There Is No MSG in Your Protein Powder!

There Is No MSG in Your Protein Powder!

I am starting to see a trend of internet blog articles that suggest that certain proteins (whey or collagen) contain MSG. I can assure you that the authors are mistaken, and due to their lack of knowledge in biochemistry, and basic physics, they are also misleading the general population. In this article, I will show that their assertions defy the laws of physics and that they need to take down their articles and generate other different sources of click bait.

Argument #1: There is MSG in your whey protein

MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. To produce MSG, the free glutamic acid must bind with sodium to form a salt. 1 So does hydrolyzed protein contain MSG?  Well, this would be dependent on three things: 2

  1. There must be free glutamic acid.
  2. There must be free sodium ions.
  3. There must be an enzyme that acts as a catalyst to enable the reaction.

In whey protein, we are dealing with complete proteins, there are no free sodium ions, and there are no enzymes to complete the reaction. 3 Therefore, there is no MSG in whey protein unless, for some strange reason, the company put it there. Why would they do that? It would cost extra money, and it would give some of their customer’s severe side effects.

There is no MSG in your whey!

Argument #2: Free glutamate = MSG

Free glutamate is often added as a flavor enhancer and is naturally occurring in most plants and animals (including you). 4 How does this occur? Let us look at an example of how free glutamate is created in soy sauce:

In the process of making soy sauce, we need soybeans, table salt, and bacteria. The soybeans have proteins which are broken down by the bacteria for food. Some bacteria (particularly those in the Corynebacterium genus) produce MSG from the available materials. 5 How does it do this? C. glutamicum​, a member of the Corynebacterium genus​, contains genetic code to produce enzymes that isolate glutamic acid from complete proteins. Naturally, there is not enough Gibbs free energy to make this process chemically favorable (in thermal dynamics, stable molecules need a strong enough force to break the atoms apart). To break a protein down into individual amino acids, we need some force to make this happen. In the process of fermentation (no oxygen present in the environment), they use a part of their metabolism (the TCA cycle) called alpha-ketoglutarate to create an energy unit called NADP+​. This is then used to activate the enzyme glutamate dehydrogenase​ which separates glutamic acid from protein. 6 7 8 9

Free glutamic acid has a unique flavor. The Japanese call it “umami” which translates to “savory” in English. 10 The free glutamates act upon the T1R1 and T1R3 receptor sites on the tongue 11 These internet bloggers see no difference between the naturally occurring, free glutamates, and man-made monosodium glutamate. The key difference is that naturally occurring free glutamates are consumed in combination with other proteins. Many of these blogs contain the words, “Warning! Do not eat these glutamate containing foods!” suggesting a glutamate free diet. They list foods that contain naturally occurring free glutamate which is balanced out with other amino acids found in protein. Their action on mGluR4 and mGluR1 receptor sites are balanced by the other amino acids. 12 13 14 Soy sauce, for instance, which contains a high free glutamate content for the reason described in the above paragraph, only contains 926mg of free glutamate per 100g. 15 This is rather insignificant in general physiology as, in a healthy individual, free glutamate is found at 50–100 mol/L in human blood. 16 It is silly when you think about it. For a healthy person to have an adverse reaction to a free glutamate, they would have to ingest a significant amount of pure glutamic acid on an empty stomach. Who in their right mind would do that? In full disclosure, if someone were to have a compromised gut barrier or a GABA deficiency, they could have issues with some foods that contain large amounts of free glutamates. But they are going to have health problems anyway because they have a compromised gut barrier or a GABA deficiency! 17 18 19 20

Do not buy into the anti-glutamic acid hype. Remember, every plant and animal protein on Earth have free glutamates. You can not avoid them in your diet and live (you need protein to survive). You also have free glutamate in your blood, so stop being silly!

Free Glutamate does not equal MSG!

Argument #3: Hydrolyzed proteins have free glutamate.

