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MSG & Gluten-Free Diet

By Kimberly Schaub

If you are avoiding gluten, it is important to know which foods and food additives are safe. You might already know that some food starches contain gluten, but what about MSG, or monosodium glutamate? It might sound similar to gluten, and some people report reacting to foods that contain MSG. Despite this, monosodium glutamate is gluten-free and is allowed on a gluten-free diet.

Monosodium Glutamate

MSG is a flavor enhancer, and the MayoClinic.com notes that it is added to canned foods, like vegetables, soups, and meats. It is considered a safe food additive, according to MayoClinic.com, but some people report adverse reactions to it. Although it sounds like "gluten," MSG is not related to the protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye products to which people with celiac disease are allergic. It also sounds like "glutamate," which Medline Plus describes as an important neurotransmitter. Even though the names sound similar, chemically, they are vastly different.

Chinese Food, MSG, and Gluten

The Chinese restaurant syndrome is described as a "series of symptoms that some people experience after eating Chinese food" by Medline Plus. Symptoms for Chinese restaurant syndrome include chest pain, numbness in the face or neck, flushing, or headache. MSG is believed to be the cause of the symptoms, but studies have been unable to specifically show that the food additive is the cause. MayoClinic.com notes that despite the lack of evidence, some individuals react to certain food additives more sensitively than the general public. If you believe you are sensitive to MSG, check with the restaurant to see whether or not the food contains MSG.

Even though MSG does not contain the gluten protein, some Chinese dishes may contain gluten because soy sauce is often made from fermented wheat. Regular soy sauce is not permitted on the gluten-free diet, according to the Gluten Intolerance Group.

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Health Concerns About MSG

The Center for Science in the Public Interest website lists MSG as an additive that certain people should avoid. It explains that "the use of MSG allows companies to reduce the amount of real ingredients" in the manufacturing process. Careful studies, it claims, have shown that certain people are sensitive to large amounts of MSG and experience headache, nausea, weakness, and even heart rate changes. Consumers should read the packaging of food and inquire of restaurants to see if MSG is in their food.

Gluten Allergy

A gluten allergy differs from a MSG sensitivity because a person with a gluten allergy experiences an allergic reaction. A gluten allergy is an inherited autoimmune disease, called celiac disease, that could lead to malnutrition if left untreated, according to the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America. In celiac disease, ingesting gluten causes inflammation and damage in the small intestine. Symptoms of celiac disease are wide-ranging and can include abdominal upset, headache, fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, premature osteoporosis, and concentration problems. However, some persons with celiac disease experience no symptoms at all. The treatment of celiac disease is the elimination of gluten in the diet, which may allow the small intestine to heal and improve the nutritional health of the patient.

Gluten-free Diet

The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America website notes that individuals following the gluten-free diet must carefully avoid foods that contain gluten. These foods include wheat, rye, barley, triticale, spelt, and kamut. You should also avoid foods made from these ingredients, such as modified food starch. Because you need to be vigilant about food additives, you might believe that MSG must also be avoided. However, the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America lists MSG as a substance that is allowed in a strict gluten-free diet. If you have a particular sensitivity to MSG, do not consume it.

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