Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to put down the bag of Doritos? It’s actually an additive, called monosodium glutamate, or MSG, which causes today’s junk food to be so addictive. Although MSG is commonly associated with Asian foods, it is found in most everything that is considered a processed food in today’s market. To put it simply, MSG tricks your brain into thinking that you’re still hungry when you’ve had plenty to eat. Ever wonder why Taco Bell doesn’t fill you up? MSG does this by damaging the appetite regulation center, leading to “an urge to eat that never stops.” Monosodium glutamate is used as a ‘flavor enhancer,’ and is often present whether or not the ingredient list explicitly says MSG. Although there is naturally occurring glutamate in our bodies, the MSG of today is processed and some studies have shown that it has negative health effects, causing problems from obesity to migraines.
According to the FDA, Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda first extracted glutamate from seaweed broth in 1908, patenting the commercial production of MSG shortly after. Today’s MSG is produced by the fermentation of molasses, sugar cane, sugar beets, or starch. Monosodium glutamate is the best friend of corporations that sell processed foods, as it “makes cheap ingredients taste great.” While MSG is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, various sources, including Barbara L. Minton’s previously mentioned article The Dangers of MSG, msgmyth.com, and health.howstuffworks.com’s The Dangers of Monosodium Glutamate, contest this claim.
Sylvia Donahoo, a student at Cornell College, found out early that MSG gave her migraines. “When I was thirteen, my mom took me to a neurologist for the first time and he made me keep a food diary. After a week, I had to go back and we reviewed the foods. He told me that there are several different … food(s) that can cause migraines, [including] MSG.” Fortunately for Sylvia, she did not eat a large amount of foods containing MSG in the first place, “My dad always cooked meals for us, often from scratch, so cutting MSG out of my diet was not that difficult; I think the only thing that I really had to give up was Doritos.” When asked if she often found that foods not specifically listing monosodium glutamate on the ingredient list still caused similar symptoms, Sylvia responded that she “know(s) that often people list MSG under alternate names. So, yes. … I still tend to stay away from that type of food.”
Although some of the claims might be a bit extreme, it is clear that many people have negative reactions to eating foods with added monosodium glutamate. Currently, the FDA requires foods with added MSG to list monosodium glutamate in the ingredients, but there are many other ingredients that signal that MSG is present in a food. “Foods with any ingredient that naturally contains MSG cannot claim ‘No MSG’ or ‘No added MSG’ on their packaging,” according to the FDA. With the exception of not being able to put down that bag of Doritos, the majority of people likely do not have adverse reactions to monosodium glutamate, but it is important to be aware of what you and your family are eating.