How and Why our family Avoids MSG

How and Why our family Avoids MSG

As you’ll note within this blog it is fairly hard to “always” avoid MSG (number 621) and obviously there will be times where we throw caution to the wind and “consciously choose” to wear the cost of eating foods ladened with this additive.

Life is to be lived after all, and sometimes by making a “poor food” choice we in fact further appreciate the effort most of us put into scrutinizing the foods we eat.  Some days we might simply decide to enjoy those potato crisps, fries or that Teriakyi sauce for the nasty and tempting, convenience junk that they are.

MSG is an additive we monitor fairly consistently in our house, not only because it is a ‘neurotoxin’ as discussed in MSG – What is it? Where is it found?, but because one of our boys reacts to it with great vigour.

We have noticed that if Nelson has a decent amount of MSG (not the MSG found in naturally fermented foods), within about 20 minutes he will start complaining that his head hurts. This pain progressively increases to a point where he will bury his head in his hands, start moaning and crying, and vomit continuously for about 30-40 minutes.

Now, I am known as a bit of a Food Nazi amidst extended family, so I can vividly remember the instances that Nelson reacted.

Let me give you some examples. Not long ago we set off on a road trip and I brought with us what I thought were the same organic corn chips that we had enjoyed on numerous occasions. What I didn’t realise is that they were in fact “cheese” flavoured -including “natural flavour”, rather than being the “plain” corn chip variety that I would normally purchase. Nelson had had nothing else ‘processed’ that day and it was not long before he experienced all the signs and symptoms of an extreme migraine-nausea, head pain and vomiting.

Interestingly the first time Nelson reacted he was with his Grandparents. Now perhaps all grandparents are the same. Ours, at times, like to test how serious we are when we say “If you want to give them treats while we’re gone, can you please stick with ‘quality’, rather than cheap and nasty rubbish.” Yet it is fascinating how Grandparents can at times place little people in a tricky position encouraging them by saying things like,

“Oh go on, have some more, Mum’s not here.”

Anyway, on this occasion Nelson had been given Big Rooster chips (of which he tells me he didn’t even finish), a black, green and blue coloured lollipop and then a hot dog!! “Good grief!” was my response. So Simon and I got a call asking us what they should do because Nelson had been lying on the floor unable to get up, vomiting and banging his head on the ground for at least 20 minutes. By the time we reached their house and adjusted his upper neck and his cranials -the whole episode lasted about an hour. He then fell asleep exhausted. Now while this was an unfortunate event for both Nelson and his Nana, from this experience, Nelson is a lot more cautious and self-responsible in general about “what treats, he eats” when his parents aren’t around to guide him.

On another occasion where I, on a whim,let him order on his own, Nelson picked a vanilla coloured ice-cream that had a few blue swirls (believe me there were many other brighter, scary coloured options). A few hours later we also went out to a Teppanyaki Bar for a hilarious Japanese meal and no sooner had all the laughter subsided, when the effects of Terakyi overload kicked in. The combination of colours and MSG saw Nelson wailing in pain.

It’s such a fine balance of freedom and logic when raising children to be “conscious eaters” and yet also wanting to allow them a little freedom to feel like other “regular kids”. Even if only so they don’t then feel like they have to sneak junk-food “in” behind your back, as a result of you never letting them have junk food.

How do I explain why one child reacts and not any of the other boys?

Well, I am not entirely sure. I joke with the boys that maybe it is because Nelson is extremely skinny and that perhaps the additional layer of body fat the rest of us have, the extra insulation we carry, may numb the effects of these additives. Who knows exactly?

What I do know, is that on any one of these occasions Nelson may not have been “well hydrated” and that exposure to “colourings” certainly amplifies the reaction he has to MSG. If Nelson has had a junk item that contains colours and not MSG, like any child he may go a little “coo-coo” in the head but he has not developed  “migraine symptoms”.

So MSG is an additive our family has had to watch vigilantly. I have to smirk when I hear Nelson now ask his Nana when she offers him food, “Nana does this have MSG in it?”

Painful experiences for someone so small, yet such golden opportunities for learning.

Here are some Tips for Keeping MSG Out of Your Diet.

In general, if a food is ‘processed’ you can assume it contains MSG (or one of its pseudo-ingredients), so by all accounts, it is best to stick to a whole, fresh foods diet.

Choosing to be MSG-Free:

Admittedly, it does take a bit more planning and time in the kitchen to prepare food at home, using fresh, locally grown ingredients. But knowing that your food is pure and free of toxic additives like MSG will make it well worth it.

Plus, choosing whole foods will ultimately give you better flavour and more health value than any MSG-laden processed food you could buy at your supermarket.

To be on the safe side, you should also know what ingredients to watch out for on packaged foods.

These Ingredients ALWAYS Contain MSG:

MSG, monosodium glutamate, gelatin, calcium caseinate, hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP), textured protein, monopotassium glutamate, hydrolysed plant protein (HPP), yeast extract, autolysed yeast, torula yeast, glutamate, autolysed plant protein, yeast food or nutrient, glutamic acid, sodium caseinate, autolysed yeast.

These Ingredients MAY Contain MSG (natural or concentrated) MSG:

Malted barley (flavour), flavours, flavouring, modified food starch, barley malt, reaction flavours, rice syrup or brown rice syrup, malt extract or flavouring, natural chicken, beef or pork flavouring or seasonings, lipolysed butter fat, maltodextrin, soy sauce or extract, low or no-fat items, caramel flavouring (colouring), soy protein, corn syrup and corn syrup solids, stock, soy protein isolate or concentrate, citric acid (when
processed from corn), broth, cornstarch, milk powder, bouillon, flowing agents, dry milk solids, carrageenan, wheat protein, rice or oat protein, protein-fortified milk, whey protein, annatto, whey protein isolate or concentrate, products that are protein-fortified, dough conditioners, spice, pectin, enzyme-modified products, gums, protease and protease enzymes, ultra-pasteurised products, some fermented products.

So if you do eat processed foods, please remember to be on the lookout for these many hidden names for MSG.

The other place where you’ll need to watch out for MSG is in restaurants. You can ask your wait-staff which menu items are MSG-free, and request that no MSG be added to your meal. Of course there are no guarantees and the only place where you can be entirely sure of what’s added to your food (or what’s in your food) is in your own kitchen.

Good Luck!



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