What is MSG aka Processed Free Glutamic Acid?
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a human-made chemical food additive with no nutritive value, widely used in processed foods, including certified organic food products. It is formed when unbound glutamic acid, an amino acid, is bound to sodium salt. It is more correctly referred to in general as “processed free glutamic acid.” It has been deemed a “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS) “flavor enhancer” by federal regulations, and marketed as such by the public relations arm of the food industry and, simultaneously, deemed a dangerous “excitotoxin” by some scientists, physicians and family food advocates.
Created in 1908 and patented by the Japanese Ajinomoto Company, Inc., MSG was originally extracted from dried kombu, a seaweed. Introduced in the U.S. in 1948, the processing of MSG changed in the late 1950s to an industrial fermentation process using genetically-modified (GM) bacteria. Modern methods of creating MSG include the fermentation of GM sugar beets that are Roundup Ready®.1 In 2007, the Ajinomoto Company reported annual U.S. sales of MSG at a monumental 209,437,000 pounds — almost ¾ lb. for every U.S. citizen!2
MSG is in your foods but not on the labels!
The “common or usual name” for Ajinomoto’s food additive, the one that you could look for in lists of ingredients in the foods you buy, is monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Katherine Reid, PhD, founder of the first rate non-profit organization Unblind My Mind, informs us:
Only if MSG is 99% purity or greater is an ingredient required to be labeled as MSG. Any ingredient that has less than 99% MSG purity is labeled something else. 3
Since the processed food industry routinely utilizes ‘processed free glutamic acid’ at less than 99% purity, food labels rarely list MSG as an ingredient. (For clarity’s sake, instead of ‘processed free glutamic acid,’ I will continue using the term consumers are familiar with: ‘MSG’.)
A second method by which MSG gets into the modern food supply is through the breakdown of proteins, as a byproduct of this processing. So, when you see ‘protein’ or ‘hydrolyzed’ as part of an ingredient (e.g., soy or whey protein isolate) or certain acids or enzymes in ingredient names, the product contains MSG.
Thirdly, there are several chemicals whose presence activates or enhances the effects of MSG. They include: disodium 5’-guanylate, disodium 5’-inosinate and disodium 5′-ribonucleotides. If you see these chemicals, hidden MSG is likely present.
What this means is that MSG is widely present in our food supply; it’s just not always labeled by the name we all know. It has been very effectively hidden, cloaked by a veritable posse of 40+ separate ingredient names that, in name only, appear totally unrelated to MSG. As the website for the highly-respected Truth in Labeling Campaign explains:
Consumers have no way of knowing how much, or how little, processed free glutamic acid (MSG) there is in any processed food. Most food labeling regulations call for ingredient labeling, i.e., identifying ingredients by what the FDA calls their “common or usual names.” … But processed free glutamic acid (MSG) … is usually a component or constituent of an ingredient, not an ingredient … There are no regulations that require manufacturers to mention constituents of ingredients, like “free glutamic acid,” on labels of processed food. 4
When it comes to MSG, the industrialized food industry and its lobbying arm have achieved the highly sought-after, so-called “clean label”— cleaned of MSG, that is. Big Food (and Big Organic, alongside it) have spent millions to keep MSG hidden from you! 5
We families remain in the dark because of draconian federal labeling policies. The upshot, however, is that a posse of effective family websites and non-profits dedicated to exposing the hidden MSG in our food supply, and to educating families about it, have been created as a direct reaction to this predicament. (See below for a list of these websites.)
Industry Spin: MSG is “Natural”
Glutamic acid, an amino acid also commonly referred to as “glutamate,” is naturally-occurring in our bodies and abundant in many animal, fish, dairy and plant proteins, such as grains, beans, some nuts and seeds, and ripe tomatoes.  When unadulterated, unprocessed, and/or unfermented, intact and naturally ‘bound’ to other amino acids, our bodies recognize and can utilize this naturally-occurring substance; that said, our need for glutamic acid, in certain instances, is very tightly regulated. However, when glutamic acid is manufactured and is ‘unbound’ (free), as in ‘processed free glutamic acid,’ or MSG, what is created is a mix of both natural and synthetic forms of glutamic acid; this mix also contains impurities, some of which have been found to be carcinogenic. 
Because glutamic acid is naturally-occurring, Big Food and its close cousin, Big Organic, would have us believe that the manufactured chemical MSG is somehow equivalent to the natural form of glutamic acid and is, therefore, safe. However, they are NOT the same!
