As consumers become more aware of what they are putting into their bodies, marketing companies have become savvier. Most of us know that MSG is a harmful chemical found in many fast and pre-packaged foods. “MSG-free” has become a popular label on foods geared toward the health-conscious consumer.

What the majority of the population may not know is that a product touted as being free of MSG
may not necessarily be free of this neurotoxin.

In fact, many products contain MSG-ridden ingredients by various other names. L-glutamic acid and glutamate, both producing the same effects as MSG,  are considered safe salt alternatives by the FAO and WHO and can thus be found in products labeled “MSG-free”. In truth, these are both alternate names for free glutamic acid, and are simply additives whose amino acids have been separated from the sodium component. As such, they need not be explicitly labeled as “monosodium glutamate”.

“The surest way to avoid MSG is simply by abstaining from all packaged and processed foods.

The more ingredients listed, the more likely it is to be contaminated with glutamate.”

Pick up any food item in a package or can, or just about any meal at a fast-food restaurant, and you are sure to find at least one of the additives below in the list of ingredients. For that reason, it is best to steer clear of anything in plastic, tin, or cardboard, as it will almost always be questionable. The more ingredients listed, the more likely it is to be contaminated with glutamate. For those who do choose to consume processed food, the next best option is to familiarize oneself with the usual suspects that either contain or result in MSG and avoid them. Careful examination of ingredient lists is critical.

Where MSG Can Hide In Foods, Even “Health Foods”

The following ingredients, which always contain processed free glutamic acid, should wave a red flag:

  • Glutamic acid (E 620),
  • Glutamate (E 620),
  • Monopotassium glutamate (E 622),
  • Calcium glutamate (E 623),
  • Monoammonium glutamate (E 624),
  • Magnesium glutamate (E 625),
  • Natrium glutamate,
  • anything “hydrolyzed,”
  • any “hydrolyzed protein,”
  • Calcium caseinate,
  • Sodium caseinate,
  • Yeast extract,
  • Torula yeast,
  • Yeast foods,
  • Yeast nutrient,
  • Autolyzed yeast,
  • Gelatin,
  • Textured protein,
  • Whey protein,
  • Whey protein concentrate,
  • Whey protein isolate,
  • Soy protein,
  • Soy protein concentrate,
  • Soy protein isolate,
  • anything “protein,”
  • anything “protein fortified,”
  • Soy sauce,
  • Soy sauce extract,
  • Protease,
  • anything “enzyme modified,”
  • anything containing “enzymes,”
  • anything “fermented.”

The following ingredients often contain or produce some glutamic acid in their processing: 

  • Carrageenan (E 407),
  • Bouillon and broth,
  • Stock,
  • Any “flavors” or “flavoring,”
  • Maltodextrin,
  • Citric acid,
  • Citrate (E 330),
  • Anything “ultra-pasteurized,”
  • Barley malt,
  • Pectin (E 440),
  • Malt extract,
  • Seasonings.

The following ingredients are highly suspected of containing or creating free glutamic acid which can trigger MSG reactions:

  • Corn starch,
  • Corn syrup,
  • Modified food starch,
  • Lipolyzed butter fat ,
  • Dextrose,
  • Rice syrup,
  • Brown rice syrup,
  • Milk powder,
  • Reduced fat milk (skim; 1%; 2%) ,
  • most things “low fat” or “no fat,”
  • anything “enriched,”
  • anything “vitamin enriched,”
  • anything “pasteurized,”
  • Annatto,
  • Vinegar,
  • Balsamic vinegar.

Vegan Diets and MSG

Unfortunately, even seemingly healthful items found in alternative food stores are often laden with free processed glutamate. Although vegans tend to consume less processed foods than their omnivorous counterparts, they are not exempt, as many frozen dinners and packaged snacks free of animal products will still be high in preservatives and artificial flavorings.

Some foods frequently purchased by vegans that they should be wary of include:

  • Tamari and Soy sauce,
  • Bragg’s Liquid Aminos,
  • seasonings,
  • salad dressings,
  • veggie broths (yeast extract, maltodextrin),
  • nutritional yeast,
  • store-bought nut milks (most contain carrageenan, guar gum, and/or locust bean gum),
  • vegan protein bars and protein powders (hydrolyzed proteins).

By Karen Ranzi, M.A.