I recently looked up a recipe on Epicurious.com that was sourced from Bon Appetit magazine. The vegetarian cucumber dish had a slight Asian flair and the cook and author of the recipe said, “If you haven’t cooked with MSG before, give it a try.” I understand that many Asian cooking techniques have been influenced by the inclusion of MSG. Yet I was surprised that the magazine would agree to recommend an ingredient that is known by most to cause migraine headaches and more serious health problems. Not everyone is like me; I know. Not everyone cares about foods being natural or healthful. But this article is dated September 2014. It is surprising to me that this factory made food is still being promoted, and that a magazine targeting mainstream, middle class America is trying to introduce it and get buyers more comfortable with it, right when it should be on its way out!
Sally Fallon Morell, from the Weston A. Price Foundation, has written an article on “new fangled foods”. Here are her factual thoughts on MSG:
In the past, many traditional cultures made use of animal bones to make broth. They recognized the health-giving properties of bone broth as well as wonderful flavors broth gave to soups, sauces, gravies and stews. Modern science has shown us that homemade bone broths are indeed the healing wonders of the food pharmacopia; they provide minerals in abundance, strengthen bones and sinews, heal the gut and help us detoxify. The gelatin in homemade bone broth is a natural digestive aid.14
Most commercial soup bases and sauces contain artificial meat-like flavors that mimic those we used to get from natural, gelatin-rich broth. These kinds of short cuts mean that consumers are shortchanged. When the homemade stocks were pushed out by the cheap substitutes, an important source of minerals disappeared from the American diet. The thickening effects of gelatin could be mimicked with emulsifiers, but, of course, the health benefits were lost. Gelatin is a very healthy thing to have in your diet. It helps you digest proteins properly and is supportive of digestive health overall.
Research on gelatin and natural broths came to an end in the 1950s when food companies discovered how to induce maillard reactions–the process of creating flavor compounds by mixing reduced sugars and amino acids under increased temperatures–and produce meat-like flavors in the laboratory. In a General Foods Company report issued in 1947, chemists predicted that almost all natural flavors would soon be chemically synthesized.15 Following the Second World War, American food companies discovered monosodium glutamate, a food ingredient the Japanese had invented in 1908 to enhance food flavors, including meat-like flavors. Humans actually have receptors on the tongue for glutamate—it is the protein in food that the human body recognizes as meat–but the glutamate in MSG has a different configuration, which cannot be assimilated properly by the body. Any protein can be hydrolyzed (broken down into its component amino acids) to produce a base containing MSG. When the industry learned how to synthesize the flavor of meat in the laboratory, using inexpensive proteins from grains and legumes, the door was opened to a flood of new products, including boullion cubes, dehydrated soup mixes, sauce mixes, TV dinners, and condiments with a meaty taste.
The fast food industry could not exist without MSG and artificial meat flavors, which beguile the consumer into eating bland and tasteless food. The sauces in many commercially processed foods contain MSG, water, thickeners, emulsifiers and caramel coloring. Your tongue is tricked into thinking that you are consuming something nutritious, when in fact it is getting nothing at all except some very toxic substances. Even dressings, Worcestershire sauce, rice mixes, flavored tofu, and many meat products have MSG in them. Almost all canned soups and stews contain MSG, and the “hydrolyzed protein” bases often contain MSG in very large amounts.
So-called homemade soups in most restaurants are usually made by mixing water with a powdered soup base made of hydrolyzed protein and artificial flavors, and then adding chopped vegetables and other ingredients. Even things like lobster bisque and fish sauces in most seafood restaurants are prepared using these powdered bases full of artificial flavors.
The industry even thinks it is too costly to just use a little onion and garlic for flavoring–they use artificial garlic and onion flavors instead. It’s all profit based with no thought for the health of the consumer.
Unfortunately, most of the processed vegetarian foods are loaded with these flavorings, as well. The list of ingredients in vegetarian hamburgers, hot dogs, bacon, baloney, etc., may include hydrolyzed protein and “natural” flavors, all sources of MSG. Soy foods are loaded with MSG.
Food manufacturers get around the labeling requirements by putting MSG in the spice mixes; if the mix is less than fifty percent MSG, they don’t have to indicate MSG on the label. You may have noticed that the phrase “No MSG” has actually disappeared. The industry doesn’t use it anymore because they found out that there was MSG in all the spice mixes; even Bragg’s amino acids had to take “No MSG” off the label.
While the industry was adding MSG to food in larger and larger amounts, in 1957 scientists found that mice became blind and obese when MSG was administered by feeding tube. In 1969, MSG-induced lesions were found in the hypothalamus region of the mouse brain. Subsequent studies pointed in the same direction. MSG is a neurotoxic substance that causes a wide range of reactions in humans, from temporary headaches to permanent brain damage. It is also associated with violent behavior. We have had a huge increase in Alzheimer’s, brain cancer, seizures, multiple sclerosis and diseases of the nervous system, and one of the chief culprits is the flavorings in our food.16
Ninety-five percent of processed foods contain MSG, and, in the late 1950s, it was even added to baby food. Manufacturers say they have voluntarily taken it out of the baby food, but they didn’t really remove it; they just called it “hydrolyzed protein” instead.
An excellent book, Excitotoxins, by Russell Blaylock, describes how nerve cells either disintegrate or shrivel up in the presence of free glutamic acid if it gets past the blood-brain barrier. The glutamates in MSG are absorbed directly from the mouth to the brain. Some investigators believe that the great increase in violence in this country starting in 1960 is due to the increased use of MSG beginning in the late 1950s, particularly as it was added to baby foods.
We’d be wise to not only avoid using it, but always ask when you’re eating out at Asian restaurants especially, but even mainstream “gourmet” restaurants, to be sure you’re not being fed poison! If something tastes like it has a lot of flavor I am suspicious, unless I’m at a truly gourmet farm-to-table restaurant.