Wednesday, February 21, 2007

MSG: Hidden Health & Weight Loss Killer

Whenever you hear people talk about health and weight loss, generally the discussion focuses on the kinds and amounts of food consumed, how much exercise the person does or doesn't do, mustering up the necessary willpower and determination to stay on a diet, and other such ideas you typically hear from the "experts."

While all of those things are certainly an important aspect of dealing with an obesity problem, they tend to neglect something else that very well may be one of the biggest unknown factors explaining why people gain weight and keep gaining weight in the first place.

Even those of us who have committed ourselves to livin' la vida low-carb can fall victim to this hidden health and weight loss killer. What is it? I'm referring to monosodium glutamate, aka MSG.

Have you heard about MSG before? I've known about it personally for several years because of a former co-worker of mine named Mary who was always talking about how she has to strictly avoid this ingredient at all costs because it caused all sorts of health problems for her. As a result, Mary voraciously reads food labels looking for this hidden ingredient that is becoming more and more difficult to identify (more about that in a moment!).

According to this Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Backgrounder on MSG, which acknowledges the controversy surrounding the impact it can have on people's health, it is defined as "the sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid and a form of glutamate."

"It is sold as a fine white crystal substance, similar in appearance to salt or sugar. It does not have a distinct taste of its own, and how it adds flavor to other foods is not fully understood. Many scientists believe that MSG stimulates glutamate receptors in the tongue to augment meat-like flavors."

People who enjoy Asian food have very likely consumed MSG at some point whether they know it or not and quite possibly could have experienced what has been referred to as "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" where diners have such symptoms as flushing, tightness of the chest, trouble breathing, and even worse. This is why many Chinese restaurants are now advertising the fact that they are MSG-free.

MSG is often used as a food additive to enhance the flavor of primarily higher protein foods like cheese, milk, and meat, which are coincidentlly some of the more popular foods on the low-carb lifestyle. I'm not trying to alarm you, just inform you. Keep reading.

Although the FDA declared MSG "generally recognized as safe" back in 1959, the questions surrounding the health implications of this additive still remain strong in 2007 (as my story about Mary and her experience represents).

So what does this have to do with the obesity epidemic that exists in the United States and around the world today? Plenty! Imagine this--MSG is being used by food manufacturers every single day to get people addicted to their products so they will keep on buying more and more of it.

Conspiratorial, you say? Some think that's EXACTLY what is happening and nobody is sounding the alarm about it. When I interviewed low-fat diet guru Dr. Dean Ornish last year, I asked him as a sidebar question about what he thought of the theory by some that food companies were putting secret additives in foods to make them more addicting such as MSG. He said he doesn't buy into that notion since food is addictive enough without anything being added to it.

Fair enough, but how do we know it ISN'T the gobs and gobs of MSG that have been sneaked into foods without our knowledge that could have the tens of millions of Americans dealing with obesity staying that way? Even worse to think about are all the billions upon billions of dollars that have been raked in annually by the food industry giants who have resorted to putting MSG and other additives in foods just to turn a profit. If it's even remotely true, how sicko is that?!

And, think about this. If it is true, then every red-blooded American should be livid and demand better from those entrusted with providing the best quality food for our families to eat. Of course, they'll simply snub their noses at us and keep on adding not just MSG, but sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and other such nutritional garbage into our foods without any regard for the health implications of these actions (something Michael Pollan has been railing against in recent years).

The bad thing about MSG as opposed to HFCS, though, is the fact that it is completely tasteless and undetected by the human senses when being consumed. But the intense stimulating effect it can have on the nerves and the brain when it is ingested can cause an uncontrollable reaction to happen in your mouth.

Have you ever found yourself eating something and suddenly you start taking bigger and faster bites than you were before? Does it feel like you have lost all sense of control over the amount of food you are putting in your mouth and you mindlessly keep eating and eating long after you are full? I'll admit it, I've been in that situation in the past and it feels so helpless. What is happening to me and why am I doing this? AAAAAAAACK!

Could it really be the MSG, though? That's something you need to ask yourself. It has been found to create a false sense of hunger even when the biological need for food does not exist. Some say MSG causes damage to the hypothalamus while others believe it lowers blood sugar necessitating more food consumption. Either way, we cannot overlook the negative impact that MSG is apparently causing on our weight and health as a society.

Incidentally, the warnings over MSG are not just some minority group of crazy people espousing their opinions about this. There is a wide body of research out there already showing MSG causing all sorts of health problems in otherwise healthy individuals. This includes lab rats being fed MSG becoming obese while an MSG-free control group fed the exact same diet without the MSG remain at normal weight.

