Tuesday, February 22, 2011

MSG by any other name is just as. . . .well, foul.

Today Dear Hubby made a run to Whole Foods, with is relatively close to his work. He found that the tomato sauce that we buy (organic and in glass bottles) was out of stock, but talked to an employee to find out that we could special order these and they would hold them. He also picked up some cheese, pork (which I used to make a homemade version of a ‘sloppy' meat sandwich that I think I will call a Messy Pork Sandwich), apple juice, etc. He also tried to pick up a small treat. He realized, after he left the store, that he may have made a mistake in not reading the ingredients. What he picked up sounded safe enough since it was Whole Foods 365 Brand Sea Salt & Vinegar Kettle Cooked Potato Chips. You may have guessed where I am heading, but for those that haven't, this product contains a few ingredients that are on the list of "Names of Ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG)", namely "maltodextrin", "modified corn starch", and I suspect "malted barley extract" (the list includes malt extract and barley malt, and I have had a reaction to malted barley extract) . Truth in Labeling also recently posted about this product, saying that it contains Kombu seaweed in their sea salt, and that it may also cause reactions.


First, let me say that I love Whole Foods. They are a great source for us to find products that are whole and natural. Second, we both recognize that it is our responsibility to read the label. I am not vilifying the company, but I am using this as an opportunity to explain the difficulty of trying to avoid monosodium glutamate. Whole Foods says that they don't sell anything with MSG, but they only exclude the version that specifies ‘MSG' or monosodium glutamate. Unfortunately, that policy leaves the door wide open to over forty other ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid. My point is that while I love stores like Whole Foods, I still have to read the labels.


I honestly think that the ingredient shell game that the food industry plays is one reason that it takes so long for many people to realize that they have a sensitivity to this ingredient. A person may look at ingredient lists for foods that make them feel ill and not see the same name, so they may think their reaction is ‘all in their head'. I also  believe that reactions are cumulative, meaning that several small amounts, over several days, can cause a big reaction. If there really is nothing wrong with MSG, why does it hide under so many aliases?


Would it be acceptable if instead of listing ‘peanuts', a manufacturer listed ‘ground nuts', ‘legume seeds', or ‘Arachis hypogaea seeds'? After all, peanuts are called ‘ground nuts' in some parts of the world, and they are the edible seed of a legume, Arachis hypogaea. Of course this would not be acceptable because many people have violent reactions to peanuts, and as such have to be protected. It would be wrong to hide this known allergen. How, then, is it acceptable to hide an ingredient that can cause a host of serious reactions in individuals. Some of the greater known MSG reactions include myriad intestinal issues, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, hives, mood swing, etc. Lately I have been reading information that says that these reactions are not true allergic reactions, but rather reactions to a toxin. 


Some people don't believe that MSG sensitivity is a real thing. These people may say that this is all in my head. If that is true, why do I have reactions to items that I believe are safe, only to find out that there is a form that I did not recognize without reading the list? How is it that since I stopped eating MSG I have seen numerous health issues clear up that I did not recognize as being caused by ingesting it? 


Regardless of your belief, or disbelief, of the toxicity of monosodium glutamate, there is a more basic issue at the heart of this debate. Don't I, as an individual, have the right to choose to eat, or not eat, a particular additive? It would seem to me that my most basic and primal right is to choose what I take in to nourish my body. It would also seem to me that attempting to circumvent the choice of so many individuals (by hiding this ingredient under other names and by falsely labeling foods as containing ‘no msg') is a blatant violation of the trust that we should have with our food providers. It is time to take back our plates. At times we may feel powerless, but never forget that the consumer gets a vote every time he or she spends a dollar. Vote wisely, keep well.

11 comments:

Gail Spach said...

Hi Heidi,
Thanks for your thoughtful and well-written post. I agree with you whole-heartedly since I also have reactions to the additives you mention. I also wish that foods could be labeled accurately. It's already hard enough to avoid foods that may cause a reaction without being caught off guard by ones that are not obvious. I'm glad you mentioned malted barley extract, and barley malt. I was just thinking about those this morning. It's hard to find a flour or cold cereal that doesn't have it in it, so even if you buy pre-made baked goods that contain "flour" it could be a problem.
I also saw a slew of health issues clear up when I steered clear of MSG and its aliases/cousins.
I'm looking forward to exploring your site and recipes.
Thanks,
Gail

Heidi a/k/a Thistle said...

Hello, Gail. Thank you for commenting, and welcome to my blog. The flour issue is a relatively new complication for me, so I am working on finding more information on sources for flour that is not 'enriched' with malted barley. I hope you enjoy the blog. Please feel free to comment with concerns or questions. Take care and keep well. :)

Gail Spach said...

