Food labels. That is, ingredients lists. They change more often than the products you purchase! When we find out there’s something nasty in the average product – MSG, caramel coloring, carcinogenic chemicals – it’s usually not too long before the manufacturers make a change. The food industry usually manages to stay one step ahead of us.
Take, for example, MSG. Also known as monosodium glutamate, MSG is a well-known flavor enhancer used by food manufacturers (and notoriously, Chinese restaurants). You may be thinking that a little flavor isn’t too bad a thing – some of you know otherwise.
The problem with MSG?
It’s literally an “upper” for the nerves, causing them to go into such a happy frenzy that they die. This is called excitotoxicity. Funnily enough, this is called Chinese Food Syndrome medically.
So, obviously we don’t want that in food, right?
(Here comes the sarcasm:) Don’t worry! The government has regulations on the safe amount of MSG to be added to food. Because of these regulations, all of our food products now contain less MSG than before! (Sarcasm done!)
The true story? Well, the labels are certainly different, but the foods contain the same amount of MSG as before. You may be aware that ingredients lists run in descending order, from largest amounts contained in the product to lowest. So, as we go down the list, the amounts become less and less.
After the big media coverage on MSG in foods, the ingredient went from, say, 4th place on the ingredients list to 8th place.
Well, here’s something you may not know – MSG has a variety of sources by which the manufacturers can extract it from, and many of these sources have differing chemical structures and/or names.
Get where I’m going with this?
You may see MSG lower on the product label, but new, strange ingredients have been springing up recently: yeast extract, protein concentrate, beef flavor, protein isolate, natural flavors, artificial flavors, spice, spice extract, glutamic acid…
The list goes on and on. If you’re wanting to know all the names, and I hope you do, I’ve provided one at the end of this article. But for now, let me get to the point!
Food manufacturers, as the government regulated, reduced the amount of MSG in food products. They also, however, snuck it back in using different names.
Because of this, the MSG content of the food should be listed as, for example, the 4th ingredient – but, since it’s been split into several differently named ingredients, it appears as the 6th 7th and 9th.
I’ve seen products on the shelves of your average grocery store that contain five, even six different forms of MSG.
Well, obviously that sucks. But the news gets worse:
They do this with all kinds of harmful food additives. It happens so often, it’s been given the name “ingredient splitting.”
So, what does this mean for you? A health-conscious, savvy person understands that he or she can’t know for certain what’s in packaged foods or restaurant foods.
First things first: don’t stress. While some companies pull the wool over your eyes to get that sale, you’re sure to find some that actually care about the ingredients in their products – more often than not, these will be found at the health food store, not the run-of-the-mill grocer.
But the only way to know is to read the labels carefully. At first, there are surely going to be some ingredient names that baffle you.
When I was first starting out on my journey to health, I decided this: if I don’t know what the ingredient is, I won’t purchase the product. Sometimes I avoided the bad stuff this way, and sometimes I just made life more frustrating, but in the end I learned tons about food additives and the good reasons to avoid the bad ones.
Another way that some people approach this dilemma, which is conducive to health but oftentimes more difficult: buy only products with no ingredients list. That’s those single-ingredient foods! Produce and meat, bulk-section items, etc.
Well, that about wraps it up. Last but not least, here’s that current list of alternate names for MSG:
Glutamic Acid, Glutamate, Monosodium Glutamate, Monopotassium Glutamate, Calcium Glutamate, Monoammonium Glutamate, Magnesium Glutamate, Natrium Glutamate, Hydrolyzed protein, Calcium Caseinate, Sodium Caseinate, Yeast Extract, Autolyzed Yeast, Textured Protein, Protein Isolate or Concentrate, Natural Flavors, Spice, Spice Extract, Flavor, Artificial Flavor