Those who are committed to exposing hidden MSG, including Dr. Adrienne Samuels of the Truth in Labeling Campaign (TLC), Dr. Katherine Reid of Unblind My Mind, Dr. Amy Yasko, and Dr. Russell Blaylock, all warn that MSG is toxic.13
There is plenty of current, readily–available research demonstrating MSG’s toxicity. It’s beyond the scope of this article to review all of the evidence, and the tactics used by industry to hide it; please read Dr. Adrienne Samuels’ peer-reviewed Toxicity/Safety of Processed Free Glutamic Acid (MSG): A Study of Suppression of Information and her more recent findings. (Instead of ‘processed free glutamic acid,’ I’ll use the term ‘MSG’ since it’s the term we consumers recognize.)
Food labels serve more to obscure than to reveal. Labels replace the consumer-feared term ‘MSG’ with 40+ ingredient names, to purposefully camouflage MSG. They are also devoid of the total amount of MSG exposure per serving. Food chemists keep pumping out new hidden MSG ingredients with newfangled names we won’t recognize. In the process, manufacturers ignore federal labeling regulations. For example, a label will illegally advertise “No MSG” or “No Added MSG,” when the ingredient list contains hydrolyzed protein or other ingredients containing MSG. Similarly, companies label MSG-containing ingredients as ‘organic’ (e.g., whey protein concentrate) when they are not!
What’s the latest labeling trend? “Clean labels,” food labels that are expertly scrubbed of pesky ingredient names which might alarm a consumer into not buying that product! MSG is one of the synthetic chemicals subjected to this stealthy, industry whitewashing, with food processors paying specialized corporations to “sanitize” their labels. In fact, the chemical industry itself has now abandoned the term ‘MSG’ when marketing this synthetic chemical to Big Food and Big Organic food processors, substituting the “clean label” terms ‘savory ingredient’ or ‘umami.’ 14 As far as labels go, MSG is a thing of the past.
Industry is selling cheaply-produced foodstuffs, made ‘savory’ with this cheap-to-produce chemical. According to some physicians and lots of research, MSG creates cravings and addiction, which generates still more industry sales and profit.
What’s most egregious? We consumers are being duped into paying top dollar for
MSG-laden organic foods, dressed up in those brightly-colored, seductive clean labels! The term ‘organic,’ like ‘natural,’ is well on its way to becoming a meaningless descriptor, nothing more than a sales pitch, by which toxic chemicals like MSG stay hidden.
So we have fake labels, suppressed research, regulatory agencies turning a blind eye, and a food industry given free rein in keeping MSG hidden. Consumer estimates place MSG in 95 percent of processed foods, including organics! It’s also in things like shampoos, conditioners, toothpastes …and MSG has even been found in “growth-enhancing” pesticides that are sprayed on foods! For a family needing to avoid MSG, the scope of the problem is enormous.
Did you have any idea that there was so much MSG hidden in so many things your family eats or uses every single day? And that there are no effective consumer protections?
With nothing to stop it, the food industry will continue to use MSG in our food supply and pay its glutamate trade organizations to lobby to continue keeping it hidden.
Given the amount of MSG purchased in the U.S. (in 2007, 209,437,000 pounds — almost ¾ lb. of MSG for every U.S. citizen! – was sold by just the Ajinomoto® Co., Inc., MSG’s parent company and patent holder), the payoff for the food industry must be truly enormous.
For many families the results can be truly devastating. Please read family stories here, here, here, here, here, here and here. By sharing our stories, we families are creating help, hope, and cold, hard anecdotal data.
“I Don’t React to MSG in My Food, Why Should I Pay Attention?”
You may be thinking, “I don’t react to MSG, this doesn’t concern me.”
However, there is new information to consider.
I sat bolt upright when I came upon this research: Dr. Blaylock (and many, many others) state that the excitotoxic effects of MSG are immediate in some people, but in most people the effects go unnoticed. In all, however, the effects may be cumulative and it may take decades for those cumulative effects to manifest! 15
Twelve years later, in this 2006 interview with Mike Adams at Natural News, Dr. Blaylock, who is a neurosurgeon, cited the explosion in neurodegenerative diseases and reiterated the connection between food and MSG:
So, we are all exposed to those toxins [mercury, aluminum, pesticides and herbicides], and then when you add MSG and excitotoxins to the food, you tremendously accelerate this toxicity. That’s why we’re seeing this explosion in neurodegenerative diseases; Alzheimer’s and autism and ADD and Parkinson’s… 16
Dr. Amy Yasko maintains a nationally-known practice treating autism and other neurological conditions; one of her recommendations is to remove MSG from the diet. Biochemist Dr. Katherine Reid removed MSG and glutamate from her family’s diet, and her daughter’s autism symptoms subsided.
