101 Series – Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Are you familiar with the ingredient monosodium glutamate (MSG)? In this post, we’ll discuss the safety of MSG and explore common misconceptions about this ingredient.

What is MSG?

Monosodium glutamate commonly known as MSG is an ingredient known to enhance the flavor of foods; specifically the umami, or savory, flavor associated with many of our favorite dishes.  

MSG breaks down into sodium salt of glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is a common nonessential amino acid which means your body naturally produces this amino acid. While most people are familiar with sodium salt, glutamic acid is also found in familiar ingredients such as tomatoes, carrots, onions, and more!  
Many people associate MSG with American-style Chinese food dishes, but it is found in other foods too, such as soups and gravies.  

MSG is naturally occurring in many vegetables and fungi. In fact, MSG can be derived from plants and vegetables, typically corn and beets and added to many common food products such as bouillon cubes, processed meats, and more.   

Are there negative health impacts from consuming MSG?

During the mid-20th century, some individuals reported a series of adverse health impacts including headaches, numbness, palpitations, and general weakness after consuming foods from Chinese food restaurants known to cook with MSG. As a result, MSG use became closely associated with Chinese food, and the reported adverse health impacts became known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” (CRS). 

While initial studies on the CRS phoneme showed adverse health impacts, these studies were not replicable. Further blinded research, where participants and researchers did not know who had consumed MSG in their diet and individuals received average doses of MSG, did not show the negative health impacts1,2,3,4.  

However, a FDA study where people consumed large doses of MSG (3 grams or more) without food did show mild, short-term, transit health impacts such as a headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations. By contrast, a typical dose of MSG found in food contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG, making it unlikely people would experience short-term negative health impacts when consumed in a typical setting.
Please note, while extremely rare, it is possible for people to have a food allergy1,2 or sensitivity to MSG, but this is an uncommon reaction to the ingredient.  

Should I avoid MSG?

MSG is a GRAS ingredient and is recognized as safe when used in accordance with guidelines. As with all ingredients, MSG is clearly listed on the food labels, so you can quickly identify the ingredient.  

There is no need to avoid MSG in a typical food setting unless you have a known allergy or sensitivity. 

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