KEYS TO FITNESS: What is MSG?

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By SHEILA YONEMOTO, PT

I recently watched a documentary called “Food Fight” and it brought up some interesting facts about MSG.

Being third-generation Japanese American, I was brought up on MSG, otherwise known as Ajinomoto.  Later, I found out that this was MSG, or monosodium glutamate, and was told it was not even a food but rather a food additive that changed your perception of taste. I also learned that it was not a good thing to eat, so I quit cooking with it and tried to avoid it.

From my research, I learned that the Japanese started using naturally occurring MSG from seaweed to flavor their foods in 1908. MSG started showing up in American foods from manufactured sources in the 1940s. The Japanese labeled a fifth sense “umami” from what MSG does to the taste buds. MSG is often made from fermentation of food starch from cereals or molasses that comes from sugar beets or sugar cane. MSG stimulates taste, smell and hunger.

In 1968, Dr. John Olmey was doing research on MSG in mice and found that all mice fed MSG became grossly obese. Mice are often used in studies since they react similarly to human beings. MSG causes a 40% increase in appetite in mice and all mice who ate MSG became obese. It is believed that human sensitivity to MSG is five times greater than mice and 20 times greater than rhesus monkeys.

In the documentary “Food Fight,” they state that MSG is found in 85% of all processed foods and this food additive is probably meant to encourage eating and thus contributes to weight gain.

Only about 15% of the population is sensitive to MSG and the symptoms produced by ingesting MSG are short-lived. MSG has one-third the sodium of table salt. MSG originally came from seaweed in its natural state, but now most MSG is manufactured. Other foods with naturally occurring MSG include ripe tomatoes, Parmesan and Roquefort cheeses, mushrooms, peas, broccoli and corn.

Symptoms of MSG sensitivity include numbness and pressure in the face, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, headaches, sweating, wheezing, shortness of breath, throat swelling, asthma and burning sensations.

Foods that commonly have added MSG include canned soups and vegetables, frozen foods, processed meats, sausage, fast food, Asian food, chips, artificial cheese flavoring, onion soup mix, bouillon, snack crackers, and salad dressings.

Be aware that MSG is also known by other names such as glutamate, monosodium L-glutamate, L-glutamic acid, monoammonian L –glutamate, monpotassium L-glutamate, yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein, caseinate, natural flavors, vegetable protein extract, gelatin, malted barley, maltodextrin, modified food starch, textured protein and caramel. Most processed foods contain MSG.

The obesity problem in America is serious and MSG in processed foods may be one contributing factor. Eating fresh, organic, naturally raised meats, vegetables and fruits may be our best bet in combating obesity and other health problems.

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Sheila Yonemoto, P.T., has been a physical therapist for over 30 years, specializing in Integrative Manual Therapy utilizing a holistic approach. She can be reached at Yonemoto Physical Therapy, 55 S. Raymond Ave., Suite 100, Alhambra, CA  91801. Call (626) 576-0591 for a free consultation, or visit www.yonemoto.com for more information. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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