It was a typical Saturday morning in the Miller household. The smell of bacon and eggs wafted through the air, mingling with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. The family gathered around the kitchen table, eager to dig into their big American breakfast.
At that same time, inside countless American homes, there was a sizzling chorus of bacon frying, coffee percolating, and toast popping emanating from the kitchen. It's a symphony that echoes the commencement of just another day in the life of an American household.
The breakfast table is set, an assortment of delights awaiting the touch of sleep-laden hands: crisp bacon, buttered toast, savory sausage, fluffy pancakes doused in maple syrup, and a steaming mug of coffee. This picturesque scene, the embodiment of the great American morning tradition, is relished, revered, and replicated from coast to coast.
But what makes this breakfast so American? And what is lurking behind the seemingly innocent plates of food?
Lurking beneath the comforting veneer of this culinary tapestry is a silent infiltrator in the gastronomic saga of America's breakfast - Monosodium Glutamate, known colloquially as MSG.
MSG is a flavor enhancer that is added to many processed foods, especially those that are savory or salty. It is derived from glutamic acid, an amino acid that occurs naturally in some foods. It is meant to stimulate the taste buds and make food more appealing and satisfying.
It was created in the culinary labs of Japan in the early 20th century, and has since wormed its way into the global food supply, with America as a primary stronghold. A silent seasoning soldier, woven into the fabric of the nation's first meal, touching almost everything from the savory sausage links to the humble scrambled eggs, even present in some flavored coffees and creamers. It is estimated that Americans consume over 3.1 grams of MSG per day, with breakfast alone contributing to a large portion of this intake.
MSG has been passed off as a harmless flavor enhancer but a closer examination reveals its harmful effects on human health, its cunning infiltration into America’s breakfast culture, and the consumer’s unwitting addiction due to manipulative marketing strategies. It is all very sad, when reflected on.
This man’s video resulted in quite a controversy on Tiktok, many doctors stitched and shared research that suggested that MSG was safe to consume. A lot of the people in the comments mocked him, saying “you must be fun at parties” or “it’s not even that bad” for raising awareness against this addictive chemical. And on the other end, we had nutritionists share a handful of studies suggesting the long term link between the consumption of MSGs and adverse health effects.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies MSG as a food ingredient that is "generally recognized as safe". But let’s recall our previous article on who we can trust, as the general public. And it’s not the FDA unfortunately.
Over the years, the FDA has been embroiled in a number of controversies regarding the approval of certain products. Three incidents that come to mind to establish the lack of trust we should have in what they approve are:
- The Vioxx Scandal: One of the most notable examples of such controversies is the Vioxx scandal. Vioxx, a medication manufactured by Merck & Co., was approved by the FDA in 1999 for the management of arthritis and acute pain conditions. But the drug was voluntarily withdrawn from the market in 2004 when a post-marketing trial showed an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
An estimated 88,000-140,000 excess cases of serious heart disease occurred in the five years that Vioxx was on the market. It was later found that the financial relationships between Merck and the FDA advisory panel members had a very strong influence on the drug's approval and the delayed response to its adverse effects.
- Opioid Crisis: The opioid crisis, which has claimed over 450,000 lives from overdoses involving prescription or illicit opioids between 1999 and 2018, has also been a source of controversy for the FDA. The agency has been accused of being overly lenient in its approval and regulation of potent opioid painkillers, an influence of the pharmaceutical companies.
The lack of strict regulations on marketing practices for these drugs also played a role in the widespread prescription of opioids, leading to the addiction crisis.
- Bisphenol A (BPA): BPA is a chemical used in the production of certain plastics and resins, including food packaging materials. It's controversial because of its potential endocrine-disrupting effects.
Despite substantial evidence indicating potential harm, especially in children and pregnant women, the FDA maintains that BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods. This just proves the influence the powerful plastics industry has on the FDA.
Now that we’ve established why we can not trust everything that the FDA approves of. Let’s go back to MSG’s.
They have been linked to various health problems, such as headaches, nausea, chest pain, sweating, flushing, numbness, tingling, and weakness. These symptoms are collectively known as the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, a term coined in 1968 by Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok, who reported feeling ill after eating at a Chinese restaurant.
Now, the exact mechanism of how MSG causes these reactions is not fully understood, some researchers suggest that MSG may overstimulate the nervous system and cause an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
But what I do know is that it has infiltrated America’s breakfast culture through a combination of historical factors and marketing strategies. The popularity of bacon and eggs as a breakfast staple can be traced back to the 1920s, when public relations pioneer Edward Bernays persuaded doctors to promote bacon and eggs as a healthy breakfast in order to boost sales of bacon on behalf of Beech-Nut, a packaging company that had diversified into food production. By the way, Bacon contains high levels of MSG naturally from the curing process.
