Is MSG Really All That Bad?

For a naturally occurring compound, MSG gets a bad rap. Monosodium glutamate, a common flavor enhancer associated with the sense of umami, has been blamed for causing asthma, digestive distress, obesity and Chinese Restaurant Syndrome But what is it exactly?

Monosodium glutamate is a naturally-occurring chemical found in a variety of foods, from tomatoes to aged cheeses to soy sauce. It is also added to certain processed foods as a flavor enhancer. The MSG added to foods is often added in quantities similar to what you would naturally find in foods like tomatoes or proteins. It was first isolated in 1908 as the flavor compound that creates “umami” and has held GRAS status in the FDA (generally recognized as safe) for about 40 years. So why are we so afraid of it?

Within the past 40 years, MSG has gotten some bad press. It has been associated with various issues, such as learning disabilities, vision issues, obesity, migraines and general malaise. But if you look at the vast majority of the science, there isn’t much to be afraid of. Most studies showing adverse reactions have dealt with the consumption of significantly high quantities of MSG (3-5 grams), while the maximum most people consume in a day is around 1/2 a gram. Consuming gross amounts of most compounds is bound to have an adverse reaction on the body, so these studies can be misleading. Additionally, there are plenty of other foods, both natural and man-made, that cause much more severe reactions in the human body than MSG—look no further than those suffering from Celiac. In fact, man-made MSG is considered indistinguishable to the body in comparison with that which is naturally occurring, as by law it must be 99 percent pure.

Is it possible to be sensitive to foods containing glutamate? Perhaps, but most likely only in high concentrations. It may cause migraines in some, but the unsettling feeling some people get after consuming Chinese food may be related to other sensitivities or deficiencies rather than MSG itself. In fact, dozens of studies have debunked the theory of a developed MSG allergy using placebo-controlled trials. So, it’s unclear whether those who experience so-called “MSG sensitivity” actually have a sensitivity to MSG, or a compound or ingredient commonly related to it, as MSG-induced ailments have to be replicated indisputably in studies.

A real problem with MSG is that it may be associated with weight gain (mostly if consumed in gross quantities above 1/2 gram per day). It is a flavor enhancer after all. It’s possible that it interferes with our ability to signal our appetite and hunger hormones, or just makes food taste better so we eat more. However, it is something to be aware of. Again, the link isn’t clear, and may related to a variety of outside factors. Generally, if you’re trying to watch your body weight, laying off processed foods is generally a good idea, MSG or no MSG.

In reality, most foods only contain a drop or two of monosodium glutamate to enhance flavor without increasing straight sodium levels. While consuming vast quantities of processed foods isn’t the road to health, if you do consume something now and then with added or naturally occurring MSG—it’s found in hydrolyzed vegetable protein and yeast extract—it’s not the end of the world.

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Photo Credit: pointnshoot

117 comments

Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Marina Polazzo
Marina P1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Helga Ganguly
Helga G1 years ago

It makes my face turn red.

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry K1 years ago

Many thanks to you !

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey2 years ago

Don't panic

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

noted

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Dt Nc
Dt Nc2 years ago

Excessive MSG is bad.

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Dt Nc
Dt Nc2 years ago

MSG in excess is bad.

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