Before you polish off that next handful of cheese-flavored Goldfish, Chex Mix, or Doritos, you may want to take a closer look at the ingredients list. See anything like “autolyzed yeast,” “hydrolyzed soy protein,” or “glutamate?” If so, the product contains an MSG-equivalent. These additives are not labeled as monosodium glutamate (true MSG), but they are essentially the same thing.
Are these additives bad?
Depends on who you ask. The FDA, World Health Organization, and Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concluded many years ago that MSG and other synthetically produced glutamates are not harmful. Yet some scientists insist that glutamates do have negative effects on health, and should be avoided.
Why do food companies add MSG?
Its a flavor booster, especially for cheese and ranch flavored products. It provides the super intense, salty, “umami” flavor that makes our snack foods highly tasty.
What kinds of foods have MSG or its equivalents?
Too many to list, really. Many packaged salty snack foods, chicken and vegetable broths, sauces and flavorings, some low-fat yogurts, even some canned tuna. You can bet that any cheese or ranch-flavored snack product probably has hydrolyzed soy protein or autolyzed yeast, or both.
Should I avoid foods with glutamates?
This is a good time to recall two of Michael Pollan’s recommendations in his book Food Rules:
1. Eat mostly plants, not food that was made in a plant.
2. You can eat whatever you want, as long as you make it yourself. (The idea here is how often would you expend the time and energy to make your own French fries, cream puffs, or Goldfish crackers from scratch? Not very often. But on that note, check out this cool homemade Goldfish cracker recipe).
Another way to put it: as long as most of the foods you eat are whole foods – veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, sustainably-raised meats and fish, organic dairy – you don’t need to worry about eating the occasional glutamate-containing processed food (unless you notice it gives you unpleasant symptoms).