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MSG: three letters to avoid?

February 10, 2016 by Adrienne Ngai, Registered Dietitian

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Should you avoid foods with MSG?

MSG…you are likely familiar with these three letters. Some people go out of their way to avoid eating foods that contain it. But what is it, where is it found and is it safe? Read on to get these answers.

What is MSG?

MSG, short for monosodium glutamate, is made by fermenting starch, sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses and adding salt. It is used to boost the flavour of meat, poultry, seafood, casseroles, vegetable dishes, soups, stews and snack foods. It triggers your fifth taste, ‘umami’. ‘Umami’ gives you a savoury, broth-like or meaty taste

Are foods with MSG safe to eat?

Yes. Health Canada states that MSG is not a health hazard. It is estimated that we eat about 0.50 grams of MSG each day.

People who are sensitive to MSG may have a temporary allergic-like reaction after eating it. This may include a burning sensation, facial pressure, headache, nausea and chest pains that appear 20 minutes after eating it and can last up to two hours. These symptoms are temporary and not known to have harmful health effects. If you have a reaction to MSG, limit or avoid foods containing MSG to prevent these symptoms.

What foods contain MSG?

  1. Flavouring Agents: these include hydrolysed plant protein (HPP), hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP), soya sauce, autolysed yeast extracts and seasonings such as Accent® and Aji-No-Moto™. Look for these in the ingredient list of foods.
  2. Commercially Prepared Foods: these include canned and dry soups, frozen dinners and side dishes, prepared salads, smoked and cured meats, condiments and sauces (including mayonnaise, salad dressing, and soy sauce), gravies and snack foods (including potato chips).
  3. Naturally in Some Foods: the natural form of MSG is called glutamate. It can be found in foods such as tomatoes, parmesan cheese, grapes and mushrooms.

Are there regulations for how much MSG can be added to foods?

No. But if MSG is added to a food, manufacturers must declare it on the ingredient list. Ingredients on the list appear in order from the highest to the lowest amount present in the food, so chances are you’ll see MSG listed near the bottom.

When restaurants or pre-packaged foods claim ‘no MSG added’ or ‘contains no MSG’, is that true?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency states that ‘no MSG added’, ‘no added MSG’ and ‘contains no MSG’ claims may be misleading. Although a restaurant or food manufacturer may take steps to remove obvious sources of MSG, it is naturally found in certain foods (as glutamate) and many flavouring agents contain MSG. Therefore, if you are avoiding MSG these claims may not be reliable.

Bottom Line: MSG is considered safe to eat. Keep in mind that flavouring agents and commercially prepared foods that have added MSG often include added salt that increases your sodium intake. Read the product’s ingredients list and Nutrition Facts table. Look at the % Daily Value (%DV) on the Nutrition Facts table and choose foods that have less of the nutrients you don’t want (sodium, fat and saturated and trans fats) and more of the nutrients you want (fibre, vitamin A, calcium and iron). Remember, 5% DV or less is a little of a nutrient while 15% DV or more is a lot.

If you have more questions about MSG or food products, call 8-1-1 and speak with a Registered Dietitian (from Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm) for free.


Related blogs

Plan Low Sodium Meals
Flavour with less salt (Part 1)
Flavour with less salt (Part 2)

Recommended resources

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – Questions and Answers
Nutrition Facts Table
The % Daily Value

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