Smart Shopping and Reading Labels – monosodium glutamate and food labeling – Brief Article
As a general rule, the more food is processed, the more likely it is to contain monosodium glutamate (MSG). It is also true that the ambiguities of labeling requirements can make it difficult to determine whether food products contains MSG, according to George R. Schwartz, M.D., author of the 1988 book, In Bad Taste.
The following list of foods are grouped in order of their likelihood of containing MSG.
Potato chips and other prepared snacks
Canned soups and dry soup mixes
Canned meats, box dinners, and prepared meals
Frozen foods (seafood, chicken, and dinner entrees)
Poultry injected with broth
Cured meats and lunch meats
Cookies, crackers (unless seasoned), and candy
Breads, pasta, and baking ingredients (unless MSG is added to the
Seldom or Never
Soft drinks and citrus juices (except possibly V-8)
Canned fruits and vegetables
Cereals, pancake mixes, and syrups
Bulk foods (rice, grains)
Fresh meat and fish
MSG and Food Labeling
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the labeling requirements of food products in the United States. Packaged food products are required by law to have their ingredients printed on the package and listed in descending order of predominance.
If MSG is added to a food product during its processing, it will be listed on the label. However, “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” is permitted to be listed on the label without a mention that it may contain up to 20 per cent MSG.
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (protein hydrolysate) is classified by the FDA as a natural flavoring. Therefore, a packaged food item might specify “natural flavoring” in its list of ingredients without mentioning that the natural flavoring consists of hydrolyzed vegetable protein — which contains MSG.
Monosodium glutamate is on the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list of the FDA. It is not considered a food additive but an unregulated seasoning classified by the FDA as a flavor enhancer.
Section 101.22 of the Federal Code of Regulations deals with labeling requirements for spices, flavorings, colorings, and chemical preservatives. Part H(5) states: “Any monosodium glutamate used as an ingredient in food shall be declared by its common or usual name monosodium glutamate.”
Therefore, if monosodium glutamate is used as an ingredient in the processing of a food, it must be labeled as such; however, the MSG content of hydrolyzed vegetable protein need not be listed.
The Federal Code of Regulations Section 101.22, defining natural flavorings, states that “natural flavoring” be applied to “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products or fermentation products thereof whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
This definition paves the way for labeling protein hydrolysate as natural flavoring, a designation that can mislead the average consumer who wishes to avoid MSG.
The following is a list of names and aliases of MSG to check for on food labels:
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (12%-20% MSG)
Hydrolyzed plant protein
Natural flavorings (can be hydrolyzed vegetable protein)
(Adapted with the permission of HealthPress, Santa Fe, NM.)
COPYRIGHT 2001 Vegetus Publications
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