Dear SafeMama: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

By Kristie Turck •  Published 02/11/09 •  5 min read

Recently I keep reading about MSG. Do you know if all the baby foods you can buy are without MSG or at least the organic ones? How do I know that there isn’t anything hiding behind some other listed ingredient? Thank you for your help!

Oddly enough, I was just watching something about MSG on Food Detectives last night.   This is a great question though, as MSG is one of those things that gets somewhat of a bad rap, but at the same time, I’m a big believer that eating foods in their natural form, is better than eating something created from science.   Try telling me that when you shove candy laden with red dye #32 in my face, though.

Before I go into my findings, let me go back on a little MSG history.

MSG was discovered in 1907 by a Japanese researcher who asked his wife what made her soup so good.  When she gave him the “secret ingredient” that was her seaweed broth, which contain high concentrates of glutamic acid (naturally occurring glutamate), he went on to discover that he could recreate this same effect by evaporating the seaweed into a powder, which is how MSG was born.   The synthetic counterpart was then patented by the Ajinomoto corporation and marketed as a “flavor enhancer.”  MSG is considered safe for consumption in large quantities, and there was never really any sort of controversy until one person complained about side effects from MSG.  It was debunked, but the myth still lives on.

That said, while it is fine in moderation, it’s in just about everything.  And while I couldn’t pin down anything recently concrete about MSG in baby food, I wouldn’t be surprised to find it in at least the older stages of food, like meats and mixed meals.   It’s hard for me to say “yes, it definitely is” because I refused to give that stuff to my son when he started eating.   But like I said, it’s in just about everything, even organic foods, including some organic milk, “all natural” snacks, bullion, broths and other seasonings.

This is a case where it’s really good for the general public to learn to decipher labels.  I realize that this isn’t easy, and the food industry realizes this and uses this to its advantage.   It takes time to learn how to do this, but once you do, it really becomes second nature, and this is coming from someone with raging ADHD.   A fellow infertility blogger, that I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago, actually compiled a cheat sheet, which I’ve come to love and refer back to often.  She’s faced a lot of similar issues with her daughter that I’m just now starting to face with my son, so I have a great deal of respect for her knowledge and the research she’s done:

Hydrolyzed protein (any protein that is hydrolyzed), autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, protein isolate, “spices” and “natural flavorings.” Disodium inosinate and Disodium guanylate. Glutamate, Glutamic acid, Gelatin, Monosodium glutamate, Calcium caseinate, Textured protein, Monopotassium glutamate, Sodium caseinate, Calcium Caseinate, Yeast nutrient, Yeast extract, Yeast food, Autolyzed yeast, Hydrolyzed corn gluten, Natrium glutamate (natrium is Latin/German for sodium), Textured Protein.

These OFTEN contain MSG or create MSG during processing:

Carrageenan, Maltodextrin, Malt extract, Natural pork flavoring, Citric acid, Malt flavoring, Bouillon and Broth, Natural chicken flavoring, Soy protein isolate, Natural beef flavoring, Ultra-pasteurized, Soy sauce, Stock, Barley malt, Soy sauce extract, Whey protein concentrate, Pectin, Soy protein, Whey protein, Protease, Soy protein concentrate, Whey protein isolate, Protease enzymes, Anything protein fortified, Flavors(s) & Flavoring(s), Anything enzyme modified, Anything fermented, Natural flavor(s), & flavoring(s), Enzymes anything, Seasonings (the word “seasonings”. )

She’s written a great deal of information on MSG,  which you can find here and here.

This also seems like a lot of information to process at once.  You can’t take it out of your diet entirely, as it also occurs naturally, and that’s OK.   But what do you do about limiting it in your baby’s food?   Well, the first thing that comes to mind for me is to make it yourself.   Which I realize seems tedious and time consuming, but it really isn’t.   I managed to do it with my son, and once I got into a groove, I found it easy to do and I liked that I could control what he was eating and I didn’t have to worry about additives and preservatives.  And of course there’s the new Beaba Babycook, which wasn’t available when my son was starting out, (and I’m dying to try this with #2), and is supposed to make things even easier,  but even doing it the old fashioned way wasn’t too tedious if you’re not able to afford something swanky, like the Beaba Babycook Baby Food Maker.   And because we’re bound to get questions about it, is the Babycook BPA free?   The answer is: yes, it IS BPA free.