Nutrition

The 2021 Guide to Monosodium Glutamate – MSG in Foods

In this health-conscious age, almost everyone worries about what they are eating. Is it healthy? Is it harmful? Does it affect the way your body works, or does it leave you feeling even more hungry?

This is especially true about Monosodium Glutamate, one of the most popular flavor enhancers and, at the same time, one that people are discovering to be pretty harmful.

But with so much information and myths on the internet, you’re never sure about the truth.

That’s where we come in! With this comprehensive guide to MSG in hand, you’ll be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood and easily decide the best course of action regarding your consumption of MSG.

What is MSG?

Monosodium Glutamate, better known by its acronym MSG, is a compound made of two naturally occurring substances, i.e., sodium and glutamate. While sodium is self-explanatory, glutamate (or glutamic acid) is something that needs clarification.

In simple words, it’s an amino acid, but to clarify, we can word it as a flavor that comes closest to being described as ‘Savory’ or ‘Umami’.

It’s also popularly known as Ajinomoto, hydrolyzed protein, etc.

What is MSG found in?

MSG-rich foods have been part of multiple cultures for centuries. Even today, an average person consumes glutamate found in cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.

However, it’s more commonly found in processed foods in a ploy to enhance their flavor (a callback to Umami!) and make it more appealing to customers who desire flavorful and delicious foods.

It’s also probably added to most of the packaged foods you buy. And let’s not forget restaurant take-aways and Stir-Frys.

In short, while MSG is naturally occurring in several foods, it’s also artificially added to a lot of the products you consume daily.

Similarly, it is found in many dishes and meals served by restaurants because it’s a reliable flavor enhancer that improves the highly sought-after fifth flavor – Umami.

Is MSG bad for you?

The good news is, MSG is allowed in food products all over the world by authorities such as the FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration), the EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority), and other food standard organizations.

Now, you might be confused about how MSG is bad for you if food authorities allow it to be an additive to food products worldwide?

Plus, you must be worried by the anecdotal reports from people experiencing one or more of the following symptoms after the intake of food containing MSG:

  • Headache
  • Numbness
  • Sweating
  • Facial pressure
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Heart palpitations

These symptoms look terrifying, right?

Fortunately, for Umami lovers, there have been no proven cases or research against MSG.

While an excess of this additive leads to adverse effects, this does not mean that moderate amounts will lead to bad health or problems with your immune system and the other symptoms mentioned above.

In truth, though the FDA has identified problems in daily doses of above 3 grams of MSG taken without food, a typical food serving includes only 0.5 grams of Monosodium Glutamate.

This makes it easy to eat even three meals a day without exceeding the recommended amount.

In addition, food regulatory authorities have confirmed that even if some adverse effects of MSG pop up, they are, generally, not severe health problems and often, temporary as well.

Myths vs. Facts

Myth

Fact

MSG is synthetic (i.e., it is artificially made). MSG is just the sodium salt of glutamate, which is in truth one of the abundant, non-essential, naturally occurring amino acids.
It is not stable. The reality is the opposite because MSG is one of the most stable salts formed of glutamate.
This substance has not been studied well by formal researchers and food authorities. For over 40 years, both national and international researchers (and food standard authorities) have studied and scientifically assessed the pros and cons of Monosodium Glutamate, both separately and in food products.
MSG is toxic to the human body. Since MSG is basically the salt of glutamate, the body treats it the same way as a natural amino acid. Therefore, it cannot be considered toxic to the body, for glutamate is also found in tomatoes, which the body does not flag as toxic.
It is high in sodium. Compared to table salt, MSG only contains 1/3rd amount of sodium. Additionally, it is used in much smaller amounts.
It increases the saltiness of the products and dishes it is added in. MSG enhances the taste and allows meals to be made with less salt without compromising flavor. Therefore, rather than increased saltiness, it helps consumers reduce their salt intake.
It causes the Chinese restaurant syndrome.

First, let’s clarify what ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ is. This reaction by certain people involves symptoms that arise after eating foods rich in MSG.

These symptoms include but are not limited to headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain, and back pain.

In truth, there is no medical proof linking MSG to these problems.

Of course, a few people may be allergic or sensitive to MSG or related food items, but these remain the minority and a special case that does not prove the harmful nature of MSG in general.

The Takeaway

Hopefully, you now know more about MSG than you did before because this blog has covered for you the following (and possibly more!):

  • What is MSG? (The scientific side and the flavor side)
  • What foods contain MSG? (Both natural and artificial)
  • Is MSG bad for you? (It’s not – we’ve got the detailed analysis up there for your perusal)
  • Debunking the myths about MSG (with a few well-explained facts to do the job)

Of course, there’s a lot more that you can find out if you research and dig into the science and details behind Monosodium Glutamate. However, if you were looking for just an overview covering the important aspects, this is it!

If you want to learn more about this topic, click here or here.

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