What is “hydrolyzed” protein? Hydrolyzed protein has been partially digested, meaning that it has gone through an enzymatic process that breaks down larger proteins into smaller ones making it easier for people to digest. 21 22 Because of this additional process, it is a premium product and is more costly. Bloggers indicate that “anything hydrolyzed contains MSG,” which is a ridiculous argument beyond measure, so we are going to take this a step further: does the process of hydrolysis create free glutamates? That is more interesting, and spoiler alert, the answer is still no.

I scoured the peer-reviewed literature looking for any evidence that there are free glutamates in hydrolyzed whey, hydrolyzed collagen, or hydrolyzed casein proteins. The only data that I can find is from a nutritional evaluation that compares the free amino-acids against the bound amino acids in the protein chains. 23 There is very little fluctuation in glutamic acid from the process of hydrolysis. Statistically, the variance is insignificant, so we have to assume that there is none.

There is no free glutamate in hydrolyzed proteins!

Argument #4: Glutamine = MSG

What about the amino acid, l-glutamine? Many bloggers are warning people against taking glutamine supplements because they will magically transform into MSG. L-glutamine is the most prevalent amino acid in the human body. 24 Our bodies produce an enzyme called glutaminase which converts l-glutamine to glutamic acid 25 This is such an important process that there is a built-in redundancy in the human genome. GLS and GLS2 are found on different chromosomes. From a purely evolutionary basis, the organisms that developed this redundancy lived on and the ones that did not are gone. That is how important l-glutamine is! Furthermore, there are very high concentrations of glutamine in the human heart. 26 How committed are you to your glutamine-free diet? Committed enough to walk into your physician’s office and ask to have your heart surgically removed and replaced with a mechanical one so that you have less glutamine in your body? Of course not. Do not be silly.

Glutamine is not the same thing as MSG!

The moral of the story is to maintain a healthy level of skepticism when reading internet blogs (even this one). Some red flags that should raise your level of caution are:

  • Fear provoking titles, or “clickbait” (“There is MSG in Your Whey!!!”)
  • Poor quality references or no citations at all.
  • No comment section or forum (completely one directional communication).
  • Based solely on anecdotal reports (“the glutamate-free diet cured my sister’s, friend’s, kid’s autism”).

Sorry, internet bloggers. Protein powders and even pure glutamine supplements do not contain MSG. In the interest of responsible journalism, please take down your articles and replace them with more accurate information. We all make mistakes, right?

  1. http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm328728.htm
  2. http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/publications/documents/MSG%20Technical%20Report.pdf
  3. http://www.zju.edu.cn/jzus/2006/B0602/B060202.pdf
  4. http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/publications/documents/MSG%20Technical%20Report.pdf
  5. http://web.mst.edu/~microbio/BIO221_2007/C_glutamicum.htm
  6. http://chemed.chem.purdue.edu/genchem/topicreview/bp/ch21/gibbs.php
  7. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/3/728S.full
  8. https://books.google.com/books?id=sMawO9ci1EAC&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=corynebacterium+produce+msg&source=bl&ots=uq-uqOThUk&sig=KZlDvbzANI7Wfcqo_3zIVnRQX_w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi2mMDDrb_MAhWEPiYKHaTcAY8Q6AEIWDAI#v=onepage&q=corynebacterium%20produce%20msg&f=false
  9. https://books.google.com/books?id=vlfMBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA439&lpg=PA439&dq=corynebacterium+produce+msg&source=bl&ots=S8TLGDDqur&sig=s3YszEis-gLEQOaBCao–etr32w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi2mMDDrb_MAhWEPiYKHaTcAY8Q6AEIWjAJ#v=onepage&q=corynebacterium%20produce%20msg&f=false
  10. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/apr/09/umami-fifth-taste
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25253867
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7891082
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22008743
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904507/
  15. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229166830_L-glutamic_acid_content_of_fresh_and_processed_foods
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136011/
  17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904507/
  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136011/
  19. http://scdlifestyle.com/2015/09/l-glutamine-7-dos-and-donts/
  20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12467378
  21. http://www.mensfitness.com/nutrition/supplements/whats-that-hydrolyzed-whey
  22. http://www.zju.edu.cn/jzus/2006/B0602/B060202.pdf
  23. http://www.zju.edu.cn/jzus/2006/B0602/B060202.pdf
  24. https://examine.com/supplements/glutamine/
  25. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gene/2744
  26. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/126/4_Suppl/1142S.extract
35 Comments
  1. There is a night and day difference between naturally occurring L-glutamate found in whole form proteins and D-glutamate, which is a by-product from isolating the protein. http://www.truthinlabeling.org/manufac.html True, our bodies do produce L-glutamate, and additionally we receive through WHOLE FORM PROTEINS IN PLANTS. ANYTIME, ANYTIME, ANYTIME, YOU ISOLATE A PROTEIN THROUGH A CHEMICAL PROCESS, AS IN PEA OR SOY PROTEIN, YOU GET BROKEN PROTEINS, AND CARCINOGENIC BYPRODUCTS, mono and dichloro propanols (which are carcinogenic), heterocyclic amines (which are carcinogenic), and other unwanted byproducts (impurities). Please read link as the arguments made here don’t align the truth. If you dive down the rabbit hole, “protein powders,” are a multi-billion dollar business.

