MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a sodium salt of glutamic acid. As a food additive, it's used to enhance flavor. It's found in many seasonings, sauces, salad dressings and prepared foods; it's also often used in fast food preparation. Side effects associated with MSG consumption include a burning feeling in the chest, arms and face, as well as chest pains, headache, fatigue, heart palpitations and nausea. The FDA does not require manufacturers who use MSG in their products to list it as an ingredient. Here's a list of foods that often contain MSG; please keep in mind that not all products from these companies contain MSG, so check with the manufacturers to be sure.
1) Prepared and Packaged Foods
Many prepared foods contain MSG, especially snack foods like chips, frozen meals, canned soups and instant soups. Some of the most popular packaged foods contain MSG. Some of them are:
- Hamburger Helper
- Lipton's Onion Soup Mix
- Progresso soups
- Campbell's soups
Most frozen pizzas, processed vegetables, processed and canned meats and frozen pot pies contain MSG as a flavor enhancer.
2) Sauces and Seasonings
Many sauces, seasonings and salad dressings contain MSG. Soy sauce, fish sauce, gravy and dipping sauces often contain MSG. Here are some of the salts, seasonings, sauces and dressings that contain MSG:
- Accent seasoning
- Bacon Bits
- Goya Sazon
- Lawry's Season Salt
- Gravy Master
- Bragg's Liquid Aminos
Sweeteners, like brown sugar and Nutrasweet, often contain MSG, as do many salad dressings. Some processed cheeses, like processed parmesan cheese, contain MSG. Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and many other condiments contain this food additive as well.
3) Fast Foods and Chain Restaurant Foods
Fast foods are very high in MSG, especially Chinese food. While most Chinese and other Asian fast food restaurants use MSG as a flavor enhancer, many now offer MSG-free alternatives or will be willing to prepare them if asked.
Some fast food restaurants who regularly use MSG include:
- Burger King
- Taco Bell
Popular chain restaurants, like Applebee's, are also known to use MSG in many of their products. Often, that's not because the restaurants intentionally put MSG into the food, but because it's present in the sweeteners, spices and sauces they use, or because it's present in packaged and processed foods used by that restaurant. If you'd like to avoid MSG at your favorite restaurants, check that restaurant's food allergy guide online, and avoid using spices, sauces or sweeteners at that restaurant. Many restaurants will provide MSG free sweeteners, spices and sauces if you ask.
Many snacks, like chips, contain MSG as a flavor enhancer. The dips and sauces that many people like to eat in conjunction with chips, pretzels and other snacks also often contain MSG. While some snack foods, like plain potato chips and Cheez-Its crackers, are MSG free, many others contain MSG, sometimes in levels high enough to cause an allergic reaction in those sensitive to glutamic acid. Popular snack foods that contain MSG include:
- Pringles chips (the seasoned varieties)
- Planters nuts
- Unilever and Knorr instant dip products
Most flavored potato chips and processed cheese flavored snacks also contain monosodium glutamate, so you should try to avoid them.