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MSG: Is It Worth It?

“The Food and Drug Administration [FDA] considers the addition of MSG to foods to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Although many people identify themselves as sensitive to MSG, in studies with such individuals given MSG or a placebo, scientists have not been able to consistently trigger reactions.”

That sounds pretty convincing, doesn’t it? Well, try reading that excerpt from the FDA website when you’ve finished this post.

Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG, is a flavour enhancer mostly known for being added to Chinese food, when actually it’s in quite a lot of products. Canned soup, meats, frozen meals, crisps / chips, salad dressings and curries / curry powder, to name a few. Oh, and baby and infant formulas. Yep.

Monosodium Glutamate makes food seem tastier and fresher, and smell better, too. The weird part is that MSG barely has a taste at all, it fools your tastebuds by using your umami taste sensors. Umami is a savoury flavour (and also the flavour of glutamate). Therefore by using umami, MSG makes your food taste more concentrated, full of flavour, and generally better.

MSG is an excitotoxin, meaning that it over-excites your brain cells, either significantly damaging them or killing them. Studies have shown that the effects of this “simple flavour enhancer” can actually cause brain damage, worsen the extent of learning disabilities and trigger the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

The FDA have received numerous reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG. Symptoms of these reactions, now called MSG Symptom Complex (formerly Chinese Restaurant Syndrome), are listed below:

– Headache
– Nausea
– Sweating or flushing
– Drowsiness or weakness
– Numbness or tingling (commonly in your face and neck)
– Facial pressure or tightness
– Heart palpitations or chest pain

Long term effects include obesity, depression and eye problems.

The FDA has no limit on what amount of MSG can be added to food, because it’s “generally recognized as safe.” How safe do these scientific studies sound?

‘Hypothalamic lesion induced by injection of monosodium glutamate in suckling period and subsequent development of obesity’. Tanaka K, Shimada M, Nakao K, Kusunoki Exp Neurol. 1978 Oct.

‘The monosodium glutamate (MSG) obese rat as a model for the study of exercise in obesity’. GobattoCA, Mello MA, Souza CT, Ribeiro IA.Res Commun Mol Pathol Pharmacol. 2002.

Or how about this one?

‘Obesity induced by neonatal monosodium glutamate treatment in spontaneously hypertensive rats: an animal model of multiple risk factors’. Iwase M, Yamamoto M, Iino K, IchikawaK, Shino hara N, Yoshinari Fujishima Hypertens Res. 1998 Mar.

The safety of MSG has become such a controversial topic over recent years, and more and more people are trying to cut MSG from their diet. Obviously, the food manufacturers have picked up on this after realising that their sales are going down. So for more sales you would like to think that they would remove MSG from their products, wouldn’t you? I would. But no. Instead they try and hide the fact that MSG is still lurking amongst the ingredients by using names that most people wouldn’t associate with Monosodium Glutamate. They know full well that their products wouldn’t taste as good, nor be as addictive and more-ish, without a flavour enhancer. But don’t worry, we have them here for you:

MSG has the HS code 29224220 and the E number E621

The following are alternative names for MSG:[Gov. 1][Manuf. 2][Manuf. 3]

Chemical names and identifiers

  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Sodium 2-aminopentanedioate
  • Glutamic acid, monosodium salt, monohydrate
  • L-Glutamic acid, monosodium salt, monohydrate
  • L-Monosodium glutamate monohydrate
  • Monosodium L-glutamate monohydrate
  • MSG monohydrate
  • Sodium glutamate monohydrate
  • UNII-W81N5U6R6U

Trade names


MSG may also sometimes be included if the product contains the following ingredients:
– Yeast extract, food, nutrient, or autolyzed yeast
– Calcium or Sodium Caseinate
– Gelatin
– Natural Flavouring (often, but not necessarily)
– Monopotassium Glutamate
– Textured or Hydrolyzed Protein
– Glutamic Acid or Glutamate

So here’s the question. Is it worth it? Is the false – but oh so good – taste worth the risk of obesity, depression, neurological diseases, even brain damage?


Written by Elska

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