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Leaving a Bad Taste
Imagine yourself as an influential member of the food industry called to Chicago in 1948 to hear about an apparent wonder substance – an Oriental food secret which even made Japanese army rations more palatable. . . . The United States food industry responded with vigor. It is now difficult to find a product without monosodium glutamate (MSG). . . . Little did these enthusiastic food producers know that their "miracle substance" had a dark side, which would eventually result in the MSG Syndrome.1
By now the food industry’s exploitation of consumers’ presumed love of "good taste" has resulted in hazardous eating for millions of Americans. In his book In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome, George R. Schwartz, MD, a toxicologist and specialist in emergency medicine, describes symptoms from MSG ingestion and lists the many foods that now contain it, the most likely being canned and frozen foods, prepared snacks, potato chips, dry soup, international foods, and poultry ingested with broth.
MSG is a toxic substance. Some people react at very low doses – less than one gram, yet "an average bowl of wonton soup contains three to five grams, [and] one teaspoon of Accent salt contains almost six grams."2 The so-called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome begins shortly after ingestion of MSG and involves "numbness at the back of the neck gradually radiating to both arms and the back, and general weakness and palpitation."3 Careful studies include a survey, done by a Harvard Medical School researcher, who found that almost 30 percent of 1,529 people reacted to MSG. Headache was most commonly reported, also "dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. . . . Many people had emotional reactions ranging from depression to insomnia to feeling ‘tense’"4 Depression lasting many days has been precisely connected to MSG.5 All symptoms would disappear when the MSG was eliminated from the diet:
How many of the estimated 100 million sufferers are experiencing the depressive symptoms reported by [another researcher] as caused by MSG? . . . Very few of the physicians and psychologists who treat depressed people are aware of this possible cause. Yet research leads to the conclusion that many people are experiencing mood changes directly associated with MSG.6
Severe, sometimes life-threatening cases of asthma have been reported, with the cause carefully traced to eating MSG-containing food: "Many asthma sufferers are seen in emergency rooms. How many of these cases are precipitated by MSG has never been analyzed. Rarely are patients with asthma told to avoid MSG or change their diet."7
Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid that is a part of many proteins, which we ordinarily digest gradually into their constituent amino acids. However, when MSG is ingested as an already separated amino acid it acts as a neurotransmitter, stimulating the nerves in our taste buds to enhance pleasant tastes – especially meaty ones – and to suppress unpleasant flavors.
MSG is on the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list of the Food and Drug Administration. It is not considered a food additive, but an unregulated seasoning classed by the FDA as a flavor enhancer.8 It is not even regulated as a food additive like aspartame (Nutrasweet®), whose possible deleterious effects were described in Dr. TePas’ article, "Trick or Treat", in NOHA NEWS, Fall 1990.
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein contains MSG (12-20 percent). In fact, MSG is the flavor-enhancing factor in hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Since monosodium glutamate is an amino acid, MSG is often disguised on labels as "natural flavor." Other aliases include "gourmet powder," "Chinese seasoning," "Kombu extract," and "PL-50."9
Last October when Dr. Schwartz was a guest of NOHA members Adrienne Samuels, PhD, and her husband, Jack, the Samuels invited the NOHA program committee to meet with him at their home. Together they alerted us to the vast number of processed foods that contain MSG. We can avoid this toxic substance by eating whole, unprocessed foods and by avoiding chickens and turkeys with "flavor packets." Fresh, whole foods taste good enough without "flavor enhancing."
1Schwartz, George R., In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Health Press, 1988, pp. 9-10.
2Ibid., p. 37, footnote.
3Ibid., p. 11.
4Ibid., p. 13.
5Ibid., p. 32.
6Ibid., p. 27.
7Ibid., pp. 23-25.
8Ibid., pp. 52-53.
9Ibid., pp. 53-54.
*The American Nutrition Association was formerly known as the Nutrition for Optimal Health Association [NOHA].
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