The term gluten refers to specific plant storage proteins found in barley, rye and wheat. If you have celiac disease, these forms of gluten trigger an autoimmune reaction that attacks the gluten protein and harms your body in the process. A gluten-free diet is the only effective treatment for celiac disease. Some parents believe these forms of gluten also cause symptoms in their children with autism, so they use a gluten-free diet. While many preservatives, stabilizers and flavorings contain gluten, monosodium glutamate does not.
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a sodium salt of glutamate, an amino acid that’s part of every protein-containing food, including milk, cheese, meat, fish and some vegetables. Your body produces its own glutamate to promote healthy metabolism and brain function. MSG contains only three ingredients: glutamate, sodium and water. The glutamate used to produce MSG is derived from gluten-free sugar beets, sugar cane or corn sugar. All of these foods are gluten-free, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
If you or a loved one have celiac disease, eating even a small portion of gluten can trigger an autoimmune response that damages the villi, small fingers of tissue that protrude inward from the lining of the small intestine. Some individuals think that these forbidden forms of gluten also cause sleep, bowel and behavioral problems in youngsters with autism. Because MSG is gluten-free, it won’t cause any of these problems.
MSG is a flavor enhancer that brings out the best taste in a wide variety of foods, including meat, soup, stew, snack foods, poultry, seafood and vegetables. Although MSG has traditionally been widely used in Chinese foods served in restaurants, many establishments have eliminated it from their recipes because some people believe it causes headaches and other symptoms.
Although MSG is gluten-free, it’s often served in dishes that contain other gluten-laden ingredients, such as wheat noodles or grains of barley. Many brands of ingredients used in Chinese food recipes contain gluten. For example, some types of teriyaki and soy sauces are made from gluten-containing wheat. Meat, fish or poultry that is battered, breaded or marinated may also be coated with gluten.