Apropos of knowing whats what on your processed-food ingredients list in addition to high fructose cs, dont forget MSG. I'm reminded of this as I perused the just arrived Art of Eating, Edward Behr's excellent and elegant quarterly in which Rowan Jacobsen discusses the issue of Umami, also the subject of a recent book called The Fifth Taste by Anna and David Kasabian. Umami can be described as a kind of deep savoryness that you get from tomatoes and fish sauce and mushrooms, and Jacobsen's article is the most lucid and concise discussion of umami I've read. (One great source of umami, Jacobsen tells us, is breast milk: add a little breast milk to your bechamel sauce for a je ne sais quoi that will have your guests clamoring for more!)
About MSG, the effective part of which is an amino acid called glutamate, he correctly writes: MSG has taken a bad rap. It's effective as a taste enhancer but by the 1970s many second-rate restaurants had a heavy hand with the MSG, and it was blamed for Chinese Restaurant Syndrome: symptoms of headaches, dizziness, and nausea after eating food to which large quantities of MSG have been added. Chinese Restaurant Syndrome has been debunked, and MSG now has a fairly clean bill of health, but it is still virtually synonymous with artificial food additive.
All true. Even in large quantities, MSG isn't apparently harmful and few people actually have an uncomfortable sensitivity to it. It was originally derived from seaweed, that is, it's natural. But in my opinion umami is best enlisted in your dishes via foods rather than MSG. Try adding a few drops of good fish sauce, nam pla or nouc mam, to your macaroni and cheese and see for yourself.