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MSG Allergy Foods to Avoid: A Comprehensive Guide for Sensitive Individuals

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Updated on March 7, 2024

Ever experienced a bit of a rough patch after indulging in your favourite takeaway or nibbling on some off-the-shelf snacks? You’re not alone, mate.

This blog post is set out to cast some light on the somewhat murky waters of MSG allergies: understanding what exactly this rascal MSG is, recognising its sneaky symptoms, pinpointing potential trigger foods to steer clear from and sharing strategies for managing this sensitivity.

Are you game? Let’s unravel this MSG mystery together!

Key Takeaways

  • MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavour enhancer commonly used in many processed foods. It is not the same as salt and has been deemed safe by health experts.
  • Symptoms of an MSG allergy include headaches, flushing, sweating, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Seek emergency help if you experience severe symptoms like difficulty breathing or throat swelling.
  • Foods that may contain MSG include fast food, Chinese dishes, canned foods, condiments (like ketchup), processed meats, and restaurant dishes. It’s important to read food labels carefully and be aware of hidden sources of MSG.
  • When managing an MSG allergy at home, cook from scratch using fresh ingredients whenever possible. You can also use spices to add flavour instead of relying on pre-packaged seasonings.
  • When dining out, study the menu beforehand and ask about specific ingredients in dishes to avoid any potential sources of MSG.

Understanding MSG

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavour enhancer commonly used in many processed foods. It is not the same as salt and has been a subject of debate regarding its safety.

A colourful bowl of stir-fried vegetables surrounded by fresh herbs. Msg allergy.

What is MSG?

MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. It’s a flavour enhancer added to many foods. Some of these are restaurant foods, canned vegetables, soups, and deli meats. People use MSG because it makes food taste better. But not everyone can eat MSG safely. Some might feel tingling or burning after eating food with MSG in it.

Is MSG the Same As Salt?

MSG is not the same as table salt. Yes, MSG has sodium in it, but it also has something called glutamate. On the other hand, table salt comes from two things only – sodium and chloride. This makes them different.

People often mix up MSG with salt because both are white crystals that we use in food for taste. But they add different flavours to our meals. Salt makes food taste salty, while MSG boosts its natural flavour without adding a salty taste. So no, even if they look alike and work on our food in similar ways, MSG is not just another name for salt.


Is MSG Safe?

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is safe. Top health groups say so. Health Canada and the World Expert Group on Food both give it a thumbs up. They have tested it a lot. Still, some people think MSG gives them headaches or makes them feel sick. Science has not found any strong link between MSG and these problems.

We want to let you know that consuming MSG at safe levels is not harmful. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified MSG as a food ingredient generally recognised as safe. It is important to note that MSG is not a real food allergy either. The idea of being allergic to MSG is shaky at best because science doesn’t fully get it yet. However, many use the term “MSG allergy” when they feel unwell after eating foods with MSG in them, like soy sauce or ketchup.

While the long-term effects of MSG consumption are still being studied, it’s always a good idea for individuals with sensitivities or allergies to be aware of foods that contain MSG and avoid them if necessary.

Symptoms of MSG Allergy

Food sensitivity and food allergy are often confused, but they are different. Common symptoms of MSG allergy include headaches, flushing, sweating, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Seek emergency help if you experience severe symptoms like difficulty breathing or throat swelling. Remember to consult a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

A vibrant plate of food with a diverse range of ingredients and spices.

Food Sensitivity vs. Food Allergy

Food sensitivity and food allergy are not the same. An allergy is a fast response by your body to fight something it thinks is harmful, like pet allergies or pollen. Your body makes an antibody called IgE, which leads to symptoms like wheezing and itchy skin.

But MSG gives you sensitivity, not a true allergy. A food intolerance or sensitivity happens because your body has trouble breaking down some parts of your food, like MSG, sometimes. This might make you feel ill, but it’s different from an allergy as it doesn’t involve IgE antibodies. So from now on, we would refer to this disorder by its accurate name, “MSG sensitivity”, since it’s a nonallergic reaction.

Common Symptoms of MSG Sensitivity

The “Chinese restaurant syndrome” (CRS) is a reaction to MSG. It was later described as the “MSG symptom complex” (MSC). Symptoms of this syndrome include weakness, flushing, headache, numbness, muscle tightness, breathing problems, and even loss of consciousness. CRS is thought to affect less than 1% of people. In some individuals, known to be MSG-sensitive, this additive can trigger asthma symptoms 1-2 hours after eating.

Foods To Avoid With MSG Sensitivity

Some food products that may contain MSG include potato chips, cold cuts, ripened fruits, and cured meats. Learn more about managing your MSG sensitivity and tips for reading food labels by clicking here.


Food Products That May Contain MSG

As we all know, many of our favourite foods can contain MSG. This taste enhancer is tricky because it’s found in so many types of food.

  1. Fast food: MSG is often added to make these meals taste better, especially in chicken items.
  2. Chinese foods: Many dishes in this cuisine have plenty of MSG.
  3. Canned foods: Soup or baked beans are some examples where MSG can hide.
  4. Condiments: Ketchup, mayonnaise, and barbecue sauce are just a few that might have MSG.
  5. Processed meats: MSG helps give meat a strong salty taste.
  6. Restaurant dishes: Chefs sometimes use MSG to boost the flavours of their creations.

