Is MSG Actually Unhealthy? Here’s What Science Says

A glimpse into the facts about flavor-enhancing MSG

Photo Modified: Flickr / Richard Masoner / CycleliciousCC BY-SA 4.0

Monosodium glutamate has gotten a lot of bad press, but does it deserve it?

Monosodium glutamate, more commonly referred to as MSG, has received endless amounts of bad press. People avoid foods that contain MSG, and restaurants everywhere try to improve their image by posting signs claiming their lack of use of this naturally occurring, non-essential amino acid. If you’re in the same boat as many of us, MSG carries a connotation similar to the word poison. The question is whether or not MSG is inherently unhealthy. Should it be as widely hated as it is? We’ll tell you some facts so that you can decide.

Click here to see 10 Things You Didn’t Know About MSG.

Let’s start with some facts about MSG. Used in abundance in the cuisine of many Asian countries, MSG is responsible for a savory, meaty flavor experience dubbed umami. It acts to accompany and enhance the taste of the other ingredients it’s used with. It is chemically equivalent to glutamic acid, an amino acid naturally produced not only by many food sources but also by the human body.

Additionally, MSG contains about one-third of the sodium that table salt does. You can use less MSG than salt and produce a similar, salty taste. Additionally, The Daily Meal’s Senior Eat/Dine Editor, Dan Myers, writes about how humans can metabolize more MSG than is used in food. “According to the FDA,” he says, “the average adult consumes about 13 grams of glutamate every day from the protein in food alone, and only .55 grams of MSG daily. In fact, in 1970, 11 adults were fed up to a whopping 147 grams of MSG daily for six weeks and none of them reported any adverse reactions.”

There have been harsh accusations placed against MSG, claiming that it causes a sickness called Chinese restaurant syndrome. The symptoms of this disease include a radiating numbness and palpitations, but they’ve never been proven true. In fact, it’s said that Chinese restaurant syndrome was also created and popularized by just one man. The FDA has attempted to trigger MSG-inspired reactions in experiments with the amino acid and placebos without much luck. There has been no instance of consistent reactions in the trials scientists have performed. One 2008 study claims that MSG is both “a villain and promoter of liver inflammation and dysplasia.” In this study, the introduction of MSG to mice tended to induce obesity.

With that being said, you may find you have your own tolerance level of MSG. This goes for all food additives. There may be a correlation between MSG and obesity, but such a claim requires more research to prove. Monosodium glutamate being equated to an illness-causing poison, though, seems to be one far scientific cry from the truth. In proper doses, this naturally occurring substance is scientifically stated to be safe for any human to consume.

The accompanying slideshow is provided by fellow Daily Meal editorial staff member Dan Myers.

Click here for more facts about MSG.

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