Industry spin also neglects to mention that the large amounts of this hidden chemical – present in many of the processed foods our families eat three meals a day – can, cumulatively, overwhelm a human system. The reason is that human-made, free glutamic acid is lacking in the natural factors embedded in food which permit the body to slowly release and regulate it: the “brakes” are broken. We are being overloaded by large amounts of unbound, manufactured glutamic acid and its toxic impurities.
Why Do They Add MSG to Foods?
MSG has been dubbed a “flavor enhancer” even though it imparts little to no flavor of its own. It does, however, stimulate taste receptors in the mouth and brain. Industry can use cheaper food ingredients, add MSG and voilá! a food product is created which people will perceive as flavorful, savory, satisfying, yummy and nutritious. (Whether it actually is nutritious is another story.)
What is the incentive for using MSG instead of real food? MSG is cheaper to procure and produce en masse than real food ingredients are.
Studies have documented that MSG creates cravings; it can initiate an addictive process upon hitting taste receptors in the mouth. Consumers will come back and buy more! Unhealthy as this is for us, the end result is more food sales for industry.
With MSG, know that your taste buds have been scientifically studied… …and scientifically bamboozled.
This ability of MSG to create cravings, with the associated tendency towards overeating, is well-known in research. Scientists have used MSG with lab mice and rats to intentionally create overweight animals that crave food, easily eat too much, easily gain weight, and are, therefore, perfect for use in conducting scientific studies into diabetes. 8
Are we humans all that much different? Probably not. As Dr. Joseph Mercola reports, researchers are now looking at the sharp rise in type 2 diabetes and overweight in our culture as being linked to the deluge of processed foods containing hidden MSG.
MSG as an Excitotoxin
To industry, MSG may be a flavor enhancer; to many families it is experienced as an excitotoxin. Merriam-Webster defines excitotoxic as
…being, involving, or resulting from the action of an agent that binds to a nerve cell receptor, stimulates the cell, and damages it or causes its death.
Dr. Russell Blaylock, a board-certified neurosurgeon, goes into some detail about this process in his book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, and in this more recent interview with Mike Adams of Natural News.
According to Dr. Blaylock, repeated exposure to excitotoxins like free L-glutamic acid, free L-aspartic acid, and free L-cysteine – all now commonly-found foodborne excitotoxins – can cause damage to the central nervous system, sensory organs, endocrine and gut/immune system. The effects of MSG appear to be cumulative. Babies in the womb, newborns and children, are particularly susceptible to MSG’s effects. And, even if you do not experience any physical reactions, MSG may still be harming you. 9
Common symptoms of MSG toxicity are severe flushing, skin rashes and hives, headaches and migraines, asthma, numbness, ringing in the ears, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, intestinal discomfort, heart irregularities, endocrine disorders, seizures, anxiety, mood swings, depression and impaired cognition. Some people experience symptoms up to 48 hours after exposure. Some need to get to the ER if they unknowingly ingest MSG. None of these symptoms should be taken lightly.
Some doctors and researchers consider MSG as neurotrophic, meaning it adversely affects the nervous system, and neurotoxic.  Dr. Amy Yasko, who did her doctoral work at Albany Medical College, considers it as contributing to neurological inflammation. There are researchers who are looking at the connection between MSG and Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. One biochemist, Katherine Reid, PhD., founder of the non-profit Unblind My Mind and the mother of a daughter diagnosed with autism, has produced an incredible TEDx video called What Are We Eating? In Dr. Reid’s talk, she documents the gradual removal of all the MSG and glutamic acid in her family’s diet, followed by the gradual ending of all autism symptoms in her daughter. This is powerful testimony!
Which Ingredients Actually Camouflage MSG?
To effectively arm you in becoming ever-vigilant food co-op families who can sniff out the MSG in our Co-op’s food aisles, we need to review the hidden forms of MSG that you can spot on a food label.
Big Food and its close friend Big Organic have over 40 different ways to camouflage MSG – without using the term “MSG” and without having to disclose on the label that it’s present! What’s more, new ingredients containing hidden MSG are constantly being developed. This makes the job of safeguarding our family very difficult. However, diligent consumer advocates have created websites with lists of these ingredients, which are updated regularly. Below are summaries of what I have learned from them.
