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Decoding Ingredients: Different Names for Unhealthy Items

Decoding Ingredients: Different Names for Unhealthy Items

Food manufacturers sure don’t make it easy for consumers to shop conscientiously. We have to do homework just to decipher the nutrition labels on the backs of boxes and cans, otherwise they’re just a mess of percentages and multi-syllabic words. Even just trying to avoid certain ingredients is hard enough; manufacturers want you to buy their stuff, so they don’t want to make questionable content too obvious. As a result, ingredient lists on processed foods are long, jumbled, and full of words you’d need a science background to understand. Fortunately, figuring out whether foods have ingredients we don’t want?like MSG, sugar, or trans fat?isn’t as intimidating once we know what to look out for. Unfortunately, considering that something as simple as sugar has over twenty names, we clearly have our work cut out for us.

Monosodium glutamate by any other name is still MSG, an additive that gives food a salty, savory flavor (also known as
umami, the fifth taste). You can find it in any number of packaged goods, canned items, and snacks, but you won’t always find it listed as “monosodium glutamate” in the ingredients. If you suffer from MSG symptom complex ?having physical reactions, like headaches, nausea, and heart palpitations?or you just want to avoid suspicious additives altogether, look out for these other names for MSG:
Autolyzed yeast
Hydrolyzed flours or proteins
Textured protein
Sodium/calcium caseinate
Glutamic acid
Vegetable protein extract
Some ingredients aren’t MSG per se, but contain some amount of glutamate, which can cause similar health problems if you have MSG symptom complex:
Malted barely
Protein powders (whey, soy, etc.)
Soy sauce
Rice syrup
Guar gum
Modified corn starch
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that men and women eat no more than nine and six teaspoons of sugar per day, respectively. However, the AHA also reports that Americans consume about twenty-two teaspoons of sugar a day on average. A good amount of that comes from hidden sugars; that is, sugars in processed foods like crackers and condiments. Sugar falls under many different labels, so it’s all too easy to get your daily sugar quota and then some by not reading ingredient lists carefully:
Sucrose, fructose, dextrose, etc. (anything ending in “ose”)
Corn syrup
High fructose corn syrup
Maple syrup
Evaporated cane juice
Chicory/carob/inulin/tapioca syrup
Cane juice crystals
Trans Fat
As of 2008, the FDA requires every food manufacturer to list the amount of trans fats in their products if it exceeds more than .5 grams. While that’s a laudable effort on the FDA’s part, it still means that products can boast “No trans fat!” even when there are trace amounts. Since trans fat consumption is linked to increased risk of heart and cholesterol problems, any amount should be considered unsafe. And since producers can fudge the truth about whether it’s even in food or not, we should be even more vigilant about checking the ingredients:
Hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oils (if it says “fully” or “completely” hydrogenated, that means it’s not a trans fat source)
There are small amounts of trans fat that occur naturally in animal products like meat and dairy, but it’s the kind that occur in processed goods that we need to worry about more.
The only way to recognize every item in an ingredient list is to eliminate all processed foods from our diets, but that also means cutting out a lot more than even the most health-conscious might realize. How many of us can go the rest of our lives without eating chips, cereal, or even bread? At the very least, we can avoid the products that have particularly bad ingredients in their labels. Processed foods without trans fat, excess sugar, and MSG do exist; it just takes some detective work to find them, but on the plus side, we won’t get headaches, endure sugar crashes, or raise our bad cholesterol levels in the process.

Do you think you have been unknowingly eating ingredients you’re trying to keep out of your diet?


Originally written by Vicki Santillano for

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  • msfriendly By msfriendly

    I'm so sick of deceptive advertising! I'm sick of business touting "natural ingredients" when they are genetically altering food (like high fructose corn syrup). Be informed and read those labels!

  • DailyGrommet By DailyGrommet

    Great, informative article. Who would have thought "textured protein" was MSG? We will be looking for these terms in our own food and in our Grommet testing. Thanks!

  • liz2121 By liz2121

    Thanks for the info, would love a further list of others.

  • basilandcatnip By basilandcatnip

    And they spent a lot of effort a few years ago to get MSG out of the food, only for it to get back in. Dr. Oz did a good segment on this the other day too. Thanks for getting the information out there so we can be more infromed consumers, especially ones with family members that may have health issues, triggers, and allergies!

  • alh2027 By alh2027

    Thank you so much for this article! I have fibromyalgia and have been trying to avoid MSG as well as aspartame (which may cause similar symptoms in people who are sensitive to it). Aspartame isn't too difficult to avoid, especially because products with it are required to have a "contains phenylalanine" warning on the label, but MSG is a lot harder to spot. This list will really help me out.

  • marti3276 By marti3276

    Thanks for the article! Another hidden ingredient is gluten, and having celiac disease makes it imperative that I keep a gluten free diet. Because it isn't always clear whether a product is gluten free or not, I mostly rely on homemade products, ie mixes, sauces, etc.

  • crazilu By crazilu

    This is wonderful info to have. MSG gives me terrible migraines and vertigo and I've for years wondered why some foods "without" the MSG title give me the same results. Not sure why labels have to "hide" so much information on people that can make them sick.

  • joy9281 By joy9281

    Thanks for the list that is very helpful I try to avoid MSG due to heart problems & high blood pressure. I was not aware of a lot of these names and this will really help me to decide whether to purchase certain items.

  • vintagepurple By vintagepurple

    i feel you crazilu on the migraines

  • TheMal By TheMal

    I'll be looking at this list today when I go to the grocery. Thank you for the information!

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