These Foods Contain MSG — and You Probably Don’t Even Know It

Chinese food

Certain foods are known for their MSG content, but is it as bad as everyone thinks? | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

We’ve all heard of restaurants adding MSG to their food, including Americanized Chinese food and mass pizza chains. While the debate is still out as to whether MSG is truly all that bad for you, some people have reported experiencing some nasty side effects they believe were caused by this ingredient. And many others are uncomfortable with having the additive in their food, even if they haven’t experienced negative effects.

In reality, MSG might not be the big, scary monster health fanatics have made it out to be. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a stable salt formed from glutamic acid, explains BBC. It delivers a meaty, savory flavor that has you coming back to the food again and again, even when you’re not hungry anymore. Glutamate is the ingredient in MSG that’s also naturally found in other foods. When sodium is added to it, the glutamate can be stabilized into a powder, which can be added to food.

The same BBC story says studies have shown mice injected with large doses of MSG grew to be obese, stunted, and sterile in some cases. As far as human trials are concerned, results remain unclear. Some people have reported headaches, chest pains, nausea, sweating, flushing, and weakness after consumption. On the other hand, according to NYMag’s Science of Us, most people will not be negatively affected by the flavor enhancer in any way.

Whether you’re wary of MSG or not, you still have a right to know if it’s going into your food. Here are five foods you might not realize contain MSG.

1. Seasoning

seasoning a steak

You may be surprised to see packaged seasonings contain MSG. | iStock.com

While MSG is a seasoning in and of itself, it’s also found in plenty of other packaged seasonings on grocery store shelves. In fact, you can even purchase MSG in the form of the flavor enhancer known as Accent, though you’d be hard-pressed to find it in the U.S. It’s no longer sold in stores stateside due to the number of allergies users reported, says HubPages.

As far as other seasonings are concerned, you’ll have to check the packages individually to see if monosodium glutamate is listed. The Illinois Seasoning Merchants Inc. has noted which of their seasonings from The Spice House contain MSG. Their buttermilk dressing base, Chicago steak seasoning, chip dip seasoning, and English prime rib rub all have it, as well as a few others. They also note that when they tried to change the MSG-containing seasonings, there was backlash from longtime customers. It appears not everyone is against MSG after all.

2. Doritos

Corn chips falling out of the bag

Doritos contain multiple sources of MSG. | iStock.com

If the delicious, crunchy, triangular chips bring back memories of cheesy fingers during your childhood, then you were probably a Doritos lover. We all know these over-processed chips contain preservatives and other additives to make them taste so good, but you may not realize there’s a whole lot of MSG hiding in your Doritos bag.

There are actually several ingredients in the chips rich in monosodium glutamate, explains Serious Eats. The multiple forms of whey have naturally occurring glutamate, but it’s the onion powder and garlic powder that contain the MSG. It can be found about halfway down the ingredients list.

The Serious Eats story says the chips also contain two other ingredients that work in conjunction with monosodium glutamate: free nucleotides disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate. These ingredients work together to physically alter the taste receptors that pick up on savory flavors. They help to make those Doritos taste simply irresistible and amplify those glutamates by up to 30 times!

3. Ramen noodles

orange bowl with a block of instant ramen noodles

Instant ramen noodles contain MSG. | iStock.com

We all know ramen noodles aren’t the pinnacle of health food, but many don’t realize these delicious, cheap noodles contain plenty of MSG. It gives it umami, that savory flavor we can’t get enough of.

In truth, whether you’re sensitive to MSG or not, the bigger issue with ramen is most likely the sodium content, as one brick of the noodle soup offers around 1,820 milligrams, reports The Huffington Post. Considering the FDA recommends eating less than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day, one bowl of ramen has you just about covered. As far as the MSG is concerned, it’s found in the flavoring packet that comes with the noodles. If you’re sensitive to the flavor enhancer, try using less than you normally would. Or, you can try making homemade ramen instead.

4. Pringles

Rows of Pringles on a store shelf

Most varieties of Pringles contain MSG. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In addition to these chips not really being made of potatoes (they’re mostly water, cornstarch, and potato flakes, says Daily Mail), they also contain MSG. It’s pretty evident Pringles are highly processed — they’re pressed into stackable shapes, to be fair — so it’s important to realize many processed foods that contain seasonings also have MSG thrown into the mix.

There’s good news for salt and vinegar fans, however — Pringles of this flavor actually don’t have MSG. If you’re a fan of the other varieties of Pringles, then don’t fret too much about the MSG — it’s unlikely that you’ll experience any negative effects just from eating a few Pringles alone. And, if you’re a snacker who doesn’t want MSG in their food, check out some of these Frito Lay products that don’t contain the additive.

5. Deli meat

Assorted deli meats on a platter

Deli meats contain MSG. | iStock.com

Deli meat looks innocent, but if you’re trying to avoid MSG altogether, you may want to skip out on this lunch staple. Many deli meats contain MSG, especially cured and smoked meats you can find in the supermarket, says BuiltLean.

Always check your labels when you’re purchasing meat products. Though the product may claim to be all-natural and healthier than other deli alternatives, the nutrition label tells all. More often than not, you’ll see monosodium glutamate listed along with other food additives like sodium nitrate to preserve color and corn syrup for sweetness. If you’re trying to avoid processed foods and MSG, it may be best to skip these options completely.