Truth in Labeling Campaign’s (TLC) Dr. Adrienne Samuels’ compelling 2013 book, It Wasn’t Alzheimer’s. It Was MSG, shares details of her late husband, Jack, and his lifelong struggle with –and activism against—hidden MSG. The book title speaks for itself.
Notably, TLC publicized one of the first and most comprehensive, researched and updated lists of food ingredients containing hidden MSG, helping thousands of families.
Dr. Samuels, Dr. Reid, Dr. Yasko and Dr. Blaylock all warn us to avoid foods (and body-care products) that contain MSG. I urge you to rigorously study the sources referenced, form your own opinion, and consider a talk with your family doctor about hidden MSG in your food.
Vegetarians & Vegans: Cook From Scratch!
Many protein sources that vegetarians and vegans rely upon are chemically-processed. Worse, they likely contain multiple sources of MSG.
Some common ingredients that always contain MSG and are regularly used in processed, plant-based protein products are: yeast extract (i.e., autolyzed yeast); torula yeast; hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP); textured vegetable protein (TVP); soy protein, concentrate or isolate; and these dairy sources: whey protein, concentrate or isolate; sodium or calcium caseinate.
Yeast extract processing creates:
…a concentrated paste high in glutamic acid. This may be left in the form of a paste or dried and used as a powdered food additive. At this point, there is little difference between the final product and MSG. 17
Consumers have been deprived of the understanding that food processing itself adds to the total amount of MSG in food; in other words, MSG that is “…processed into a product instead of [or in addition to] being poured into a product…” 18 TLC states that, with certain types of industrial processing of proteins, both natural and synthetic forms of glutamate are created, as well as impurities, some of which may be carcinogenic.
A double-whammy, vegetarian and vegan processed foods can contain additional ingredients to boost flavor, and alter texture and ‘mouthfeel,’ and these usually contain hidden MSG. Examples include: natural or organic flavors, spices or seasonings; pectin; annatto; broth and bouillon; modified corn starch; maltodextrin; soy lecithin; malted barley; brown rice syrup; juice; citric acid; gums (e.g., carrageenan, carob or locust bean, gellan, guar, xanthan).
Of all the plant products, soybeans have one of the highest levels of natural glutamate, with wheat gluten and milk casein close behind. Thus, industrial processing will expose the vegetarian or vegan to even higher levels of natural and synthetic glutamate, and its impurities.
The best place to research this issue – and find good alternatives! – is at Mike Adams’ Natural News. He follows a largely plant-based diet and reacts badly to MSG. He is factual and scathing when he exposes hidden MSG. I particularly recommend these articles from him:
- The textured vegetable protein experiment: even rabbits won’t eat it
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP) recall leaves food consumers wondering: what is this stuff?
- How I got blindsided by yeast extract in Amy’s Kitchen Organic Foods (opinion) and Amy’s Kitchen Responds to concerns about Yeast Extract with possible product reformulations
- Soy Protein used in “natural” foods bathed in toxic solvent hexane.
Oh, No, My Beloved Nutritional Yeast Has MSG In It?
Many vegetarians and vegans rely upon nutritional yeast (‘nooch,’ ‘vegan cheese’). Here’s the lowdown: there is enough unsettling information about nutritional yeast that I have decided to dedicate a future article to covering it. In short, it contains processed free glutamic acid…and you don’t have to wait for me to start researching!
MSG Awareness at Honest Weight Food Co-op
I brought my concerns about MSG to HWFC’s Nutrition and Education Committee (NEC), knowing it was updating our Food and Product Manual (FPM). The members were very receptive; the Committee made changes to the FPM, which the Membership approved on January 29, 2017. The FPM now includes information about MSG, on pages 6-7.
I am very thankful to Chair Alena Gerli, all the NEC members, and Board Liaison Rebekah Rice for their passion in protecting the Co-op’s food supply. This Committee and our Board demonstrated, when they recommended MSG information be added to the FPM, that they place a high priority on the quality of food our Co-op sells.
Education of our shoppers regarding the ever-expanding list of hidden MSG ingredients is critical. I am hopeful we will soon see a kiosk at the Co-op, where shoppers may quickly research all food additives. It is also my hope that our buying policies will change, so that in any one food category (e.g., heavy creams) there will always be at least one product on the shelves which is both organic and MSG-free, so my family can safely purchase what we need at HWFC.
Food Action Steps
Here’s the bottom line: you cannot depend upon federal agencies (including the USDA’s NOSB) or the food industry, regarding honest and accurate disclosure of MSG in foods. You must be the one to protect your family from hidden MSG.
TLC warns us that health food stores, with their ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ foods, are MSG “mine fields.” However, our own HWFC is one of the best places to shop when it comes to the possibility of finding local, whole, minimally-processed, nutrient-dense, better-than-organic food choices for your family!
My top recommendations:
- READ LABELS 100% of the time!
