Where to start: The Big Five names for MSG

In my last post, I mentioned my favorite list of sources of free glutamic acid, or FGA. Since that list is overwhelming,  I wanted to share my “top offenders” list.   What I do is look for certain words in a label, because these words cover many different ingredients: “glutamate” anything, “protein” anything, “carageenan“, “yeast” (almost) anything, and “malt(odextrin)”.

(EDIT:  As I’ve mentioned before, all artificial sweeteners also need to be on this “worst offenders” list. I often forget that, because technically they are not glutamate, but they work in the same way and are quite concentrated. I don’t want to change the title and link to this post, so I’ll add them below).

  1. Glutamate – This probably goes without saying :). There are different names for glutamate, however, and they vary by country.
  2. Protein – There is nothing wrong with whole proteins; however, if the label says “protein” on it, it’s going to have FGA.  Whether it’s hydrolyzed (which is the worst), isolate, or doesn’t say at all — it’s very likely almost as concentrated as pure MSG.*
  3. Carrageenan:  “Wait,” you say, “Isn’t that just seaweed?”.  Yes, seaweed that has been processed with acid to break out the free glutamic acid.  Watch out for this in almost all ice creams, soy milks, and whipping cream. We see horrible reactions to fairly small amounts of carrageenan.**
  4. Yeast: Any yeast that is not being used to leaven a loaf of bread or pizza dough is very likely added for flavor, and unfortunately is quite high in FGA. Many people put “autolyzed yeast” or “yeast extract” in their top three offenders list, but I’ve been noticing more labels that get away with calling it simply, “yeast”.  Crackers, pastries, chips, chicken nuggets, and fish sticks are not leavened with yeast — it’s MSG in disguise.  Breads and pizza should only list yeast once, in the dough, and preferably specify “active yeast”, and at the very least shouldn’t have “extract” or “autolyzed” next to them.
  5. Malt(odextrin): Malting is a process which develops enzymes, including proteases, which break down the proteins in the grain (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malt).  By far the worst offender in this category for us is Maltodextrin, which artificially malted through hydrolysis to produce a cheap sugar.  However, malt extract, barley malt, malt syrup, and to a small extent, malted barley flour, have significant amounts of FGA in my experience.
  6. Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame/Nutrasweet, Sucralose/Splenda, and Acesulfame K all act on the same receptors as FGA. Alternatives are Stevia, Xylitol, and Lo Han extract such as in SlimSweet, which is my favorite.


* The only exception I’ve found to the protein rule is that ultrafiltered protein powder, not mixed with isolate or any other form, seems to be very low on the scale, depending on your sensitivity.

** It’s not clear why carrageenan is one of the worst offenders, but that has been many people’s experience. Ray Peat talks about his research here: http://raypeat.com/articles/nutrition/carrageenan.shtml

There are so many other names for glutamate, but the good news is that if you eliminate these, you’ll be well on your way to reducing your overall consumption.  This is a great starting point, in my opinion. Unfortunately, it does mean eliminating every processed food and baked goods that don’t have a label. See my upcoming post about safe food brands for some ideas of what to eat.


  1. Eating That Elephant » Blog Archive » Eliminating Excitotoxins:

    […] Where to start: The Big Five names for MSG – “Protein”, “Yeast”, “Malt”, “Carageenan”, and Artificial Sweeteners […]

  2. shirly:

    Thanks for this great information. Have you found protein powders that are safe that you can recommend. I am not sure as to what you mean by “ultrafiltered protein powder”. Any brands and recommendations are highly appreciated! Thanks and blessings… Shirly

  3. Lisa:

    Hi Shirly,

    The one protien powder I’ve found and used is Jarrow Ultrafiltered Whey (no isolate, AFAIK). –Lisa

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