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Label Reading: What is MSG and Should I Be Avoiding It?

Label Reading: What is MSG and Should I Be Avoiding It?

MSG, monosodium glutamate, is a type of salt and synthetic food additive that is used as a flavor enhancer. The flavor can be described as umami or savory. It not only makes foods more palatable, but it also makes them hyperpalatable.

Hyperpalatability may sound like a good thing however, biochemist Rob Wolf explains that today we “can keep changing the palate experience in a way that bypasses that palate fatigue, and it overrides the neuroregulation of appetite” (Sanfilippo, 2017). For example, after we are done eating spaghetti for dinner, we can have brownies, and then to top it off…a late night potato chip snack. It’s hard to regulate our appetite when foods are hyperpalatable.

Common sources of MSG include processed foods (e.g. chips, fast food, convenience meals, deli meats, salad dressings), seasonings and sauces like soy sauce, sports drinks like Gatorade, and Asian restaurant foods (Link, 2018).

See a more detailed list below.

Table 1. Different sources of MSG in commercial products (Niaz et al., 2018).

MSG is highly suspected to be a neurotoxin. MSG acts on glutamate receptors in the body and releases neurotransmitters which play critical roles in normal bodily functions (Niaz et al., 2018). Acute reactions known to occur in some individuals include bloating, muscle tightness, numbness tingling, headaches, asthma attacks) (US FDA, 2012)(Link, 2018). Research also suggests some potential chronic effects related to MSG including reproductive malfunctions, liver damage, weight gain, and insulin resistance (Niaz et al., 2018).

When reading the label, check for the ingredient monosodium glutamate, glutamic acid, or glutamate. Also be conscious of the items listed above in Table 1. Another ingredient to look out for is “Natural Flavoring”. This can include up to 50-100 ingredients – MSG being one of them! Being a smart consumer today is challenging but knowing what to look out for on labels makes it easier! If you have any questions regarding a certain product or ingredient – send me an email at


Garcia, C. (Host). (2015, September 27). Food Additives Worth Avoiding [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from

Link, R., RD. (2018, August 23). Top 7 MSG Side Effects + 15 Foods with MSG to Avoid. Retrieved January 04, 2021, from

Niaz, K., Zaplatic, E., & Spoor, J. (2018). Extensive use of monosodium glutamate: A threat to public health?. EXCLI journal, 17, 273–278.

Sanfilippo, D. (Host). (2017, March 6). Wired to Eat with Robb Wolf, Appetite Control & Carb Tolerance [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from

United States Food and Drug Administration. (2012, November 19). Questions and Answers on Monosodium glutamate (MSG). Retrieved January 04, 2021, from


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