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In the grocery store, the best way to avoid food additives like flavoring agents, artificial colors, and added sugar is to “shop the outside.” The produce, bakery, meats, dairy and frozen sections are all around the outside walls of the store. The packaged foods, snacks and preserved products are in the aisles. Supplement that easy guideline with knowledge about what to avoid (e.g., MSG) within those sections:

  • In the bakery section:
    • steer clear of processed snack cakes and desserts. Also, look for gluten-free alternatives if that’s your thing.
  • In the meat section:
    • avoid pre-marinated or “seasoned” meats. Sometimes, something like chicken breasts will have the term “seasoned” to refer to the process of adding salt water to make the meat juicier.
  • In the dairy section:
    • be sure to read the ingredients on yogurt and cheese products. Many yogurt brands, especially those marketed to kids, contain added sugar and food coloring agents.
  • In the frozen section:
    • stick to organic frozen veggies and fruit. Skip the TV dinners.

When looking at the ingredients list, it can be hard to tell what’s good and what’s bad. Here’s how to avoid the two common dangerous culprits. Your family can do without MSG and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

What is MSG?

MSG (or monosodium glutamate) is a salt form of the glutamate amino acid. This amino acid naturally occurs in small amounts in savory foods, like mushrooms, cheeses, and tomatoes. However, in artificially high concentrations, a small percentage of the population has reported an MSG allergy and other negative health symptoms.

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MSG Health Risks

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
  • Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

While the exact cause of these symptoms is unknown, Mayo Clinic recommends that if you experience discomfort after eating MSG, you may have an MSG allergy and should avoid it in the future.[1] However, there has been a research-confirmed link between MSG and problems in brain development when newborn infants are exposed to it[2]. The research into the risks of MSG is ongoing.

Identifying MSG in Food

Although they can be a pain to read, food labels can be your best friend. It seems like a simple task, but label reading can be tricky — especially when the key ingredient you are trying to identify has SEVERAL alternate names!  The lists below will help you identify MSG in food.

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Ingredients that may contain MSG [3]:

  • Gelatin
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
  • Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
  • Yeast Extract
  • Malted Barley
  • Rice Syrup or Brown Rice Syrup

Other names of MSG include [4]:

  • monosodium salt
  • monohydrate
  • monosodium glutamate monohydrate
  • monosodium L-glutamate monohydrate
  • MSG monohydrate
  • sodium glutamate monohydrate
  • UNII-W81N5U6R6U
  • L-Glutamic acid
  • monosodium salt
  • monohydrate

The Dangers of High-Fructose Corn Syrup

In a 2015 study, researchers found a link between dietary fructose intake and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)[5]. Another 2016 study found that increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is a major risk factor for the development of NAFLD[6].  That study also includes these fructose facts:

  • High-fructose corn syrup is the most commonly consumed sugar today
  • Fructose consumption may increase the risk of diabetes since it supports insulin resistance. Fructose supports insulin resistance because the body does not need insulin to process fructose
  • HFCS also leads to the creation of free radicals in the body

How to Spot High-Fructose Corn Syrup in the Ingredients

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Recently, the HFCS manufacturers have lobbied the FDA to change the name to the innocuous “corn sugar.”[7] This decision is mainly a marketing move since consumers are becoming more and more savvy about the dangers of High-fructose corn syrup. Watch for these words on the label:[8]

  • Corn Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Maize syrup
  • Fructose
  • Agave Nectar
  • Cane Juice
  • Corn Syrup Solids
  • Fruit Juice Concentrate
  • Invert Sugar
  • Maltodextrin
  • Tapioca syrup
  • Glucose/fructose syrup
  • Dahlia syrup
  • Crystalline glucose.

Next Steps

Let’s face it: there’s a reason food manufacturers put this stuff in our food — it makes the processed food taste better!

Luckily, if you crave the umami meatiness of a food that contains MSG, try adding parmesan cheese or homemade stock, whether it’s beef, chicken, or vegetable. This bone broth delivers deep, rich flavor, and it speeds healing and fights inflammation, too! For alternatives to sugar, check out this  Hearty Soul article all about natural sweeteners to try.

Be sure to share this article on Facebook to help your friends and family shop smart, too.

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