    • Lee Johnson, please help. I have H63D Hemechromatosis, which has de myelinated my neurons,along w other catastophic effects.I am alive because Somebody Up There heard me ask.& for 14 days i pooped out Iron,that i practically had 2 dig out. there is still brain damage from Iron,so dementia.and Im still trying to be 50 yr professional Violinist…
      ANYWAY the inherited family suseptib to MSG, which used to only mean bad headaches, now is horrendous. msg in sushi caused me to dope of into unconscious, and millions of “needles” stabbing me in each and every skin/nerve cell all over body. torture. Poison Control said “take Taurine as antidote, i had it and the 7 hr torture ebbed away.
      also after having Biochem Organic Pea and Rice Protein Powder, the only other ingredient …NATURAL FLAVORS…i had a seizure right there over my countertop. experimented again, w/o the many added supplements, Same. seizure, loss of motor control, nevervthe same, intelligence wise, after that. perhaps the isolation of “1 carb & 1 amino acid, carmelized by extrem hi heat” ? so with these 2 incidences, am I among the few who should still be vigilant about free glutamic acid in foods?
      with Heme & non Heme iron problem and my reactions to free glutamic, how the HECK am i supposed to get protein the rest of my life?? Also allergic to eggwhites and to Casein…ugh

    • EXACTLY!!
      I couldn’t have said it better.
      The people who are sensitive to MSG know what products give them symptoms. Mine are migraines so bad you can’t stand up to get to the bathroom to throw up so hard your back and chest tingle with pins and needles feelings. There are absolutely no words to describe how horrible MSG, aspartame and any of the ingredients they are hid in make me feel.
      http://www.truthinlabeling.org IS the site to go to figure this stuff out.

  2. I have a severe reaction to MSG. and I work out. Sadly, protein shakes like “MetRX” cause me a-fib… atrial fibrillation.. It has enough glutimate in it that it causes a reaction with me. It a rapid and irregular heart beat. (for those who dont know what that is, it feels like your heart is beating outside your chest in an irregular way… I am 46 years old and work out 4-5 times a week. I wish I could take MetxRX but I no longer can.

    for a more complete list of things i need to avoid when looking for post workout shake… i go here. i stick with trusource or (dont laugh – slimfast)… and it sucks but its better than nothing.

    http://www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources.html

  3. Oh, you said the msg word. It’s a bit like Climate Change. Every nutritional expert says that MSG is harmless, but there is distrust of experts in the general population. It’s hilarious the way you sidestep the issue. Argument 1 – You actually need only 1 and 2 to make MSG. Some protein is hydrolysed using enzymes, but not all. If the whey protein is hydrolysed using HCl, which is normal, and neutralised using NaOH, which is again normal, it will contain glutamate and sodium. Now if you have problems with MSG, whatever you do, don’t add salt to your glutamate or glutamic acid containing food, or you will have produced the deadly MSG in your dinner plate (evil organ music)

    Natural glutamate is EXACTLY the same as synthetic glutamate. They are both C5H9NO4-. There is no difference between a synthetic chemical and a natural one.

