April 5, 2024

Is Monosodium Glutamate Bad For You? What The Research Says

Written by our expert


Avanthika Nityanand

M.Sc Human Genetics, B.Sc Plant Biology & Plant Biotechnology

Is Monosodium Glutamate Bad For You? What The Research Says
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What is Monosodium Glutamate?

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer commonly added to food to enrich its taste. It is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino acids.

Glutamate is found in various foods, including tomatoes and cheese. It is responsible for the umami taste, often described as the fifth taste alongside sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

A study involving 32 volunteers investigated the impact of monosodium glutamate (MSG) on the perception and consumption of a novel savory soup. Participants first tasted the soup without MSG, then attended four sessions where the soup was either unchanged (Control) or enhanced with MSG. Results showed that adding MSG during the training sessions not only made the soup more pleasant and savory but also led to a significant increase in the soup's likability and consumption when tasted again without MSG. [ref]

MSG is produced through a fermentation process similar to that used in making yogurt, beer, and soy sauce.

Its use in cooking and food production has been widespread since its commercialization in the early 20th century.

Despite its prevalence in the culinary world, MSG has been the subject of various health-related discussions and misconceptions.

Is Monosodium Glutamate Harmful?

Overall, for most of the population, MSG is considered safe when consumed in typical amounts.

The safety of MSG has been reviewed by several major scientific authorities, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

These organizations have found MSG to be generally safe for consumption.

An earl 1970 study showed that administering high doses of glutamic acid orally to adults, both humans and animals, through a formulated diet, did not result in any clinically observable pathological changes. The sole biochemical effect noted was a reduction in serum cholesterol and the beta lipoproteins linked to it. [ref]

Another single-blind, randomized study study aimed to assess the impact of adding 700 mg of flavor enhancers and/or 300 mg of monosodium glutamate (MSG) daily to the animal protein portion of cooked meals on the energy intake and body weight of elderly residents in a nursing home over 16 weeks. The findings indicate that enhancing meals with flavor or MSG does not affect the energy intake or body weight of elderly individuals in nursing homes. [ref]

Some people may experience short-term reactions like headaches, chest pain, and sweating, often referred to as "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome," though studies have failed to link these symptoms to MSG consistently.

Can MSG Prevent Undernourishment?

MSG has also been explored as possible solution to beat undernourishment in the elderly.

A 1991 study explored whether monosodium glutamate (MSG) can enhance the taste of Western diets, focusing on its impact on the palatability of two experimental foods among 36 healthy young adults. The findings revealed that MSG at a concentration of 0.6% improved taste ratings and led to subjects consuming these foods more quickly and in larger amounts over time, suggesting an increase in palatability with repeated exposure. [ref]

Further, in a 17-week randomized, placebo-controlled study, the group consuming foods with added MSG (300 mg per meal) experienced a weight gain of 1.1 kg (2.4 lb). [ref]

Is Monosodium Glutamate and Ajinomoto the Same?

Yes, Ajinomoto is a brand name for MSG. In Japanese, "Ajinomoto" translates to "essence of taste" and is used synonymously with MSG. The brand was founded in Japan, where it first began producing MSG in 1909.

Today, Ajinomoto Co., Inc. is a global company that produces various food products and ingredients, but it is best known for its MSG seasoning.

What is Monosodium Glutamate Used For?

MSG is used primarily as a flavor enhancer in food. It has the unique ability to balance, blend, and round the perception of other tastes. MSG is commonly added to processed foods, restaurant meals, and fast foods to enhance flavor.

It is particularly effective in savory and meaty dishes, amplifying the umami taste. Chefs and food manufacturers use MSG to reduce the need for salt, providing a similar flavor-enhancing effect without significantly increasing the food's sodium content.

Is Monosodium Glutamate Vegan?

Yes, MSG is vegan. It does not contain any animal products and is created through a bacterial fermentation process that involves starches or sugars.

The source materials are typically plant-based, making MSG suitable for vegetarians and vegans alike.

How to Use Monosodium Glutamate?

MSG can be used in cooking, like salt and pepper, either during cooking or at the table as a seasoning. It enhances the natural flavors of a wide range of dishes, including meats, soups, sauces, and vegetables.

The key is to use it sparingly, as a little goes a long way. A typical guideline is to use about half a teaspoon of MSG per pound of meat or four to six servings of vegetables or soup.

Does Monosodium Glutamate Have Gluten?

No, MSG does not contain gluten. It is a gluten-free compound, making it safe for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities.

However, when using MSG products, it's important to check the labeling for any added ingredients that may contain gluten, especially in pre-packaged spice mixes or sauces.

What is Monosodium Glutamate Found In?

MSG is found in a wide variety of foods, both naturally and as an added ingredient. Naturally, glutamate occurs in foods rich in protein, such as cheese (especially Parmesan), tomatoes, mushrooms, and seaweed.

As an additive, MSG is included in many processed and fast foods, including soups, snacks, and frozen dinners, to enhance flavor. It's also commonly used in restaurants, particularly in Asian cuisine, to accentuate the savory taste of dishes.

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