Why is MSG so Bad for You?

When I talk to people about the concept of healthy eating, inevitably we discuss processed foods and how most commercially produced food items are riddled with additives, preservatives and flavor enhancers.  Although the FDA would have us believe that these “food” chemicals are actually safe to consume, study after study reveals how the ingestion of these chemicals are toxic to the system and devastate a number of metabolic activities as well as cause a host of disturbing symptoms. One of the worst offenders is called monosodium glutamate, more commonly known as MSG.

It is unclear whether the Chinese or Japanese first made the discovery that a broth, crafted from a certain type of seaweed, enhanced the natural flavor of food. But it wasn’t until 1908 that Professor Ikeda of the University of Tokyo first isolated glutamate from a broth made with dried Konbu kelp. (He went on to create and patent Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG). Since its patent in 1908, the use of manufactured MSG has spread and is now found in literally tens of thousands of products worldwide. Though MSG itself is practically tasteless, when added to food it enhances flavor stimulating what is called the “umami” or savory taste receptors of the tongue. It is now the third most popular flavor enhancer in the world, after salt and pepper. Unless you are eating only natural, unprocessed foods, you most likely consume manufactured MSG every day.

Of course, we need to make a distinction between manufactured “monosodium glutamate” versus naturally occurring “glutamate”. Glutamate is naturally found not only in seaweed, but in many other foods including dairy products, tomatoes, and mushrooms. It is also present at fairly high levels in human breast milk. Glutamate is a non-essential amino acid, one of the 20 that compose all natural proteins. “Non-essential” does not mean that glutamic acid is not needed by the body, but rather that the body manufactures all that it needs and does not require supplementation through food or any other intake. So how is MSG manufactured? No longer isolated from seaweed broth, MSG is instead extracted via a bacterial fermentation process using molasses, sugar beets or corn. It is white in color and looks very similar to table salt.

So, we have to ask, if the body naturally manufactures all the glutamate it needs, what happens when large amounts of bio-engineered MSG are ingested?

MSG remains on the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list, where it has been since that list was first constructed in 1959. However, the question as to if MSG is truly safe or not remains a very controversial subject. As mentioned previously, glutamate is a non-essential amino acid and is further believed to act as an excitotoxin in the brain. Excitotoxins are amino acids that also serve as neurotransmitters. The nervous system needs amino acid neurotransmitters to operate. But when the dose is too high or builds from excessive daily intake, these amino acids cross the blood brain barrier and excite the neurons of brain cells to a point of absolute exhaustion. Then those brain neurons eventually die.

Dead brain cells not convincing enough? Well, not only does long-term MSG consumption eventually kill brain cells (and in some studies correlates to the brain legions as seen in Alzheimer’s victims), MSG is highly addictive and long-term consumption positively correlates to the increase in obesity as observed in modern society. Short-term consumption can cause the following symptomatic reactions in some individuals:

— Anxiety
— Depression
— Migraine headaches
— Skin rash
— Mood swings
— Nausea
— Cramps
— Chest tension
— Dizziness
— Confusion
— Heart palpitations or rapid heart rate
— Flushing
— Burning sensations
— Sweating
— Numbness
— Excessive thirst
— Difficulty concentrating
— Lethargy or sleepiness
— Seizures
— Hyperactivity
— Swelling
— Changes in blood pressure

For those of you who actively read labels – keep up the good work!  However, you must know that MSG takes on many forms, many names and is used in just about every fast food and processed food on the market today. As an example, Kentucky Fried Chicken seems to be one of the WORST offenders as MSG is in every single chicken dish, salad dressing and gravy. The “secret spice” isn’t really a spice at all…it’s MSG!

So, when reading labels, be mindful that these ingredients ALWAYS contain MSG:

— Monosodium glutamate
— Calcium caseinate
— Textured protein
— Monopotassium glutamate
— Glutamate
— Glutamic acid
— Gelatin
— Sodium caseinate
— Yeast nutrient
— Autolyzed yeast
— Hydrolyzed corn gluten
— Hydrolyzed soy protein
— Hydrolyzed wheat protein
Hydrolyzed protein such as vegetable protein

These ingredients OFTEN contain MSG (or MSG is created during processing):

— Maltodextrin
— Malt extract
— Carrageenan
— Soy protein isolate
— Natural pork flavoring
— Citric acid
— Malt flavoring
— Barley malt
— Soy sauce stock or soy sauce extract
— Soy protein or soy protein concentrate
— Bouillon and broth
— Natural chicken flavoring
— Natural beef flavoring
— Ultra-pasteurized
— Whey protein concentrate
— Pectin
— Protease
— Whey protein
— Whey protein isolate
— Protein fortified

Note: Even if a product label says “MSG free,” it may still contain processed free glutamic acid concealed under one of its other names. Read the label to be sure!

Quick Quiz: Can you find the MSG ingredient in these “Natural” White Cheddar Cheetos?

So, if you want to truly nourish your body and attain optimal health, cut the MSG, but moreover, cut the processed food, fast food and make more meals at home using fresh, whole food ingredients! Your body, mind and soul with thank you!

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