MSG or Monosodium Glutamate is a flavor enhancer commonly used in Asian cooking, packaged foods, canned foods, processed meats and fast food to intensifies the savour of food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that is “generally recognized as safe,” but its use remains controversial.
MSG has been claimed to cause “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”, a group of symptoms some people experience after eating food with MSG. These symptoms often include thirsty, headache, flushing, sweating, numbness, chest pain, nausea and many more. Luckily, these symptoms are temporary and often subtle.
Why Do I Get These Symptoms?
MSG is a salt of glutamic acid (an amino acid). Glutamic acid or Glutamate imparts a unique savoury flavor described as Umami, and is naturally found in most foods, such as tomatoes, mushrooms, Parmesan Cheese, Fish, Seaweed and even human breast milk.
The Glutamate in MSG is an excitatory neurotransmitter, which causes an increased activity in brain nerve cells. Unlike the natural Glutamate, the Glutamate in MSG may lead to excitotoxicity; an overstimulation of nerve cells that leads to cell damage or death.
Although MSG might cause uncomfortable symptoms, researches have yet to find consistent evidence to support the link between MSG and “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”. And so, if you are sensitive to MSG, you should reduce or avoid the intake of this additive.
How is MSG Made?
MSG was discovered for more than 100 years ago by a Japanese Chemist named Kikunae Ikeda, who derived is from seaweed. However, these days, MSG is made by fermenting starch from sugar cane, sugar beets, tapioca or molasses, with glutamic acid producing bacteria.
If you are suffering from these symptoms, when eating out, ask for your meal to be prepared without MSG to avoid or reduce MSG intake. Do also note that MSG may be contained in a number of other ingredients such as autolysed yeast extract, hydrolysed vegetable protein, potassium glutamate, sodium caseinate, broth, textured protein, and natural flavorings.
Written by: Jasmine Lim
(Love Earth Nutritionist)
[Bachelor of Science Degree in Dietetics (major) &
Food Science (minor) lowa State University, USA]