MSG, or monosodium glutamate, has been a controversial chemical for decades. Perhaps you’ve heard stories about negative reactions like heart palpitations or chest pain, or seen a sign at your favorite Chinese restaurant that say “NO MSG”. Maybe you’ve read that MSG is insidious, and can actually increase your appetite and override your natural satiation response.
So when it comes to MSG, what is fact, and what is fiction? And if it really has such negative effects, how can it be legal and commonly used in restaurants and food products all across the country? Here is the inside scoop on MSG:
The Effects of MSG: The Whole Story
Monosodium glutamate is basically the laboratory created version of glutamate, a chemical that is created naturally in the human body. It was created to mimic the basic food flavor “umami”, the Japanese word for savory or “deliciousness”. This flavor describes the essence of the tastes of tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and meat. A Japanese researcher isolated the glutamic acid, the chemical responsible for this flavor and an amino acid in our bodies. The protein was then broken down by either fermentation, ripening, or cooking, and became glutamate. Salt was added to stabilize the compound, thus becoming monosodium glutamate.
Owing to several cultural factors and no doubt taking these close ties to a naturally occurring substance into account, much of the MSG hysteria that eventually came to sweep the Western world was largely ignored in Asia. Glutamate is found naturally in many foods, including mother’s milk. So when anecdotes of people getting headaches, palpitations, flushing, and sweating from eating Chinese food starting popping up, science explored the effect of MSG heavily, only to come up with no reason to suspect any harmful potential.
However, public opinion of the chemical is still very negative. And researchers do concede that some people may exhibit short term MSG sensitivity. But still, Mayo Clinic reports that though the FDA has been receiving anecdotal evidence of negative effects of MSG, researchers have yet to prove a link exists.
If you are still worried that MSG will negatively affect your healthy meal plan, your best bet is to stay away from processed foods and concentrate on whole, natural food. But until science says otherwise, this common food additive is likely nothing to worry about.
- “If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn’t everyone in Asia have a headache”, The Observer
- “What is MSG? Is it bad for you?”, Mayo Clinic
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