Thanks, Heidi,
I think I heard that flour that says it has malted barley in it does not always contain it, but of course there's no way to know either way so it doesn't make a difference in practical terms! Apparently they put the malted barley in the wheat if the wheat's quality is low.
I always buy Breadsmith bread, which is excellent. The majority of their breads don't include malted barley or dough conditioners.
For flour, I have got Whitelily light baking flour (all-p) which is enriched with vitamins, but doesn't contain malted barley. Let me know if you find other flours.
What I find frustrating is that so many cereals contain either molasses or malted barley. I eat a lot of oatmeal... but that gets kind of old after a while :)

Heidi a/k/a Thistle said...

Hey, Gail. I make all of our breads and tortillas, which has the added benefit of reducing how much bread that we eat. I am looking at getting a grain mill when funds permit. Do you also have issues with molasses? As far as I know I have not had any issues with that thus far. As far as cereal, I think you can get organic wheat farina. Also, I have a recipe for brown rice pudding, which you can make ahead and reheat.

Gail Spach said...

Do you have a good tortilla recipe? I have made my own quite a few times, and while edible, they are not great. They tend to be a bit tough. I'll look into your brown rice pudding recipe too. Thanks.

Gail Spach said...

Heidi,
I just did a search for tortillas on your blog and found the olive oil tortilla recipe so ignore the last post!
I'm going to try them. Thanks!

Heidi a/k/a Thistle said...

You are very welcome. I am always working on some more recipes for the blog, but feel free to comment and let me know if there are any recipes you'd like to see, and I will try my best to get it for you. :)

Marlene Taylor said...

I love your blog! I found it through true in labeling as well as many others, I've noticed. When I was in college I learned I have a high sensitivity to MSG. It put me down for weeks when I lived with some friends whom were buying lots of instant oriental imported soups. I love soup and at that time had no idea I had any sensitivity at all. When I had a violent migraine episode that put me down for a week (no work, school, or light) that's when I looked at all the packaging. They were all wheat and MSG derived ingredients. I remember most of those ingredients to this day 15 years later and yes, many of the other ingredients were MSG under another name as well as the blatant offender. I'm discovering what other ingredients are out there. Do you think regular prepared barley would have a reaction like malted barley? I recently found I love to prepare long cooking barley, ate it three times over the last week, and last night had a horrible migraine. And I've never really reacted well to wheat flours, so thinking I am like you with a malted barley sensitivity. Thank you for your time!

Heidi a/k/a Thistle said...

Hey Marlene, and thank you for your kind words. I am not sure about regular prepared barley, because in my case, I seem to react specifically to processed unbound glutamates (generally 'processed' much more than I would achieve by mere cooking), but from my understanding you can certainly have severe reactions from items that are cooked for long periods (for example, meat stock). I also used to see a cumulative effect from items with MSG; years ago before my sensitivity was as heightened as it now is, and before I chose to aggressively work to avoid it, I would notice that I might have a mild reaction to a small amount, but if I repeated small 'doses' over several days, my reaction would increase in severity. I'm not an expert, by any means, but if you continue to have such reactions, and if you have eliminated other possible causes, please listen to what your body is telling you. In my experience, listening has its own reward. I hope that this helps, and apologize for taking a few days to respond. Take care, and thank you for reading my blog.

Marlene Taylor said...

Thank you kindly. I have found listening to my body is really the only way. It has surprised me over the years to learn that this food or that habit was bad for me and due to listening to my body I had already quit it. I've taken to making stock and other long cooking methods in a pressure cooker of recent years and happy to hear that this method may circumvent creating MSG. No worries on taking some days to respond, I know we are all busy! I agree that small amounts over several days leads me to a crash and burn sort of reaction as well. I know if I have a very small amount once a month I'm okay. The other thing to note is that I love many of the things on the list that exacerbate MSG, so really I think that is more for me to be aware of these days. I'm moving toward a more plant based diet to try it for a month (hopefully by September) to see if that helps. So was just looking into things like barley before I make that jump.

Heidi a/k/a Thistle said...

I have been wanting to try the pressure cooker method, as I understand that it works much better than regular cooking methods on pasture-raised poultry. Something in pasture-raised chickens makes it harder for me to get a good rich stock (I think I read that their bones are much more dense). Have you tried milling your own wheat? I have switched entirely to freshly milled, but I haven't written much about it because I wasn't sure how much interest there would be. I've finally found a way to make a freshly milled whole wheat that has a light texture and achieves a nice rise. Good luck with your changes, and I hope you keep in touch- I'd love to read about your results and progress.