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Supermarket Chain Not Telling “Whole” Facts about “Icky MSG” Ban

not telling whole story about no msg claim

A popular, national, upscale supermarket chain prides itself on having the best products to offer consumers: lots of organic produce and meat, gourmet and imported cheeses, premium prepared and baked goods, the works. They’re not the only one, but they’re probably the largest.

They also pride themselves on not allowing any of what they believe to be “icky” ingredients into products they sell, including their private label (a.k.a. “store brand”) items. What’s an “icky” ingredient? They “ban over 100 ingredients from our products.”

no msg label

Food label with misinformation about MSG

As a registered dietitian, associate professor of pediatrics, and clinician who has worked with children and families for over 30 years, I am outraged when consumer food choices are being denied or prevented based on misinformation. This blog ( is all about glutamate, umami, and MSG facts, so this supermarket chain’s policy to exclude foods with MSG is the bone I’m going to pick.

Facts and Science Favor MSG in Foods!

Avoiding MSG (“no MSG”) for health or even tolerance reasons has absolutely no scientific basis or plausibility. Put another way, it defies reason. This has been proven again and again, in study after study, for over 50 years.

To those who might say, “OK, but we need to know more about the long-term effects of MSG, and safety for kids and pregnant women?” I say, “We do know the “long-term” effects, including on vulnerable groups. MSG has zero impact on all these groups. Full stop.

MSG safetyLet’s examine the reasons why none of the well-designed scientific studies on MSG safety have shown anything to justify concern:

  • It’s a simple substance, just 2 components: sodium, and the amino acid glutamate.
  • Both sodium and glutamate are already in our bodies in far greater amounts than you’d ever get from food. Indeed, sodium and glutamate are necessary for life!
  • Glutamate is a “non-essential” amino acid, but not because we don’t need it. It’s non-essential because we don’t need to get it from our diets. We make it ourselves. Glutamate is also in pretty much every protein food we eat, whether of plant or animal origin.
  • The glutamate in MSG is exactly the same in structure as the glutamate in food.
  • The extensive research on MSG has been reviewed by independent scientists and regulatory authorities throughout the world, including the FDA and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – all have found MSG to be safe.

As for sodium, yes, most people get more sodium in their food than they need, but the supermarket chain that bans MSG has no issue with foods that contain added salt (sodium chloride). Indeed, they even sell different fancy (and costly) types of salt!

Banning MSG?: Less Flavor, But Higher Sodium

Any “No MSG” policy is unfortunate for consumers, because MSG adds flavor to foods with less sodium than regular salt. Gram-for-gram, MSG has 62% less sodium than regular salt. Whether it’s Kosher salt, sea salt, or pricey pink Himalayan salt, it’s all sodium chloride and a gram of it has the same amount of sodium as the stuff in the salt shaker.

Chefs Love “Umami”! (Pssst…Umami = Glutamate!)

MSG perceptionsWatch any cooking show where savory food is being prepared and you’ll hear chefs talk about “the umami factor” in food. It’s sometimes referred to as the “fifth taste”, after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. I think of it as sort of an optimization of flavor, especially of savory foods.

Many whole foods like mushrooms, tomatoes, and aged cheeses have lots of their own natural “umami”. Do you love parmesan cheese as much as I do? I think of it as an “umami bomb” because of its intense flavor and how it seems to make so many foods taste so delicious. What do these “umami” foods have in common? They’re natural sources of glutamate – the same amino acid – with the same chemical structure – as the glutamate in the mischaracterized “icky” MSG.

Pro-tip: Whenever you see a product label – or an advertisement – that says “No MSG”, know this: it’s pure marketing. Period. It could also be a missed opportunity for the food to have better flavor, and even less sodium!


Supermarket photo courtesy of Flickr user Phillip Pessar

Dr. Keith Ayoob is an internationally known nutritionist and an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, where he has maintained a clinical practice for more than 20 years. Keith also is Director of the Nutrition Clinic at the Rose F. Kennedy Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Einstein. He has appeared on many national news programs and is a highly sought after speaker for his practical, consumer-friendly advice on a variety of timely nutrition issues. Keith contributes expert opinion pieces to and Read more about his background on the About page. Note: MSGdish bloggers are compensated for their time in writing for MSGdish, but their statements and opinions are their own. They have pledged to blog with integrity, asserting that the trust of their readers and their peers is vitally important to them.

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