‘Glutamic bombs’ — all members of the MSG family – still lurking in numerous food products

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March 24, 2015


As we continue this year’s countdown toward what Citizens for Health has designated as “Read Your Labels Day,” on April 11, we are once again recalibrating and updating our list of the top ten food additives to be avoided, both to allow for any new developments in the past year and to accommodate a ‘new’ ingredient that we’ll be talking about shortly (although some of our readers may have already guessed its identity).

That’s why we’ve now not only condensed what were three classifications into two, but expanded one of them.  Both cover related ingredients that experts have dubbed “excitotoxins” (because they can literally excite certain neurons in the brain to death) and that we like to refer to as “glutamic bombs.”

Number 5: Monosodium glutamate

Not much has changed in the way this “flavor enhancer” is used to perk up the taste — or at least the way we perceive the taste — of all manner of foods, from snacks to soups (including standard brands like Campbell’s). As we noted a year ago, “it allows products with bland or sparse ingredients to taste really exciting, both saving companies money and adding immensely to sales.”

The history of monosodium glutamate, as we also pointed out, use is a sneaky one as well. This substance, which is misrepresented as “natural,” but which is actually anything but (consisting of oldbay1a processed free form of glutamic acid, rather than the natural kind that is bound up in certain fruits and veggies)  found its way into more and more products during the 1950s and ’60s, its use having reportedly doubled in each decade since the 1940s. In addition to being marketed as an ‘off the shelf’ flavor enhancer, it was also at one time added to baby food. But in the late 1950s, researchers tested the chemical on infant mice and discovered it destroyed nerve cells in the inner layers of the retina.  A decade later, prominent neurosurgeon Dr. John Olney, found it had a similar effect on cells, or neurons, in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Disclosure of that information to Congress in 1969 was enough to get monosodium glutamate voluntarily removed from baby food, to which it was being added in amounts equivalent to those that had produced brain damage in test animals.

In addition, monosodium glutamate (often called MSG for short, although as we shall see, that label also applies to a number of other ingredients as well) can cause a range of “side effects,” ranging from mild to severe that can necessitate a trip to the ER.  These can include everything from migraines to seizures to uncontrollable anger (could this be one of the causes of “road rage?”) to atrial fibrillation, or AFIB.

While many people who know they are hypersensitive to monosodium glutamate try hard to avoid it, we were appalled last year to discover a flagrant misrepresentation that could well result in its being inadvertently consumed by such individuals. This deception involved the use of the name and image of a familiar product, Old Bay Seasoning, which is MSG-free, to identify a line of “Old Bay Seasoned” snacks put out by Herr’s which actually list monosodium glutamate as an ingredient.

But, as we nmsg2oted, there other forms of MSG besides monosodium glutamate — ones hidden under other names.  And those are the ones covered by our sixth category of undesirable additives:

Number 6: ‘Hidden forms of MSG’ (e,g., hydrolyzed protein, autolyzed yeast, sodium and calcium caseinate)

Assurances like “NO MSG ADDED” can often be found on the labels of food products that actually contain manufactured glutamic acid that may be concealed under the names of more than 40 different ingredients.

Like monosodium glutamate itself, these additives in even small amounts can cause devastating reactions in highly sensitive people, making nearly all processed foods a dangerous proposition for them. One such individual was the late Jack Samuels, who with his wife Adrienne, a Ph.D. focusing on research methodology, founded the Truth in Labeling Campaign, sharing studies and information they learned over decades of research at their web site www.truthinlabeling.org.

And if you want to know why such dangerous ingredients are still allowed in food, we suggest you read The Man Who Sued the FDA, by Adrienne Samuels, which documents Jack and Adrienne’s own story of  ‘discovery’ in regard to MSG that spans several decades. The story of how the Food and Drug Administration gave in to industry interests – and continues to do so – in allowing such dangerous additives to be so widely used in so many food products is not only shocking in itself, but a powerful reminder of how important it is to read those ingredient labels– even when you think you can trust a product because of its familiar brand name.