What about human studies, you ask? Well, this is where it gets tricky because researchers are reluctant to expose humans to MSG because of the toxic effect it causes on the central nervous system and other essential bodily functions. In fact, neuroscientists have been known to use MSG specifically to kill nerve cells in the lab. YIKES!

My co-worker Mary used to talk about some of the side effects of MSG she had to deal with whenever she accidentally consumed it: mood swings, fatigue, feeling flush, turning as red as a beet, headaches, and various other strange, unexplained health ailments.

Oh, there is ONE study that has been conducted showing MSG is completely safe and not harmful for human consumption. However, this rather flawed research was paid for in full by a multi-billion dollar industry that has a vested interest in the existence of MSG. Hmmm, would care to take a guess who it is?

Most disturbing about MSG is the fact that the FDA completely allows food manufacturers to put this chemical in foods without ever using the word MSG on the label. That's right! They don't want you to know it's in there, but it is. You may recognize MSG in any number of euphemisms on the product packaging, such as "flavors," "natural flavors," "yeast extract," and more.

And don't think your favorite low-carb foods are immune from MSG just because they are health foods. Protein bars, protein shakes, and other such products are notorious for having this substance in them using the aforementioned terms for MSG. Doesn't this just make you sick?

Why haven't we heard the obesity and health experts out there decrying the role of MSG as the biggest health epidemic of our generation? Sure, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is indeed bad enough with such a heavy focus on sugary, processed junk foods and fast food, but is it even worse because of MSG? You can't help but think about it!

Could this be the next major class action lawsuit to come down the pipeline in the coming years? Some think it will be just as big as the tobacco liability lawsuits a few years back and will account for literally billions of dollars in damages while radically altering the practices of the food industry.

Don't be surprised if it happens sooner than you think!

If you are interested in learning more about MSG and the ramifications it could be having on the weight and health of Americans and unsuspecting people around the world, then be sure to check out the web site

2-22-07 UPDATE: As is prone to happen in the wonderful world of blogging, this exact same topic is also being discussed on the great Dr. Michael Eades blog today. I agree with him that MSG in small quantities will probably not harm you. But you should try to avoid it whenever possible.

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Blogger The Bunnell Farm said...

Your doing a pretty good job of policing the corporate food monsters
Jimmy. Your Podcasts live are also quite good. You are making one
mistake though. I know you are well intended but Jimmy Moore is more
understandable and rememberable the your viva low carb thing you keep
pushing to death until it becomes hype and offensive. Jimmy Moore's Low
carb show and you pushing the low carb which is popular rather than you
continuously trying to create interest in your particular area of low
carb. When we hear Jimmy Moore we immediately think of you and your
program and low carb and Atkins. I'm not suggesting you drop the Viva
thing, I'm suggesting you
simply stop saying it all the time. Jimmy Moore Low Carb says it all.
Coining low carb into Living Lavida Low Carb is not going to work.
Jimmy Moore is going to work but without the hype you are even better,
keep hyping
but stop saying the vida thing all the time, you have grown past this.
You are winning the battle of the low carbers as few do, the money will
follow. Please drop the confusing term. Jimmy Moore, like Johnny Carson, like Larry King, Like Jack Parr, like David Letterman, like all the others, you have made it buddy, keep up the great work, we need you. Tom

2/21/2007 8:12 PM  
Blogger Sherrie said...

Hey Jimmy great post but I was thinking you might want to expand just a little on your mention of protein shakes and bars being notorius for containing MSG to make it a little more clear.

The reason being is that MSG is formed from the processing of ANY protein. A big give away being hydrolyzed whey protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein etc

This page here is good for a quick reference:

2/21/2007 8:52 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

My mom, coincidentally also a Mary, is violently allergic to MSG. She reacts as though she's gotten food poisoning and thought that was the cause initially. But after enough instances where she was the only one getting sick she realized what it was. The more MSG, the more severe the symptoms. A few bites of casserole made with canned soup at Thanksgiving had her...err...bonding with the bathroom for days.

Unfortunately she started reacting badly to Atkins bars. She looked into it and there is some evidence that there may be MSG in some form in hydrolized and/or designer proteins found in protein based bars (and don't get me started on the isomalt in the Atkins granola bars... grr!). But because getting fake-y protein to taste good is, I believe, a trade secret I don't think manufacturers are about to own up to exactly what's in it.