  4. http://www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources.html
    My Dr., who is a nutritional expert, gives me this list.

  5. Yeahp ,they are misleading,i was sure that they were the same

  6. Sorry boss, but glutamine gets converted glutamates. In most people these are converted to GABA, those of us with GAD deficiency don’t and have a significant excess of glutamates. So I have to be incredibly careful with foods high in glutamine and glutamates which are quite high in many green veggies. So MSG no, but glutamates maybe.

    • is this the “shunt pathway” Im reading about? seems like Im low in GABA calming.family inheritance…low in B6, folic, b12…some other things that make the G not become GABA , but become free glutamic acid. with Iron excess in my brain (and body)from a chromosome mutation, and allergic to eggwhites and Casein…Im scared to have any protein powders at all.

  7. Arguement 3: “Statistically the variance is insignificant”. What is your definition of “insignificant” in this context?

  8. I don’t like that the author does not address any of the questions on these comments.

  9. I wonder how many people with extreme sensitivity to MSG and processed free glutamic acids are sensitive to them for the same reason I am: not GABA deficiency (I likely have plenty of GABA), but GABA receptor down-regulation due to long-term benzodiazepine or Z-drug therapy. Though I’m over six years free of the drugs at this point, the damage persists. And, yes, the drugs likely damaged my gut as well. I’m doing everything in my power to heal both including working with a good functional medicine practitioner. In the meantime, however, I’ve learned to avoid the word “protein” when I see it in an ingredient list. The milk protein concentrate in a yogurt bar was enough to send me to hell one evening. I’d prefer not to repeat that experience. I’m told that undenatured whey protein powder is safe for someone like me, but I confess that I’m scared to try it.

    • i thought it was UNdenatured whey that was ok..oh,boy, i have dementia from iron damage to nueron coveringsbin brain, so me trying to figure this out by myself is ridiculous.

    • Lifeiswaiting read your post about Gaba. I too I’m a victim of benzodiazepines. I am still tapering right now from a very high dos. Actually was on it and came off and then back on it and then down again and back up so I really screwed up my Gaba. What do you use as a good protein source. Other than food whole food I mean I need a protein powder because I can barely eat now. I have been eating aye Protein Isolate. I believe it is undenatured I will have to check with the manufacturer. Maybe this is why I’m still having so much anxiety but I have other anxiety issues to side from the tapering let me know if you found out anything else since you left this post a while back trying to find out what the hell I can sustain my body on now thanks

  10. Any idea why bovine collagen powder would consistently cause diarrhea? I found this blog because I had read a mention of a possible correlation between MSG and collagen. I am super sensitive to MSG so it was worth further investigation. Thanks for the info. So now I am still puzzled why the diarrhea… what else could it be?

    • 3 things I’ve seen mentioned along with people ‘reacting’ to collagen powder are;
      Histamine, glutamic acid, proline,

      Sorry no context or refs,
      but may ring some bells for others to comment further…

    • There is a possibility that collagen may be contaminated with differing amounts of bacterial endotoxins, BUT I cannot find a lot of information for this claim. Collagen is a prebiotic so it is possible that it is feeding something that can metabolize it, increasing motility. The amount of isolated ammino acids in collagen maybe causing issues as well, but you would get the same amount of glutamine give or take for example in a steak. It is high in glycine, but glycine generally does not cause diarrhea.

      • I’m sensitive to MSG and when i take protein powder 100%, i get a headache each time, one minute after drinking. Without msg, i never get headaches.
        Be aware. Be your own test subject. No one wants to get some disease.
        Thank you for your post, it allows other to share their experience and valuable knowledge.

