By: Annemarie Morrell, Winthrop University Nutrition Student
Most people have heard about MSG and typically have a negative reaction to it. Due to popular media and certain articles that came about in the mid 1950s people’s view on MSG is that it can cause certain adverse effects and you should avoid it. But it's important to know where MSG came from and the actual research behind these claims. From there you can make your decision to not consume MSG or to consume it in your diet.
What is MSG?
MSG stands for monosodium glutamate and it's derived from water, sodium, and glutamate. Glutamate is an amino acid and it's used to make proteins in food and in our body. MSG was discovered in the 1900s by a Japanese chemist who extracted it from seaweed and found that it had a flavor enhancing element to it. It is now made from amino acid called L-glutamic acid which is made from fermenting corn, sugar cane, sugar beets, or molasses. A lot of people associate MSG with Chinese food but it's in a lot of other popular food items as well. MSG is usually used to enhance the natural flavors of food such as meat, poultry, soups, etc. Also glutamate can be found naturally in foods such as corn, green peas, mushrooms, and tomatoes.
Misconceptions about MSG
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding MSG and the effects that it can have. But people should remember that MSG is considered a safe food directly from the FDA. Even today it can be hard for people to not look at MSG in a negative light, even though it is deemed a safe food. This is partially from media and in the past MSG being demonized. Another misconception is that MSG is salt but it is not the same. Salt is made from sodium and chloride, though both MSG and salt contain sodium. But MSG has 1/3 of the amount of sodium compared to regular table salt. There is also not enough research to conclude that MSG is associated with a higher rate of obesity. Some people could think this because MSG with its umami taste is going to make food taste better which in turn can make someone want to eat more which would then cause you to gain weight.
Am I sensitive to MSG?
There are some people who have sensitivities to MSG but the symptoms are usually temporary and can appear a little bit after eating MSG. It can lasts for about 2 hours so of course if you're suffering from this then you would avoid MSG and glutamate. If you do feel that you are sensitive to MSG it's smart to talk to your doctor first to make sure that it is necessary to rule this out of your diet. If you still are having trouble with understanding MSG you can always talk to a dietitian that can help you learn skills to read and understand food labels. They can also help identify any sensitivity to MSG or any foods and give you advice on how to eat well while avoiding the foods that are triggering a bad reaction. Again some people could be sensitive to MSG but it could also be that the food you’re eating is also highly processed, fried, or it has a lot of sodium in it which could be causing your body to have adverse effects.
Once someone has certain beliefs in their mind and are set on them it can be hard to accept new information that could correct their assumptions. Of course you can choose what to eat and your decision on why you eat certain foods but it's good to know the origins of the choices that you're making. With MSG it appears that a lot of people made their assumption on culture and from what they see in media but not based on science. Hopefully with a better understanding of MSG and how it is deemed safe there can be less negative stigma associated with it.
Annabarryjester. How MSG got a bad rap: Flawed science and xenophobia. FiveThirtyEight. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-msg-got-a-bad-rap-flawed-science-and-xenophobia/. Published January 8, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2022.
Kaputk. Is MSG really bad for you? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-msg-really-harmful/. Published July 5, 2022. Accessed October 4, 2022.