The food additive monosodium glutamate, MSG, is used to enhance, balance, and blend the overall perception of other tastes in food. It stimulates the taste buds and increases saliva production to make flavors ‘pop’. MSG is one of the most controversial food additives. What exactly is it? It is the refined sodium salt form of the amino acid glutamate or glutamic acid.
Since MSG is only 12% sodium by weight versus sodium chloride, which is 39%, some food manufacturers argue that by using MSG, they can use less salt (sodium chloride) in their products. That’s why foods that frequently contain MSG are apt to be salty or savory tasting. They include canned soups, meats, and pasta, prepared dinners and side dishes, dry soup mixes, gravy and seasoning mixes, seasoned salty snacks and crackers, cured meats, smoked meats and sausages, diet foods, freeze-dried foods, frozen foods, prepared snacks, prepared salads, salad dressings and mayonnaise, croutons, bottled and canned sauces, and many seasoning blends. It’s also found in many fast foods and restaurant foods – even high end restaurants use it!
The Food and Drug Administration requires that foods containing added MSG list it in the ingredient panel on the packaging as monosodium glutamate. The average daily intake of MSG is estimated to be 0.3-1.0 g in industrialized countries, but it can be higher. So far, MSG doesn’t sound too bad, so why is it on our Scary Seven list?
The first reports that linked MSG consumption to the symptoms of a specific illness occurred in 1968 when Robert Ho Man Kwok identified an MSG symptom complex that he called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.
Since then, MSG has been implicated in many health issues and side effects. Reported adverse reactions to MSG include:
Each person reacts to MSG in varying degrees. Some experience severe reactions, others do not notice any reaction at all. This is why MSG has been a source of great debate. Although the FDA recognizes that some people are more sensitive to monosodium glutamate, they consider it GRAS (generally recognized as safe).
Listen to your body. Whether you are aware of any reactions associated with an intake of MSG or not, pay attention to any physical symptoms or changes in your behavior within the hours following MSG intake. Symptoms could last for several hours and it could take up to 48 hours for symptoms to manifest!
MSG reactions are more likely to occur when a food or snack containing MSG is eaten on an empty stomach or when alcohol is included in the meal (beer and Doritos, anyone?).
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