Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein=MSG

"What could be better for us than protein? And everyone knows that vegetables are good for us. Thus, 'hydrolyzed vegetable protein' sounds safe and even wholesome. However, this is the chemical method of producing monosodium glutamate. A mixture of hydrolyzed proteins contains the salts of other proteins as well, and monosodium glutamate may comprise as much as 20% of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (the usual range is 12-20%). The flavor enhancement produced by this mixture is almost entirely dependent on MSG. Few people are aware that products containing hydrolyzed vegetable protein frequently are advertised as "all natural". While MSG must be specifically listed on food labels, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which contains MSG, may be designated simply as 'natural flavorings'."
 --George R. Schwartz, MD  In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome
   Oh my. Where do I even begin?! My crusade against MSG started years ago & is ever strengthened when I run across someone who is unknowingly ingesting such a harmful chemical. I definitely know what its like to suddenly realize that my carefully selected diet was not as scrupulous as I had thought. My MSG epiphany occurred in Whole Foods when I was about to put 'organic black bean soup' in my shopping cart when just for the heck of it decided to read the ingredients. Much to my dismay it contained the chemical I had been trying to avoid. As I went through my kitchen, it dawned on me that I had been eating products containing MSG for years. Even products that appeared healthy, had the words organic or 100% natural were in fact not good for me whatsoever! 
   The excerpt above from Dr. Schwartz explains the problem precisely. If it says "No MSG"on the product, then we want to assume that the manufacturers are producing something healthy. A good example: In an attempt to select healthier foods, a friend of mine came back from the grocery store with sea salt & lime tortilla chips. The bag even said no MSG on the front. We were about half through the bag when I happened to look at the label & saw yeast extract
   I soon discovered that the FDA requires a product to clearly label monosodium glutamate on its packaging. However, food manufacturers can use up to 20% of MSG in another ingredient without having to label it as monosodium glutamate. So names like hydrolyzed plant protein, yeast nutrient, & hydrolyzed oat flour which contain MSG get overlooked on the label because of healthy sounding names. 

   It seems as if people are either 1) naive in assuming a product is healthy since it has 'natural' or 'organic' on the label or 2) would rather remain blindly ignorant just so they can continue eating a favorite snack. How have people become so impervious to labels? We check the fine print on everything else, so why can't we take the few seconds to check our food?

There are more than 40 different ingredients that always contain the chemical MSG & even more ingredients that often contain it. I challenge you to look through your pantry & find these synonyms for MSG:
Other names not listed above: plant protein extract, textured protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed oat flour.


Acute Symptoms of a reaction to MSG or ingredients that contain MSG:
migraine headaches, upset stomach, fuzzy thinking, 
diarrhea, heart irregularities, asthma, and/or mood swings.

It's important to note that these symptoms can occur almost immediately& last up to 48 hours after ingesting foods containing MSG. I am currently researching long term issues due to monosodium glutamate intake & will post the findings in a future article. However, I think long term consumption of MSG & even its acute effects are best described by Dr.Blake F. Donaldson, MD in his book Strong Medicine:
"The safest rule is not to buy it [products that contain MSG]...What it does is to irritate the wall of the stomach to a stage of bright red acute congestion. The acute congestion causes hunger sensations so you ask for a second helping...When the public realizes that acute congestion of the stomach is an almost ideal way to induce cancer in that organ in susceptible individuals, canned soups will change their ways." 
A few months ago, I raided by boyfriend's pantry & read every label, throwing out the foods with MSG. We came up with two good rules of thumb: If a food has more than 5 ingredients, we probably shouldn't eat it & if it had names we couldn't pronounce, toss it. The following are popular products that I came across that contain MSG:
Doritos, Cheetos, Frito-Lay, Campbells, Pringles, Lipton Instant Soup Mixes, Lipton's Noodles & Sauce, Kraft Products, flavored chips, almost all bouillon cubes/paste/powder (I was saddened even to find an organic brand my family had been using for years, but I have a substitution* below), most instant soup mixes, sauces & many salad dressings.  

Here are some of my tips to spotting MSG: 
  • Be judicious about deli meats, soups, chips, salad dressing, etc.
  • The saltier a food is the more likely it contains MSG. Almost everything served at fast food joints contains MSG- check the nutritional facts online or posted inside the restaurant. 
  • Don't just take they're word on it because it says 'no MSG' 'all natural' '100% natural' or even 'organic'. CHECK THE INGREDIENTS LABEL! I've eaten organic food before that contained monosodium glutamate- organic doesn't always mean healthy!
  • If you can't pronounce or recognize words on a food label, do you really want to eat it? Typically the more ingredients, the more likely MSG is present in one form or another. I've seen labels that contained 2-3 forms of MSG. Most frequent forms of MSG are yeast extract, yeast protein, textured protein, maltodextrin, modified enzyme, & modified food starch. 
  • When in doubt, use your phone! Most of us have smart phones & most of us underutilize them when we grocery shop or eat out. Take the extra 5 seconds to peruse a label & if you see something unfamiliar, look it up. If you don't have the time, bypass the product until you have a chance to do some research. Impulse buy on something that is healthier for you! 
  • There are always healthy substitutes for your unhealthy foes! Don't be stuck to a brand because you like it or because you can't find a substitute yet. For example, bouillon is notorious for containing MSG & unfortunately most brands have at least one form of it regardless whether or not its organic. It took me years to find a bouillon substitute, but in the meantime I bought liquid broth or made my own. My great substitute was Dr. Branner's Balanced-Mineral Bouillon* & it has no hidden ingredients! Now that healthy alternatives are more prevalent, it should be no problem to find a healthy substitute whether its found in a store or online!
I strongly encourage people to research the practices used in making food by looking at the facts & research. The turning point for me regarding MSG was reading books & articles written by doctors. At the bottom of the article I will list some websites to visit to learn more about MSG, its synonyms, & how to identify it on labels. I have quickly perused some of the posts but have not read these websites in their entirety- hope they're helpful! Also, let me know of any good books, articles, or websites that you have found helpful, whether it be for or against any of the things on my site!