The rise of cereal as a breakfast food can also be attributed to advertising and convenience. Cereal was originally invented to cure health problems such as indigestion and constipation by health reformers like John Harvey Kellogg and Charles William Post. But, somewhere down the line cereal makers soon realized that they could sell more cereal by making it more palatable and appealing to children. They added sugar, salt, artificial flavors, MSG and colors to attract the young consumers. And Cereal became a convenient and popular breakfast choice for busy families who wanted a quick and easy meal in the morning.
But how did a lab-created flavor in Japan make its way to the West so swiftly and incorporate itself into all our meals, our snacks, and even our drinks?
Are you aware of the pervasive presence of MSG in your everyday diet?
Imagine you are in a bustling street market in China. You are surrounded by a variety of smells, sounds, and sights. You see vendors selling noodles, dumplings, stir-fries, and soups. You are drawn to a stall that sells a steaming bowl of wonton soup. You take a sip and feel a burst of flavor in your mouth. You taste the savory broth, the tender meat, the fresh vegetables, and something else that you can’t quite describe. It is a rich and complex taste that makes you want more. It is the taste of MSG.
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is also known as “umami.” And has been found naturally in some foods like tomatoes and certain cheeses, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that MSG was discovered by Kikunae Ikeda, a chemistry professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo.
Ikeda was intrigued by the delicious flavor of dashi, a broth made from seaweed and dried fish flakes that is used as a base for many Japanese soups. He isolated the substance that gave dashi its distinctive taste and found that it was glutamic acid, an amino acid that is one of the building blocks of protein. He then synthesized glutamic acid into its sodium salt form, which he named monosodium glutamate.
Ikeda realized that MSG could be used to enhance the flavor of other foods, especially those that were bland or low in protein. He patented his invention and started a company called Ajinomoto, which means “essence of taste” in Japanese. MSG soon became a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine, as well as in other Asian countries such as China and Korea. It was then exported to the West, where it was used by chefs and food manufacturers to add flavor to soups, sauces, meats, snacks, and processed foods.
MSG is one of the most widely used flavor enhancers in the world today. It is estimated that about 1.5 million tons of MSG is produced annually. It intensifies the natural flavor of foods and creates new flavors that are not possible with natural ingredients alone. Research indicates that over 60% of processed foods in America contain MSG.
Did you know that MSG is also responsible for creating the notion of umami? Umami is the fifth basic taste that is different from the other four: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. It is derived from the Japanese word umai, which means “delicious” or “yummy.” Umami is described as a savory, meaty, or brothy taste that stimulates the tongue and makes food more satisfying. It is produced by glutamate and other substances that bind to specific receptors on the taste buds and enhances the flavor of foods by increasing salivation and stimulating the brain’s reward system.
But the story of MSG is not just a tale of taste. It's a saga that traces its roots back to a laboratory, crosses continents, and infiltrates our homes and diets, particularly the sacred ritual of the American breakfast. The understanding of umami, the allure of MSG, and its undeniable omnipresence is a complex narrative. As we peel back the layers, we need to confront the unsettling reality of our unwitting alliance with MSG, the unseen guest at each of our breakfast tables.
The Truth Behind MSG's Impact on Human Health: Are you aware of the potentially harmful effects of MSG on your health and well-being?
MSG has been controversial for decades because of its negative effects on human health and well-being. People have found that MSGs cause headaches, nausea, chest pain, sweating, flushing, numbness, tingling, weakness, and other symptoms. These reactions are collectively known as the MSG symptom complex or Chinese restaurant syndrome.
MSG has also been linked to more serious health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Some studies have even shown that it can increase appetite and weight gain by interfering with the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety.
They also affect insulin levels and glucose metabolism, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes. They raise blood pressure by constricting blood vessels and stimulating the release of adrenaline. MSG can also damage DNA and cause mutations that may lead to cancer.
There are many case studies and anecdotes from individuals who have experienced these effects of MSG. For example:
- A 32-year-old woman reported having severe headaches after eating Chinese food containing MSG. She also had facial flushing, sweating, palpitations, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. She was diagnosed with MSG-induced asthma and advised to avoid MSG-containing foods.
- People developing skin rashes consuming MSG.
These examples illustrate the potential dangers of MSG for some people who are sensitive or allergic to it. But, even for those who do not experience immediate symptoms after consuming MSG, there may be long-term consequences for their health.