        As for glycerin and diarrheas, the purpose of glycerin suppository is to loosen bowel. Cheers.

        • Hi Aurelien,
          I also get the headaches from a number of items listed in “the truth in Labeling” website. Column 1 is off-limits for me except “fermented”. The 2nd column is hit and miss and the 3rd seems to be mostly ok to have. I also take the cream of tarter and water remedy as soon as I feel that twinge in the back of the neck/head and it seems to limit the intensity of the headache. This is not always a fail safe but helps enough that I thought I should mention it to you…

    • I too have taken the bovine protein powder and it used to be fine now it causes me lots of gas and abdominal cramping. Cramping is due to my anxiety I think as I don’t get gas out all because of it. I think having intestinal Flora being off could have something to do with digesting the what I use called wild bone broth protein powder.

  11. Worth reading this post. Actually, on the internet, there are so many unprofessional authors are writing content. And they just copy paste information from different articles and resources. And for that reason, they don’t manage to suggest the accurate suggestions of any kind. Anyway, thanks for clearing these things nicely.

  12. It isn’t silly uninformed bloggers claiming that glutamic acid is toxic. It is neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock whom they are quoting. Maybe you should read the relevant research before attacking straw men.

    http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/review-excitotoxins-taste-kills

    • This is the important comment.

    • Russell Blaylock is an unhinged quack whose opinions do not follow from the science.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Blaylock

      Don’t trust someone just because they have an ‘M.D.’ behind their name.

    • I have read Dr. Blaylock’s comments on Whey Protein containing naturally occuring glutamates. So do tomatoes. And what the author of this article does not understand is that some of us are terribly allergic. I can go into anaphlaxis, throat swells up and can’t breathe if I run into it. And for everyone else? Glutamates are a dangerous neurotoxin. Our bodies make glutamates in the brain naturally. But it is INSIDE the brain. We have glutamate receptors on the brain and when it enters in from outside the brain…it is extremely toxic to the brain and causes the release of destructive chemicals…which in turn causes the excitoxicity. Long term excitoxic activity causes Parkinsons, Alzheimers, Lou Gherig’s disease and all those twitchy diseases that are fatal. It is not worth drinking whey protein drinks or those based with soy. Same thing. Dr. Blaylock was a board certified Neurosurgeon and before that an Oncologist. If he was trusted to do surgery on brains so he is a credible source of information on healthy brains and cancer, at a minimum.

      • I don’t have an allergy that I know of or nor am I normally sensitive to glutamate. I am now because like another poster put I am tapering from benzodiazepines. It is recommended to keep an low glutamate diet. Even after tapering so that the benzodiazepine damage to the Gaba receptors can heal which can take many years depending on how long you been on them. The point I wanted to get to is this so many healthy foods contain glutamate in Fairly high amounts I believe peas tomatoes. An abundance of others. So unless you have a sensitivity or allergy what this doctor is saying that eating healthy foods like tomatoes is still bad for you I just don’t get it completely. I think after doing research I have found that Protein Isolate does have free form glutamic acid in it and I should avoid it. My problem is I can’t consume enough physical volume of protein and carbohydrates to sustain myself. Anxiety so bad that it affects my eating that much and I also have other gastrointestinal problems.

  13. All I know is I am MSG intolerant and when I ingest most commercial protein powders, I get a headache about 20 minutes after ingesting, which is my standard reaction to MSG. And this is withstanding all other MSG products. I stand behind my belief that most protein powders contain MSG.

    • You would probably react the same way to a placebo.

  14. The. What do you make of the FDa stating that the glutamate in protein is chemically indistinguishable from MSG. They are not allowed to claim No MSG in a food product if it has anything autolyzed or hydrolyzed. I would assume the FDA as a whole, who states that MSG occurs naturally in protein powders, are more familiar with scientific studies than this blog. http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm328728.htm

  15. So, does this mean that if I were to mix MSG with other adequate free amino acid, it would not cause adverse effect?

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