2/21/2007 9:32 PM  
Blogger mrfritznyc said...

interestingly enuff, Dr. Eades has a different take on MSG over at his blog,

2/21/2007 10:22 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

THANKS for your comments, Tom, but I think I'll stick with using "livin' la vida low-carb." That's my phrase, ya know! :D

Sherrie, thanks for the clarification about the protein bars and shakes. GREAT info!

Anne, you validate everything I blogged about in this post.

MrFritzNYC, thanks for the link to Dr. Eades' opinion on MSG. It's nice to hear various sides of the issue.

2/21/2007 10:31 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

MSG, in the original form, called natural glutamic acid wasn't that bad. It's the currently used, industrially-mass produced form that is detrimental to health.

In 1908 Kikunae Ikeda invented the food ingredient monosodium glutamate. About one year later, with a partner, he formed a Japanese company, Ajinomoto, to produce the product. Monosodium glutamate did not appear in the United States to any degree until the late 1940s, following the Second World War. During the war, it had been noted that Japanese soldiers' rations tasted better than the rations used by US soldiers. The difference was believed to be "monosodium glutamate." Today, "monosodium glutamate" or its reactive component, "processed free glutamic acid," is found in almost all of the processed foods that are manufactured in the United States. It is this latter form that is causing all the trouble.

"Monosodium glutamate" is approximately 78% processed free glutamic acid and 22% sodium (salt) and moisture, with about 1% contaminants. Again, it is the processed free glutamic acid that causes people to suffer adverse reactions, and, unfortunately, there are over 40 food ingredients other than "monosodium glutamate" that contain processed free glutamic acid in varying amounts. Consequently, consumers refer to all processed free glutamic acid as MSG, regardless of the name of the ingredient.

MSG has now been implicated in a number of the neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and Huntington's disease.

In general, the natural glutamic acid found in food does not cause problems, but the synthetic free glutamic acid formed during industrial processing is a toxin. In addition, when MSG is formed using hydrochloric acid the final product includes carcinogens.

So it would be wise to eliminate MSG completely from your diet. That means avoiding all processed foods. As a result, you will feel better. For example, School violence is another possible result of high MSG ingestion. The effects of these toxins in children's diets should be further investigated. There are high levels of MSG in soy products and seasoning mixes used in school lunch programs, fast foods and snack foods.

Some relevant references:

1. Amer. Med. Ass. Arch. Opthalmol. 58: 193 1957
2. Science 164: 719-721 May, 9, 1969
3. Science, Volume 278, 796
4. Samuels, Jack, Phd,
5. See
6. See
7. See
8. See

2/21/2007 11:28 PM  
Blogger Scott Kustes said...

Great post Jimmy! Avoiding MSG is just one more reason to eat real foods rather than packaged foods. My only MSG ingestion is 2-3 times a year when I get my Chinese fix. Other than that, I avoid neurotoxins (of which aspartame is one as well) at all costs.

Modern Forager

2/22/2007 8:27 AM  
Blogger Alicorn700 said...

I am also extremely sensitive to MSG. It began in my early 20's. I started getting migraines so bad it hurt to breathe. A couple of years later other symptoms started appearing. One day at work my nose went pins and needles numb, followed by my mouth. The Dr. said I was having a different type of migraine he termed a complicated migraine. It is like a mini stoke where half of my body goes numb. At least when I have a stoke like migraine it doesn't hurt as bad as the ones that start out with my losing vision. Last time I lost my vision it was only 5 minutes after eating approximately 10 Planter's Honey Roast peanuts. My migraine lasted 2 days. I wrote to them and told them it would be nice if they labeled the MSG. Their response of course was that they didn't have to label it unless it was 99% pure, and if it's a sub ingredient in their corn syrup they don't have to say anything. If doctors ever did want to do a human MSG study I would be up for it. Once ingested I go blind in 5 minutes, my body temp drops, and the pressure in my brain skyrockets, it's something which can most likely be documented easily. It's probably only a matter of time before an accidental ingestion of it kills me. When I successfully avoid MSG I am 100% headache and migraine free. Its a far cry from the constant headaches and migraines 3x a week. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you fight these people who are killing people and destroying lives for greed. Also do you know of any way to measure the amount of MSG in foods after they are made and packaged? It would be great if someone could do a study to find the actual content amount out. I have seen some things with it in them at least 8 times like certain fish sticks. EWW ICK!

11/10/2007 8:59 PM  

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