Monday, March 29, 2010

Hidden MSG

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid and a building block of protein that occurs naturally in many foods such as seaweed and soybeans.

 In 1908, a Japanese chemist found that seaweed was a rich source of MSG and that MSG provided a distinctive taste called Umami, described as meaty or savory. This taste, which also occurred naturally in meats and cheeses, was different than the standard tastes that had been identified as sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

Once MSG was discovered, a Japanese company manufactured a pure MSG made from wheat gluten proteins to be sold as a seasoning. Since then, industrial food manufacturers around the world have been using manufactured MSG to flavor foods.

MSG and substances that contain MSG are found in most processed foods, many fast foods, countless canned or frozen foods and some Asian foods. Reading a food label is not an easy way to determine MSG content, since the substance is often hidden under different names. Any ingredient with the word "hydrolyzed" is often code for MSG content. In addition, ingredients such as hydrolyzed protein (vegetable, plant, soy, wheat), sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, yeast extract, textured protein, autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed oat flour contain MSG.

For those who react negatively to MSG, deciphering the ingredient list is not the only precaution that can be taken to avoid consumption of this substance. Other helpful safeguards are:

  • Choose unprocessed whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains.
  • Cook with foods possessing naturally occurring Umami tastes such as kombu seaweed and shitake mushrooms.
  • Request that menu items at Asian restaurants be prepared without MSG.

- Katie Southworth, MS, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University


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