneakier!  This one cracks me up.  Let’s look at the back of the Bush’ Best Original Baked Beans can.  (Seasoned with Bacon & Brown Sugar, it says.)  “Ingredients: Prepared White Beans, Water, Brown Sugar, Sugar, Bacon, Salt, Corn Starch, Mustard (Water, Vinegar, Mustard Seed, Salt, Turmeric, Spices), Onion Powder, Caramel Color, Spices, Garlic Powder, and Natural Flavor.”   How many people here can recognize that onion powder, turmeric, mustard seed, and garlic powder are spices?  Let’s see a show of hands.  Good!  Some of you didn’t recognize turmeric as a tangy-tasting bright yellow spice often used in pickles, but most of you caught that those were spices.  Now for the trick question: if they’re willing to list the spices by name, why do they put “spices?”  Aha!  And worse yet, if they’re willing to mention all that stuff individually, all the bacon and spices and sugar and color and stuff… what do you think is the “natural flavor?”  I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, since MSG is a flavor, and since it is derived from natural sources such as corn, soy, oats, etc., it can be listed on products as “Natural Flavor,” or even as a spice in “Spices.”  Thus sayeth the FDA.  Now, none of my sources said that MSG is ALWAYS in there as “natural flavor,” only that it CAN be.  And frankly, I’m pretty suspicious of Bush’s Baked Beans.

Here’s another one I’m suspicious about: Heinz Tomato Ketchup, my personal favorite.  I have always wondered what it is about organic ketchup that just doesn’t quite taste right.  Some how, it lacks zing.  Could it be possible that the industry’s favorite flavoring is missing, and my addicted taste buds miss it?  Let’s look at the label: Tomato concentrate made from red ripe tomatoes (a little propaganda slipped in there), distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, natural flavoring.  Once again, they’re willing to list the onion powder.  What’s the mystery spice?  Are they just protecting their recipe, or are they trying to slip something under our radar?  And after the mystery “spice,” once again we have “Natural flavoring.”  Kind of makes you go “Hmmm…” doesn’t it?

The truth in labels people have an interesting discussion on their website about MSG and the places it hides in our foods.  The heartbreaking one for me was the page where they printed charts after charts showing which INFANT FORMULAS contain hidden MSG products and calculating how much MSG different age babies would consume in a day if they drank that formula.

MSG causes random neuron firing in the brain.  Is there a POSSIBLE tie to the growth of hyperactivity and attention dysfunction in our boys because of this?  Perhaps I’m not qualified to comment because I’m only a stupid mommy who believed that “No MSG” on a label meant “No MSG” in the product, not a scientist who can argue the differences between injected MSG, MSG sprayed on lettuce or grapes as a crop enhancer, or MSG produced as a byproduct of food processing.

All I know is I fed my kids this stuff.  I ate it while I was pregnant.  I gave it to my babies.  And now it’s all sitting on my kitchen floor getting bagged for the food bank or the trash.  I am mad as heck, and I’m not going to take it any more!

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7 responses

23 06 2008
Indi

Wow! Thanks so much for this information, I thought I wasn’t eating MSG because I thought that it would be on the ingredient list or be under the mystery word “spices” , however, I had no idea that it could also be labeled as protein isolates! I will spread the word. I am also wondering what your thoughts are on soymilk ( homemade) Is it good or bad?
I am very frustrated as well with the FDA in particular, they can’t be trusted. I often feel like they are trying to make us sick with all the sneaky poisons they are putting in foods like MSG, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives,etc.
Thanks again 🙂

4 07 2008
Vera

Great article and very factual! I developed severe food allergies this year and had to go on a strict diet. I began researching and reading labels. Once I learned the true meaning of the different ingredients, I was horrified. I have a 3 year old son and have noticed severe behavior changes when certain foods like Entenmann’s mini muffins were consumed. Read EVERYTHING even the milk and juice containers!

27 07 2008
Laura

Thank you! I’ve been researching this for months via websites and books but haven’t found such a ‘readable’ summary to use to explain to all of my friends/family why i emptied my cupboards and am such a pain to eat out with now 🙂 I’ve been looking for some ‘newbies’ like me to share info with as we begin reshaping our eating/cooking habits! (i know, cheerios was a bummer to me too!!)

15 05 2009
Scott

It would be such a different world if people were just plain honest. This includes government agencies, polititians, commercials, etc.
Since becoming aware of the MSG saturation in the prepared foods industry, I no longer eat the stuff that is brought home laden with it. I’m now considered paranoid by the rest of my family, but it sure helps to lose weight when there is very little in the cupboard worth consuming.
I now try to grow it myself or buy produce from local farmers that sell organic produce.
At least some of the soup manufacturers are removing the ‘obvious’ MSG in their products – but I, like you, am somewhat suspicious of what is now hidden.

27 05 2010
Gloria J Wilson

I want to say thank you for your information. I have several in my family that have suffer for many years because of MSC. They have to read the labels on everything they eat and you are so right they know that it is hidden under other names. My brother gets headaches so bad, that he can hardly fuction. One of my sisters thought she was having a heart attack.

My brother and sister both have written to companies that have put MSG in their foods and even talked to resturant owners about it, but to no avail. It is like people just dont’ care, not even our Goverment, in fact they care the least

28 12 2010
Bruce Cagle

Great Article.

Lots of info in a short span. The cheerios really got me. What is the food industry doing? If they kill everyone off, who are they going to sell to then. And if these smart guys think that they will not have to stand before God someday and answer for what they are doing now, they are wrong.

It is clear we cannot trust anyone with our food anymore. Going to the health food store is like playing Russian roulette. The lies are only for profit at the expense of our health.

Everyone who is like you , spreading the news and warning the unsuspecting is doing mankind a great service – will be posting this to my facebook acc.
God Bless

29 12 2010
Cris

Thank you so much for your article, which I found after some research about MSG and food additives in general. I, as Scott, am starting to be considered “paranoid” by my family but, how to explain the following: Today I took a jar of green asparagus, the label said just “asparagus, water and salt”, then something shook me: best before 15 August 2015. Five years? Just asparagus, water and salt? Am I missing something here? Am I really being just ignorant about properties of water and salt, or…?
If anyone could guide me on this I would appreciate!

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