August 21, 2008

Getting Fat? Maybe it is the Hidden MSG in Your Food

Scientists already knew that adding MSG (monsodium glutamate) to their feed causes weight gain in rodents. Now an interesting study done by scientists at the University of North Carolina quantifies JUST how fat MSG makes humans. More importantly, it finds that the effect of dietary MSG on weight gain is independent of how much you eat or exercise.

The study uses an elegant design. As reported in this Science Daily article MSG Use Linked To Obesity, what the researchers did was this:

"Researchers at UNC and in China studied more than 750 Chinese men and women, aged between 40 and 59, in three rural villages in north and south China. The majority of study participants prepared their meals at home without commercially processed foods. About 82 percent of the participants used MSG in their food. Those users were divided into three groups, based on the amount of MSG they used. The third who used the most MSG were nearly three times more likely to be overweight than non-users."

This is a nice design because the study population was not eating a diet containing other food additives as their food was home cooked traditional fare. Chinese traditionally use MSG as a seasoning in their home cooking.

Later the article says:

" 'We found that prevalence of overweight was significantly higher in MSG users than in non-users,' He said. 'We saw this risk even when we controlled for physical activity, total calorie intake and other possible explanations for the difference in body mass. The positive associations between MSG intake and overweight were consistent with data from animal studies.' "

If you are thinking, "Well, that is all very nice, but I don't eat Chinese food and I avoid foods with MSG on the label," it's worth considering that MSG is hidden in many if not all of the boxed, canned, and frozen foods you buy in the grocery store, including may "diet" foods. This is because manufacturers know buyers don't want to buy foods with MSG on the label, so they use another ingredient name for the component in the food that carries the monsodium glutamate molecule.

MSG can be hidden, legally, being listed on a label as any of the following:

Textured protein
Hydrolyzed protein
Yeast extract
Glutamic acid
Calcium caseinate
Hydrolyzed corn gluten
Monopotassium glutamate
Sodium caseinate
Yeast nutrient
Yeast food
Autolyzed yeast
Natrium glutamate

Other ways of hiding MSG are to call it "natural flavoring." Anything that contains soy sauce contains MSG, too.

With this in mind, take a look at lists of ingredients found on the foods in your pantry and fridge. You may be surprised at how many of them contain some form of MSG. Looking around my pantry and fridge just now, I found MSG in two salad dressings, mustard, barbecue sauce, and chicken broth.

If you are having a problem controlling your weight or your hunger, eliminating all MSG from your diet might be worth a try.


Anna said...

This is an interesting study because one of the arguments that deflated the anti-MSG message has always been the enormous amount of MSG used in Asia by an enormous amount of people and how well they (apparently) tolerate MSG (and the MSG-headache link is shown to be quite weak).

Nonetheless, I've been generally avoiding MSG (& the various forms it takes) for some years because it doesn't into my goal of reducing the use of industrially processed cheap foods (MSG creates a "meaty" taste without using expensive meat).

BTW, MSG can be legally lurking in products that list "spices" as an ingredient, too. Also TVP (textured vegetable protein) and HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein). One needs to be a chemist or a food regulations lawyer these days to decipher the sneaky food labels. I prefer foods that come without labels - much easier. Then if I want MSG (or anything else), I'll add it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that MSG caused my headaches, but avoiding MSG really improved my diet and that helped my headaches a lot.

Trinkwasser said...

Bear in mind that glutamic acid is a "natural" component of meat etc. having said which and bearing in mind the quality of the source, have a look at this

and this

it's involved in so many pathways that excess could break many systems

Anne said...

I am a little confused. You have a link to the blog Junk Food Science and you say read before signing up for WLS(what is WLS?)

I went to this blog and found a post saying the correlation between weight and MSG was a "spurious correlation" is the link to the complete post.

Anne said...

I have read more of Junk Food science and I can't say I agree with all I have seen. I can't make comments or ask questions as she does not allow comments. I will continue to evaluate.

Anna said...


I've read Junk Food Science on and off for more than a year, perhaps two years. I have a love/hate relationship with it. While I like and admire her dogged ability to see past the stupid stuff that is passed off on us as "science-based" when it isn't, but at other times, she comes across as an an apologist for the processed industrial food industry. It's a strange blog that I find at times interesting, challenging, and somewhat frustrating.

Anna said...

WLS is Weight Loss Surgery, sometimes called Bariatric Surgery. Junk Food Science has posted a lot about weight issues and policies concerning weight issues.

Parth said...

Great post!