The Truth About MSG: Not a Kid-Friendly Ingredient

Filed under: Mealtime, Health & Safety: Babies, Nutrition: Health, Dear Karla

Dear Karla,
I have been hearing many of my friends (who are also parents) commenting on MSG and how they are trying to avoid it, as it is a really nasty ingredient and not something they want their family eating. As I have tried to gather information on it, it seems like it's maybe not that bad. Could you share your thoughts on MSG, please? Should I really be avoiding it? Thanks, Christie


Hi Christie,
This is a question that I have been asked a lot over the years. At times, I have tried to find the truth about MSG and been turned away, as it seems that companies really don't want to divulge all the information that we need in order to make an informed decision as consumers and parents. But I have been able to put together some solid information that may help you understand this ingredient better.

MSG is also known as monosodium glutamate. This can appear on a food label under many names, such as sodium glutamate, MSG, monosodium glutamate, gelatin, glutamate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) and glutamic acid, among others. (For a very in-depth list of products that contain hidden MSG, check out this site.)
MSG is used as a food additive -- mainly a flavour enhancer. In the past, it was made from wheat gluten but now is made from bacterial fermentation. Food labels (and restaurants) can be very misleading as they may state 'No MSG' or 'No MSG Added,' but the food itself may contains sources of free glutamate such as hydrolyzed protein. There are different kinds of glutamate out there; the one that is naturally occurring in tomatoes and milk, and free glutamate, which enters the blood stream 8-10 times faster. MSG is man-made and full of free glutamate that releases natural-bound glutamate from its protein binding, leaving residue that some say is carcinogenic.

Is MSG Safe?
In 1959 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified MSG as 'generally recognized as safe', but since then it has been quite controversial. The FDA has received numerous reports of adverse reactions to MSG such as:
  • Headaches
  • Palpitations
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
In 1986, the FDA's advisory committee on Hypersensitivity to Food Constituents found that MSG was safe, but reported that short-term reactions may occur in some people who have an intolerance. This they titled 'MSG Symptom Complex,' which included numbness, burning sensation, tingling, facial pressure or tightness, chest pain or a worsening of asthmatic symptoms.

What Do Experts Say?
Dr. Russel Blaylock wrote a book titled Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills. In it, he discusses how MSG overexcites the cells of your body, stimulating them to the point of damage. This is when he labels it a poison. The problem with MSG is that it stimulates the taste buds, changing your perception of how the food tastes, to make you desire that food and want more of it. Because it can heighten the flavour of a food, and is cheap to make, food companies take it as a sure win. Some experts find it has addictive properties, similar to alcohol and tobacco. This may damage the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system, leading to degenerative diseases.

Some experts feel MSG can lead to weight gain. This food additive can trigger insulin/adrenalin/fat storage and food craving response. This then depletes your serotonin levels (which regulate mood and appetite), and leaves you craving more food while also feeling depressed or fatigued.

MSG and Your Kids
With all this being said, whatever type of reaction or sensitivity one may experience is going to be greater in vulnerable people such as children, the unborn and the elderly. Because a child's brain is still developing, they are very fragile to any damage from chemicals that cross the blood-brain barrier. Once a brain cell is gone, it cannot be regenerated.

What You Can Do
Print off a list of hidden MSG names and start reading label ingredients more often. It may surprise you to learn the amount of food that carries this flavour enhancer. There is nothing wrong with taking a pass on these items and using more natural garden herbs and spices for your meals. Your family's health will be all the better for it!


Karla Heintz, B.Sc., is a nutrition educator and author of Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parents' Guide to Children's Nutrition. If you have a question you would like answered please leave it in the comment section below. Thanks!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.