For decades I have avoided MSG by staying away from the following products and ingredient classes:
- artificial, natural and/or organic flavorings, spices, herbs and seasonings;
- natural and/or organic soups, soup stocks and bouillon;
- all gravies, sauces and salad dressings;
- all bar-b-cue or teriyaki sauce, smoked foods and processed meats;
- texturized vegetable proteins and soy sauce of any kind.
There are also many common ingredients that always have MSG in them. This list is NOT comprehensive (please visit the websites listed in the ‘Consumer Websites’ section, below, to create a list tailored to your family’s needs):
- Vetsin, Ajinomoto, the word “umami”
- Anything with the words “glutamate” or “glutamic” in it
- Anything “hydrolyzed” (e.g., hydrolyzed vegetable protein [HVP])
- Calcium or sodium caseinate
- Anything with the word yeast in it (e.g.,“yeast extract,” “autolyzed yeast”)
- Textured [vegetable] protein
- Soy or whey protein concentrate or isolate
- Anything “protein,” “protein fortified,” or containing “protease”
- Anything “enzyme modified” or containing “enzymes”
- Any protein that has been fermented
- Protein powders and shakes
These ingredients often contain MSG. Again, this list is NOT comprehensive.
- Citric acid, citrate
- Anything “ultra-pasteurized”
- Barley malt
- Corn starch, corn syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Milk powder
- Brewer’s Yeast and Nutritional Yeast Flakes
- Most things “low fat” or “no fat”
- Anything “enriched”
And here is another hard-won consumer tip: if the packaging boasts that the food is “MSG-free” it’s pretty much a dead giveaway that it contains a hidden form of MSG, like those listed above: less than 99% MSG-purity sleight-of-hand in the Big Food labeling business.
Coming in April: A continuation of this article, including “What? Some Organic Foods Have MSG in Them?!”
Did you know that foods labelled as organic can have hidden MSG in them and that MSG is also commonly found in things, other than food, that you use every day? It’s true. Part 2 (in the April 2017 Co-op Voice) will discuss this and more, and provide a listing of excellent websites to keep your family informed. You’ll also find out what steps HWFC has taken to educate about hidden MSG.
Please note: Any information provided in this article is intended solely and specifically for consumer educational purposes. It is not intended to offer medical advice, nor substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment from your physician.
© Laura Hagen
 I could find no studies regarding the safety of using MSG which is manufactured industrially by fermenting genetically modified (GM) bacteria in a growing medium – sugar beets – which is, itself, GM and Roundup Ready®: this alarming combination is a very recent industry practice. As of 2009, 90 – 95% of U.S. sugar beet production was reported as using Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® GM sugar beet seeds; the decision to do so was made in 2005. See: One Man’s Battle Against GM Sugar Beets by Ken Roseboro, editor of The Organic and Non-GMO Report.
Samuels, Adrienne, PhD. “Monosodium Glutamte (MSG).” (1995). Emmerson Chiropractic. Web. 05 Mar. 2017. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
See U.S. Food & Drug Administration website: Questions and Answers on Monosodium glutamate (MSG).
 Unknown author. “There are no regulations for labeling processed free glutamic acid (MSG).” Truth in Labeling Campaign. Web. 01 Mar. 2017. There are no regulations for labeling processed free glutamic acid (MSG).
 Samuels, Adrienne, Ph.D. “Toxicity/Safety of Processed Free Glutamic Acid ((MSG): A Study in Suppression of Information.” Accountability in Research 6 (1999): 259-310. Truth in Labeling Campaign. Web. 01 Mar. 2017. Toxicity/Safety of Processed Free Glutamic Acid (MSG): A Study of Suppression of Information.
 Gluten (wheat protein), casein (milk protein) and soy protein are also very high in natural glutamic acid. See the interview with Dr. Katherine Reid at Mission Heirloom: In the Kitchen: Why have you heard us say free glutamate and no vinegar?
 See Truth in Labeling Campaign website:
On the Subject of Manufactured vs Natural Glutamic Acid.
How do truly natural glutamic acid and manufactured glutamic acid (MSG) differ?
How are monosodium glutamate and the other ingredients that contain MSG manufactured?
MSG and Cancer.
See Unblind My Mind website: Cancer and Glutamate
See Dr. Russell Blaylock: Dangerous Food Additives That Damage Your Health
 (July, 2010). Truth in Labeling Campaign. Web. 25 Feb. 2017. The Young Are Particularly at Risk for Brain Damage from Ingestion of MSG: Data.