Tips for Reading Food Labels

When it comes to managing MSG sensitivity, understanding and reading food labels is crucial. Here are some tips that can help you navigate through the labels:

  1. Look for clear labelling: Check if the product clearly states “No MSG” or “MSG-Free” on the packaging. This can be a good indicator that the product is safe for you.
  2. Check for hidden sources of MSG: While MSG may not be listed outright, there are other ingredients that contain glutamate, which is essentially what MSG is derived from. Keep an eye out for ingredients like hydrolysed proteins, autolysed yeast extract, or anything with “glutamate” in its name.
  3. Don’t forget about natural sources: Certain foods naturally contain glutamate, which may trigger your symptoms if you have an MSG allergy. Keep an eye out for ingredients like tomatoes, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese.
  4. Ask for help if needed: If you’re unsure about a particular ingredient or have any doubts about a specific product, don’t hesitate to reach out to a dietitian or healthcare professional who can provide guidance and support.

Managing MSG Sensitivity at Home

To manage your MSG sensitivity at home, it’s important to adopt certain kitchen practises and explore alternative cooking and seasoning options. Interested in learning more? Keep reading!

Kitchen Practises To Avoid MSG

We’ve found that there are some kitchen practises that can help you avoid MSG if you have an allergy or sensitivity. Here are a few tips:

  1. Cook from scratch using fresh ingredients.
  2. Use spices to add flavour to your dishes instead of relying on pre-packaged seasonings.
  3. Be cautious when using condiments and sauces, as many of them contain hidden sources of MSG.
  4. Opt for homemade stocks and broths instead of store-bought versions, which often contain MSG.
  5. Read food labels carefully to look for any hidden sources of MSG, such as hydrolysed vegetable protein or autolysed yeast extract.
  6. Avoid using bouillon cubes or powders, as they often contain high levels of MSG.
  7. Try different cooking techniques, such as grilling or roasting, to enhance the natural flavours of your ingredients.

Cooking and Seasoning Alternatives

When managing an MSG sensitivity at home, there are plenty of cooking and seasoning alternatives to enhance the taste of your dishes. Here are some options:

  • Spice blends: Use a variety of spice blends like Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning, or curry powder to add flavour without MSG.
  • Herbs and spices: Try out different herbs and spices such as ginger, garlic powder, onion powder, basil, oregano, thyme, and dill to enhance the taste of your meals.
  • Aromatics: Incorporate aromatic ingredients like fresh garlic, shallots, lemongrass, or green onions to add depth of flavour to your dishes.
  • Flavour enhancers: Try using natural flavour enhancers like soy sauce alternatives (coconut aminos or tamari), vinegar (balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar), or citrus juices (lemon juice or lime juice) for a burst of taste.

Avoiding MSG When Dining Out

When dining out, it’s important to be mindful of potential sources of MSG. Check out these tips for navigating restaurant menus and find out what questions to ask about MSG in dishes. Read more to ensure you can enjoy a delicious meal without worrying about your MSG sensitivity.

Tips for Navigating Restaurant Menus

When dining out with an MSG sensitivity, here are some tips to help you navigate restaurant menus:

  1. Study the menu beforehand: Look up the restaurant’s menu online before your visit. This will give you a chance to see if they have any options that are likely to be free of MSG.
  2. Ask about ingredients: When ordering, don’t hesitate to ask your server about specific ingredients in the dishes you’re interested in. Politely enquire if they use MSG or any other flavour enhancers in their recipes.
  3. Choose simple dishes: Opt for dishes that are made from scratch and contain minimal ingredients. These are less likely to have added flavour enhancers like MSG.
  4. Focus on fresh ingredients: Look for items that highlight fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins as their main components. These are less likely to contain hidden sources of MSG.
  5. Be cautious with sauces and dressings: Many sauces and dressings can contain hidden sources of MSG. Request them on the side so you can control how much you use, or ask for alternatives without added flavour enhancers.
  6. Explore ethnic cuisines: Certain cuisines, like Japanese or Mexican, tend to use fewer additives like MSG compared to Chinese cuisine. Consider trying out these options for potentially safer choices.
  7. Choose grilled or steamed options: Dishes that are grilled or steamed tend to be prepared with fewer added seasonings, reducing the risk of hidden sources of MSG.
  8. Communicate your sensitivity clearly: Inform your server about your sensitivity and emphasise the importance of avoiding MSG in your meal preparation. Clear communication can help ensure that your needs are met.

Questions To Ask About MSG in Dishes

When dining out, it’s important to ask questions about MSG in dishes. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Does this dish contain MSG??
  • Can you recommend any dishes that are MSG-free??
  • Are there any alternative seasonings or flavours that can be used instead of MSG??
  • Can you provide a list of ingredients for the dish so I can check for the presence of MSG??
  • Are there any menu options specifically labelled as being free from MSG??

Treatment for MSG Allergy

Managing symptoms with medication can help alleviate the discomfort caused by MSG allergy. To learn more about managing MSG allergies, read on.

Managing Symptoms With Medication

If you have an MSG allergy and experience symptoms, there are medications available to help manage those symptoms. Medications such as antihistamines can be taken to alleviate allergic reactions like itching or hives.

Some individuals may also receive injections of epinephrine if they have severe allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing or swelling. It’s important to talk to a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment options. Remember, avoiding foods with MSG is still the best way to prevent a reaction.


If you have an MSG allergy or sensitivity, it’s important to be mindful of the foods you consume. Avoiding foods that may contain MSG, such as condiments and processed snacks like potato chips and cold cuts, can help manage your symptoms.

Reading food labels cautiously and asking questions when dining out are key strategies for avoiding hidden sources of MSG. By taking these steps, you can better navigate your diet and enjoy meals without worrying about allergic reactions.

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