I am writing this entry from my perspective of a mum who advocates that whole foods are always best for children (or everyone for that matter), and if processed/packaged foods can make our lives easier, we definitely can be more discerning when selecting food products to put into our kids. I am here to empower you with the knowledge, and not play the blame game or shame anyone. Enjoy your read!
Let's break down MSG and learn how to look for it in our kids' foods! Many of us, including myself, are feeding these foods to our kids without even realising that it is what it is. MSG has sneakily entered many of our packaged foods, which includes our breakfast cereals, "healthy" snacks and even in baby food. :(
MSG is naturally-occurring!
What do you think? MSG is simply the addition of one (mono) sodium molecule to the amino acid glutamic acid, which is found naturally in many foods. When any amino acid builds up in the body, most people have the ability to break it down in the liver without much impact. However, some amino acids, such as glutamic acid (glutamate), may be more difficult to convert and flush out of the body.
MSG is known as an ‘excitatory neurotransmitter’, meaning that it stimulates nerve cells in order to relay its signal. For this reason, MSG has been labeled an ‘excitotoxin’. When you see kids having a tantrum sometimes it can be from their brains being overloaded and unable to self regulate due to an intake of excessive glutamate. Other people can show a red face or experience shortness of breath.
These reactions — known as MSG symptom complex — include:
- Facial pressure or tightness
- Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
- Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
- Chest pain
- Tantrums in children
Children are more susceptible to excitotoxin damage than adults.
A child’s brain is 4 times more sensitive to excitotoxins than an adult's brain.
Common immediate reactions as a result of consuming these excitotoxins can cause behavioural disorders such as ADHD, learning difficulties, sleeping issues, nausea and stomach cramps.
Isn't MSG present in all foods?
While it is true that some forms of MSG can be naturally-occurring in foods such as tomato and potatoes, our bodies can deal with it in its natural state more easily than synthetically added MSG, which is often in much higher doses. Glutamic acid found in unprocessed “whole food” protein does not cause adverse reactions. To cause adverse reactions, the glutamic acid must have been processed/manufactured or come from protein that has been fermented. So in summary – whole foods are not a problem – only synthetically added MSG tend to cause reactions in people.
Taste Bud Changer
So we now understand MSG’s role as a flavour enhancer but there is another issue that can impact our kids. Concentrated free glutamic acid or MSG act as nerve stimulants and will change how the taste buds taste food. Even a really bad tasting food will taste fantastic when high levels of glutamic acid are introduced as a flavour enhancer. As a result, our kids may start to dislike/reject whole foods that have been painstakingly prepared for them.
How can I tell if MSG is present in my food?
This is the core of it all! MSG can be found hidden in many different names. You will rarely look at an ingredient list and see MSG written. In fact many products that contain MSG will even say on the front ’no added MSG’ because it is in the ingredient list under a variety of different forms and different names.
MSG doesn’t have to be declared when a food is not required to bear a label, for example in restaurant or takeaway food. When glutamates and glutamate salts are naturally present in a food (e.g. in meat, or in mushrooms), or in an ingredient of a food (e.g. in yeast extract, or hydrolysed vegetable protein) they don’t have to be labelled. Manufacturers don’t need to label these foods as containing MSG unless the “added ingredient” is 99% pure MSG.
If MSG is produced as a result of protein hydrolysis or a byproduct of protein processing, manufacturers do not not require MSG to appear on the label.
A product labeled “No MSG” may still have MSG or free glutamic acid as a result of protein processing, as long as pure MSG was not added.
The truth is that protein-hydrolysis-based glutamates or MSG are found in majority of highly processed food. Even vegetable proteins are hydrolyzed to make veggies burgers and many other frozen or pre-prepared vegan and “health foods.”