MSG does not only harm our physical health but also our spiritual well-being. The human body is a temple that should be treated with respect and care. We need to nourish it with wholesome foods that are natural and pure, not with artificial additives that are synthetic and harmful.
MSG deceives our senses by making food taste better than it really is. It tricks our brains by stimulating our pleasure centers without providing any real nourishment or satisfaction. It corrupts our souls by making us crave more of what is bad for us.
It’s important to avoid MSG as much as possible and choose foods that are less processed and more natural. We need to listen to our bodies and trust our instincts when it comes to what we eat. We need to honor our bodies as temples and preserve their sanctity.
The American Breakfast: A Veil for MSG Consumption
What do you usually eat for breakfast? Do you prefer a bowl of cereal with milk and orange juice? Or maybe a slice of toast with cheese and ham? Or perhaps a frozen pizza or a microwaveable meal? Whatever your choice, chances are you are consuming MSG without even knowing it.
In an attempt to eliminate their consumption from your daily life, I created this list of specific breakfast items with MSG:
- Cereal: Many cereals contain MSG or other sources of glutamate, such as maltodextrin, yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein, or natural flavor. These ingredients are used to boost the flavor of the cereal and make it more appealing to children and adults alike.
- Cheese: Cheese naturally contains glutamate, but some cheese products also have added MSG or other sources of glutamate, such as autolyzed yeast extract, sodium caseinate, or whey protein concentrate. These ingredients are used to enhance the cheesy flavor and texture of the product.
- Ham: Ham is cured with salt and sugar, but some ham products also have added MSG or other sources of glutamate, such as sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite, or natural smoke flavor. These ingredients are used to improve the color, flavor, and shelf life of the ham.
- Bread: Bread is made from flour, water, yeast, and salt, but some bread products also have added MSG or other sources of glutamate, such as dough conditioners, enzymes, soy protein isolate, or natural flavor. These ingredients are used to improve the texture, volume, and taste of the bread.
Orange juice: Orange juice is made from oranges, but some products have added MSG or other sources of glutamate, such as natural flavorings that may contain MSG or other sources of glutamate. These ingredients are used to restore the flavor and aroma of the juice that may be lost during processing.
MSG was not always part of our breakfast culture. If we compare our traditional American breakfast before and after the infiltration of MSG, we can see how our tastes have changed over time.
Before MSG became widely available, our breakfast consisted mainly of fresh fruits, eggs, milk, butter, and homemade bread. These foods were natural and wholesome, and provided us with essential nutrients and energy for the day. MSG and its umami curse were absent from the meal, replaced by the genuine flavors of fresh, unadulterated food. It was a time when breakfast meant fueling your body with nourishing food, not chemically enhanced flavor experiments.
The Addictive Nature of MSG and its Consequences: Have you ever wondered why you can't resist certain foods? Could it be that MSG is secretly manipulating your taste buds and influencing your food choices?
Do you ever feel like you can’t stop eating certain foods, even when you are not hungry? Do you ever crave foods that are salty, savory, or processed? Do you ever feel a rush of pleasure or satisfaction after eating these foods? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be addicted to MSG.
The cycle of addiction is a familiar narrative. The first taste sparks an interest, the second cements a craving, and by the third, we're entrapped in a vicious cycle. We are no longer just consumers of food; we are puppeteered by the whims of our MSG-induced cravings. As our dependence deepens, our society begins to feel the strain, with increasing obesity rates, climbing healthcare costs, and a declining public health trajectory.
MSG can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in pleasure and reward. Dopamine is also released by drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Dopamine activates the brain’s reward system and motivates us to seek more of what makes us feel good.
MSG also interferes with the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety. It can increase appetite and weight gain by affecting leptin, a hormone that signals the brain when we are full. It creates a cycle of addiction and dependence. The more we consume MSG, the more we crave it. The more we crave it, the more we consume it. The more we consume it, the more we need it to feel satisfied. The more we need it to feel satisfied, the less we enjoy other foods that do not contain it.
I know it may sound like an exaggeration but an MSG addiction can make you lose control over your food intake and your life.
Becoming an informed consumer involves peering beyond the enticing packaging and reading between the lines of ingredient lists. It means recognizing MSG's various aliases and making conscious choices to select foods devoid of this flavor manipulator. It involves acknowledging that MSG is not some harmless flavor enhancer, but a potential trespasser into our body's sacred sanctity.
Choosing to resist MSG isn't merely a personal health decision; it's a revolutionary act, a stand against a food industry that prioritizes profit over health. It's a commitment to reclaim your taste buds, your health, and your freedom, one meal at a time. Every bite is a vote, a declaration of your commitment to safeguard your health and honor your body. The question is, which side will you choose?
