Way back in September 1999 The Onion ran a story “Scientists Discover Gene Responsible For Eating Whole Goddamn Bag Of Chips.” Much of the gag hinged on the idea that there was a single reason, other than, perhaps, willpower, responsible for eating an entire bag of chips in one sitting. As a person who has always found snack food hard to resist, I really identified with the story, no matter how ludicrous. Despite my skepticism for simple explanations for complex behaviors, I do think there is one factor out there that might not just be responsible for eating the whole bag of chips, but for a lot of the obesity epidemic in general.
Behold monosodium glutamate. That’s right, according to a recent piece in the New York Times, everyone’s favorite excitotoxin (and bane of Ann and many other migraine sufferers‘ existence) is present in five separate forms in Nacho Cheese Flavored Doritos. Five separate flavor enhancers!
Given that glutamate is a known appetite enhancer, it is really no surprise that we tend to overeat after consuming it. In fact, MSG is often added to drinking water to simulate overeating in animal studies. Don’t get me wrong, MSG tastes great and likely has a worthwhile role in the foods we eat. The problem is that it tastes so good that it can be used to mask poor quality or stale ingredients. Even some ice cream has MSG now in order to cover up freezer burn. Additionally, its use seems to be more and more common, leading to higher and higher doses for a person eating processed foods.
Although the FDA requires labeling of foods that contain MSG, currently there are many other sources of free glutamate (autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolized protein) and many manufacturers sneak it in by listing ingredients like “broth” or Worcestershire sauce that contain it despite claiming “No MSG Added” (this is illegal, but would require legal action to stop).
Ultimately, since we figured out that MSG was a major migraine trigger and started avoiding it, Ann and I both have been healthier — her headaches have gone down about ten times, and I no longer have eczema flair-ups unless I sneak MSG-laden food when she’s not around.