MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a commonly used additive in processed foods. Its main purpose is to enhance flavors, intensifying savory elements of dishes. It can be typically found in canned foods, chips, and processed meats but can also be in items like broth, salad dressings, and heavily seasoned items.
MSG allergies are very rare but can occur. Those with intolerance for the additive will most likely show symptoms within a short period time and they are usually mild but in some cases can be severe. It is important to know what to look for and work towards preventing a MSG reaction.
Symptoms of a MSG Allergy
While over 98 percent of the population can consume MSG without any side effects, there are still those who are allergic to it and can have a MSG reaction. Possible symptoms include the following:
- Mild chest discomfort
- Reddening or flushing
- Facial swelling or pressure
- Numbness (or burning), especially in and around the mouth
- Excessive sweating
More serious MSG symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Swelling in the throat
- Anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction
- Shortness of breath
How to Deal With Your MSG Allergy
Step 1: Make a List
It is imperative that you make a list of all the foods you have eaten the 24-hours prior to an attack. This is a typical way to track all types of allergies, but is especially important when dealing with a MSG allergy. It is common for individuals to have a delayed allergic response because the MSG levels must reach levels that are intolerable to the body.
Step 2: List Symptoms
It is important to track and make a list of all the symptoms you have after consuming food that contains MSG. Common symptoms include a severe headache, numbness around the mouth, tingling around the mouth, a rash, overall weakness and even possibly nausea. More serious reactions can quickly escalate to vision problems, chest pain, and trouble breathing.
Step 3: The MSG Challenge
Your doctor can do a MSG challenge to diagnose an allergic reaction. In order to properly perform the test, you will ingest MSG in the doctor’s office. Afterwards your symptoms will be tracked for the next 2 days. You will have to remain in the office for the first hour to make sure you do not have a severe reaction. After that, you will go home with detailed instructions on when and how to contact the doctor in the case that MSG symptoms appear.
Step 4: Supplement with Vitamin B6
Researchers have found that over 80 percent of individuals tested for a MSG allergy stop having a reaction to it after taking 50 mg of vitamin B6 for 12 weeks. It seems as though your body may be reacting to MSG as a side effect of a B6 deficiency. Consider beginning a vitamin regiment and see if your symptoms improve or altogether disappear.
Step 5: Treatment
Many people who suffer from an MSG allergy experience mild allergic reactions that go away without treatment. However, more serious symptoms like anaphylaxis require immediate emergency treatment. Keep a shot of epinephrine nearby for emergency situations. You will be able to recognize the serious symptoms of a MSG reaction as shortness in breath, swelling of lips or throat, chest pain, or heart palpitations. If any of these symptoms occur, it is imperative to get to an emergency room as soon as possible.
MSG Allergy—What to Avoid
It is important to note that there are many different names for ingredients which are similar to MSG and can cause the same allergic reactions. If you are trying to cleanse your diet of MSG, look out for the following:
- Yeast extract
- Soy extract
- Hydrolyzed yeast extract
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
Items to Avoid at the Grocery Store
You grocery list will change once you decide to avoid MSG completely. Certain foods will no longer be an option for you once you make the decision to eliminate it from your diet. If your MSG symptoms warrant it, it may be time to cut many items from your grocery list.
This list is only a guide. There are many foods that can cause an MSG reaction. These are foods that you want to be extra cautious of:
- Highly processed, flavorful and salty snacks such as flavored crackers, chips and nuts.
- Several types of broths including beef, non-organic vegetable, and especially chicken. All chicken broth has glutamate, even if MSG is not added in. Also avoid chicken and beef bouillon cubes.
- Avoid soups that are broth-based, instant mixes and any cream of soup (such as mushroom, celery, or chicken).
- Easy to prepare convenience items such as frozen dinners, flavor mixes, ramen noodles, and salad dressings.
Be Cautious When Eating Out
It is often common knowledge to those with a MSG allergy that many Asian buffet restaurants use MSG. It is important to note that most buffet style restaurants in general, even restaurant chains that are family-friendly, use MSG or similar preservatives. If you think you are allergic to MSG, keep track of your reactions next time you dine at a buffet. If you have a reaction that includes a migraine or nausea within a couple hours of eating, you should probably avoid that restaurant or chain in the future.
Remember, even in standard restaurants you can come in contact with MSG. It is commonly used in restaurant dishes. You should consume the following menu items with caution or avoid completely:
- Heavily seasoned potato fries
- Seasoned and breaded meat (like chicken strips)
- Salads with dressings
- Soups (typically broth-based)
- Some pasta sauces
Your best bet when deciding to dine out is to look for a restaurant that serves fresh, whole foods. Farm-to-table establishments are becoming more popular and since they only use fresh produce, chances are slim that you will encounter MSG.