January 6, 2012

What’s All The Mess About MSG?

Let me make a disclaimer before you read this post. I am not a doctor or health official, and I dont hold a doctorate. The information I am providing you here is through my own research – though all major health agencies have made statements that agree with the facts that I will present to you here. This is the best information that is available at the time of this post. If new things should be discovered in the future, this information may change.

MSG. Monosodium Glutamate. What is this substance, and what is the controversy surrounding it? What does it do, and why do manufacturers add it to products? Can it hurt me? Isnt that stuff toxic?

These are all valid questions the layman might ask. This is relevant to ramen noodles since just about EVERY noodle manufacturer adds it to their product (it also extends to MANY of the products you eat as well).

Lets start with the simple question:

What is MSG?

Wikipedia says: Monosodium glutamate, also known as sodium glutamate or MSG, is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino acids.[1] It has been classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and by the European Union as a food additive.  Industrial food manufacturers market and use MSG as a flavor enhancer because it balances, blends and rounds the total perception of other tastes.

Okay. So MSG enhances the taste of foods. It doesn’t really have much of a taste all by itself, but when added to other foods, it enhances the taste.

Lets move on to the next question:

Can it hurt me? Isn’t that stuff toxic?

To answer this question, we should first know what MSG actually is. Monosodium glutamate. What does that actually mean? When MSG touches your tongue, it essentially becomes dissolved into two things: regular old sodium, and glutamic acid. I think everyone can agree that sodium is safe (in normal amounts). The content of sodium in MSG is only 12% versus table salt (sodium chloride) which has a 39% sodium content.

Lets move onto the other part – glutamic acid. Is this some toxic, green, bubbling toxic waste produced by nuclear plants in some underground dungeon? As it turns out, it certainly isn’t. Its an amino acid, and it’s essential for human life. So essential, in fact, that without it you wouldn’t be able to sustain life. The human body creates about 50g of free glutamate daily – all by itself. The amount of glutamic acid (the glutamate part of monosodium glutamate) consumed in a regular meal is far lower – the most you would probably consume is only a few grams at best.

There has never been any rigorous double-blind, placebo controlled study that has shown any significant harm done by MSG. You may have heard the term “neurotoxin” thrown around. This stems from a study done on rats where they fed the rats enormous amounts of MSG and observed the changes. A human couldn’t mimic such a diet. The same goes for any substance – salt, sugar, and water. Too much of anything can be deadly. Some experts agree that a very small percent of the population is sensitive to MSG, but there are no known lasting harmful effects. In one study, people who claimed to be MSG sensitive had more reactions when exposed to the placebo then the actual MSG!

But Eric! I’m still uncomfortable about consuming MSG! I get reactions from eating it, honest!”

Some people take this position. If you think you are sensitive to MSG, I challenge you to look in your cupboard and look at the ingredient label. Did you know glutamates are in many foods, naturally? Here’s a chart of foods where free glutamates are contained naturally.

In addition, MSG and its similar forms goes by many different names, and is even included in products which claim to have no MSG. While they are “technically” not lying, they DO include essentially the same exact thing in a different name. Theres no avoiding it. Heres a list:

  • Glutamic acid (E 620)2,  Glutamate (E 620)
  • Monosodium glutamate (E 621)
  • Monopotassium glutamate (E 622)
  • Calcium glutamate (E 623)
  • Monoammonium glutamate (E 624)
  • Magnesium glutamate (E 625)
  • Natrium glutamate
  • Yeast extract
  • Anything “hydrolyzed”
  • Any “hydrolyzed protein”
  • Calcium caseinate,  Sodium caseinate
  • Yeast food, Yeast nutrient
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Gelatin
  • Textured protein
  • Soy protein, soy protein concentrate
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Whey protein, whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Anything “…protein”
  • Vetsin
  • Ajinomoto

Conclusion: There is no way of avoiding glutamates in your food. There has never been a scientific study involving humans that has shown it to be harmful. Stop worrying about it and start worrying more about the things proven to harm you – fat and sodium. MSG can actually lower the need for so much salt. If more MSG was added to foods, maybe we’d see less heart disease.

Stop worrying and enjoy your food.

Heres a video thats worth watching by a favorite youtuber of mine:

Products cooked according to package instructions. Product reviews done prior to adding any additional ingredients.