- DON’T BUY foods which contain hidden MSG (or unknown ingredients).
- REDUCE or eliminate purchases of packaged and processed foods.
- EAT MORE local, fresh, whole, minimally-processed organic foods.
- REGULARLY UPDATE your own ‘hidden MSG’ research.
Institute these five habits and you’ll go a long way towards removing this synthetic chemical from contact with your family. After a few shopping trips, you’ll quickly recognize the ingredients to be avoided, develop alternatives, and begin to really appreciate our regional, small-scale, organic farm families and producers who provide us HWFC families with whole, nutrient-dense food!
In addition, these next steps are now in your hands:
- Print out or phone-archive a ‘hidden MSG list‘ (see Part 2); use every time you shop.
- Shop the perimeter. Cook from scratch.
- ‘Hidden MSG list’ in-hand: inspect foods in your cupboards and fridge; don’t forget pet foods.
- Eating out: exercise extreme caution or avoid.
- Help HWFC maintain high standards:
- Our FPM requires the accurate labeling of foods made at HWFC. If you find a problem in this regard, please alert the appropriate Department Manager.
- If you buy a food that advertises ‘No MSG’ or ‘No Added MSG,’ yet its label lists hidden MSG, alert our General Manager (GM). This mis-branding of food products is, according to TLC, illegal. Send it right back up the food chain and force national wholesalers to clean up their food supply.
- Can’t locate a product which is both organic and MSG-free (e.g., pasta sauce)? Alert our GM and request that such a (local!) product be found.
- Don’t forget to thank HWFC Departments that go out of their way to keep our food local, organic, of the highest quality and effectively labeled.
- Start your own organic vegetable and herb garden!
- Network with HWFC families: form a Hidden MSG Book Group or a Let’s Go Better-Than-Organic Group! Connect up, it’s a most powerful way to generate solutions.
We can truly support and protect each other as Co-op families that place a high value upon locally-produced, whole, minimally-processed, nutrient-dense, better-than-organic foods which both support regional farm families and truly promote wellness and vitality for our own families.
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
 Additional MSG consumer watchdog groups are listed in Part 2 of this article; for example, Carol Hoernlein, former food process engineer and food scientist of the non-profit MSGTruth, has developed a tremendous archive of scientific articles and graphics.
 Sand, Jordan. “A Short History of Good Science, Bad Science, and Taste Cultures.” Gastronomica 5(4) (Nov. 2005): 38-49. Print.
According to TLC, the late Jack Samuels (see 19), and this Psychology Today article by Anneli Rufus, Umami: The World’s Cleverest Marketing Scheme, ‘umami’ is not our newly-discovered fifth sense of taste, it is a marketing device. Listen to Terry Gross of Fresh Air, as she targets a vegetarian audience, promoting ‘umami’ using actual food product names (!) in this clip on NPR’s website, ‘Test Kitchen’: How To Make Vegetarian Dishes Pop With A Little Umami.
On its corporate website, the Ajimomoto® Group appears to be replacing the name of its own patented, ingredient, MSG (sodium glutamate, monosodium glutamate), with ‘umami’ and ‘AJI-NO-MOTO® umami seasoning.’ See: The chronicle of the Ajinomoto Group.
 See: Dr. Russell Blaylock’s, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills; John and T. Michelle Erb’s, The Slow Poisoning of America; Dr. George R. Schwartz’s, In Bad Taste: The MSG Symptom Complex; and Deborah Anglesey’s Battling the MSG Myth.
 Adams, Mike. “The Truth About Aspartame, MSG and Excitotoxins An Interview with Dr. Russell Blaylock.” Arizona: Truth Publishing International, Ltd. (2006): 8. Natural News. Web. 01 Apr. 2017. The Truth About Aspartame, MSG and Excitotoxins An Interview with Dr. Russell Blaylock.
 Gutierrez, David. “The common ingredient ‘yeast extract’ is functionally identical to MSG.” (27 March 2014). Natural News. Web. 04 April 2017. The common ingredient ‘yeast extract’ is functionally identical to MSG.
Author unknown. “Recognizing or diagnosing MSG adverse reactions.” Truth in Labeling Campaign. Web. 02 Apr. 2017. Recognizing or diagnosing MSG adverse reactions. (Note: understanding ‘bound’ versus ‘free’ glutamate is critical: see here.)
 MSG has long been utilized by industry as a means to lower the sodium ‘nutrition profile’ on food labels (more MSG = less salt). A new biotech company, Senomyx®, has developed a bio-engineered ‘MSG-Enhancer:’ see the late Jack Samuels’ New Propaganda About MSG.
 For those who cook from scratch, TLC has produced The Real Food Recipeless CookBook: The Secret to Eating without MSG. Debbie Anglesey, who generously donated recipes, also wrote Battling the MSG Myth, A Survival Guide and Cookbook.