Media Complicity in the MSG Predicament: Are you truly making your own food choices or are you being influenced by the media?
Have you ever wondered why you crave certain foods for breakfast? Why do you feel like you need a bowl of cereal with milk and orange juice to start your day? Why can't you resist the smell of bacon and eggs at a diner? Why do you think that a frozen pizza or a microwaveable meal is a convenient and satisfying option?
You may think that these are your personal preferences, but in reality, they are the result of the media’s role in promoting MSG-laden ‘American breakfast’ through advertising and food shows. The media has been manipulating your taste buds and your mind for decades, using various marketing strategies to portray MSG as safe and appetizing.
Now you may be wondering how we end up consuming so much MSG for breakfast? How did we become convinced that it is good for us?
- Through advertising: Advertising is the most obvious and direct way of influencing consumers’ behavior and preferences. It uses various techniques to persuade consumers to buy a product or service, such as appealing to emotions, creating associations, using celebrities or experts, creating slogans or jingles, etc. Advertising can be found in various media channels, such as television, radio, print, online, social media, etc. Advertising can also be disguised as other forms of content, such as product placement, sponsorship, or native advertising.
An example of such advertising that promotes MSG is Kellogg’s cereal commercials. Kellogg’s is one of the largest cereal manufacturers in the world, and one of the biggest users of MSG or other sources of glutamate, such as maltodextrin, yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein, or natural flavor.
Their commercials often feature happy families enjoying their cereals with milk and orange juice, creating an association between cereal and a healthy and satisfying breakfast. Kellogg’s commercials also use slogans like “The best to you each morning” or “Start your day with a smile” or “Kellogg’s: The original best” to create a positive image of their brand and imply that their cereals are superior to others. Their commercials also use celebrities or experts to endorse their products and influence consumers’ trust and credibility.
Another example of advertising is Kraft cheese commercials. Kraft is one of the largest cheese manufacturers in the world, and also one of the biggest users of MSG or other sources of glutamate, such as autolyzed yeast extract, sodium caseinate, or whey protein concentrate.
Kraft commercials feature people enjoying their cheese products with bread, ham, or eggs, creating an association between cheese and a delicious and versatile breakfast ingredient. Their commercials use slogans like “Make something amazing” or “There’s no single way to eat Kraft Singles” or “Kraft: For the love of cheese” to also create a positive image of their brand and imply that their cheese products are creative and fun.
- Food shows: Food shows are another way of influencing consumers’ behavior and preferences. Food shows are programs that feature food-related topics, such as cooking, baking, eating out, traveling, etc. Food shows can be found in various media channels, such as television, online, social media, etc. Food shows can also be disguised as other forms of content, such as documentaries, reality shows, or competitions.
One example of a food show that promotes MSG is Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. This is a television show hosted by Guy Fieri, who visits various restaurants across America and samples their dishes. Many of the dishes featured on the show contain high levels of MSG or other sources of glutamate, such as bacon, sausage, ham, cheese, bread, cereal, orange juice, etc.
The show creates an association between these dishes and a tasty and authentic American cuisine. The show also uses techniques such as close-up shots, slow-motion effects, and enthusiastic commentary to make the dishes look more appealing and appetizing. The show also uses Fieri’s personality to endorse the dishes and influence consumers’ trust and credibility.
Another show that is a good example is The Pioneer Woman. This is a television show hosted by Ree Drummond, who lives on a ranch in Oklahoma and cooks various dishes for her family and friends. Many of the dishes featured on the show contain high levels of MSG or other sources of glutamate, such as bacon, sausage, ham, cheese, bread, cereal, orange juice, etc.
The show creates an association between these dishes and a cozy and wholesome family life. The show also uses techniques such as bright colors, soft music, and friendly narration to make the dishes look more appealing and appetizing.
The media has a powerful role in shaping our food choices and public opinion. They can influence what we eat, how we eat, when we eat, and why we eat. It has a very strong influence on how we perceive food, how we value food, how we relate to food, and how we feel about food.
We need to be more aware of the media’s role in promoting MSG and resist their influence. We need to be critical of the media’s messages and motives and question its sources and credibility. We need to be more mindful of our own preferences and needs and make our own decisions.
We need to opt for foods that are less processed and more natural and enjoy the true flavors of food without artificial enhancements. We need to choose foods that are good for our health and well-being and avoid foods that are bad for us. We need to choose foods that nourish our body and soul and not foods that poison us.
We need to choose foods that make us and our brain happy and not foods that result in an addiction.
"Eating is an agricultural act. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world - and what is to become of it."
- Michael Pollan