MSG (Monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer added to canned vegetables, Chinese foods, processed meats, and soups. It was discovered more than 100 years ago by a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda derived it from seaweed and determined that it imparts a unique taste to food items. He called the flavor enhancer ‘Umami’ which is Japanese for ‘5th taste’.
Why do food companies add MSG to foods?
Ajinomoto was the first to market MSG in Japan. Over the years it gained rapid popularity all over the world. Food companies began to use MSG not only for its unique ‘savory’ flavor that changes your perception of taste but for its low sodium content.
Glutamate is known to stimulate umami taste receptors in the tongue. Umami is a Japanese word that describes a different flavor apart from the four traditional ones - sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
In nature, several foods contain natural, free glutamate, the content of which increases as these foods ripen. Increased level of glutamate adds a more flavorful taste. Some foods like tomatoes, cheese, and mushrooms enhance the flavor of food because they have high glutamate levels.
Considering the above facts, you may conclude that MSG is delicious to your taste buds. However, this is where it gets tricky. So before you make up your mind, you must read what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thinks about it.
Common foods that contain MSG
MSG occurs naturally in a wide range of foods, particularly those high in protein. It’s also added to ingredients and other foods during processing.
Common foods that contain MSG are:
- Animal-based protein: salmon, mackerel, scallops, crab, shrimp, chicken, beef
- Cheese: Parmesan, cheddar, Roquefort
- Vegetables: cabbage, tomatoes, onions, green peas, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli
- Processed meats: pepperoni, bacon, pastrami, salami, sausages
- Sauces and dressings: ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salad dressings, soy sauce, barbecue sauce
- Premade and packaged foods: canned soups, frozen meals, crackers, potato chips, canned tuna
- Condiments: seasoning blends, rubs
How do I know if there’s MSG in my food?
Due to ongoing controversy around MSG, FDA regulations require it to list the amount of MSG processed foods contain.
However, it is not necessary to state that processed foods that include naturally occurring MSG in their constituents also contain added MSG. A processed meal contains MSG if it contains one of these naturally occurring ingredients:
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein.
- Autolyzed yeast.
- Hydrolyzed yeast.
- Yeast extract.
- Soy extracts.
- Protein isolate.
Is MSG truly beneficial to your health?
FDA considers MSG a safe food ingredient, but its use in food items has always been debatable. After consuming food items containing MSG, many people have reported experiencing adverse reactions. Here are a few:
- Facial pressure
- Numbness in the neck and other areas
- Heart palpitation
- Chest pain
According to the FDA, the MSG-making process involves the fermentation of starch, sugar beets, and sugarcane. The fermentation process increases glutamate levels and may cause health issues because excess glutamate is not good.
Naturally occurring glutamate in food is not dangerous, but processed glutamate present in MSG is harmful. That is the reason MSG over-stimulates the nervous system.
Does MSG cause obesity?
MSG is blamed for being associated with increasing obesity rates. Although it has not proven that MSG affects leptin receptors, fat cells, or other areas of the body linked to weight gain, still higher MSG intake is related to a higher body mass index (BMI) over time. There’s no proof of how MSG and obesity are linked.
Obesity is a complex disorder influenced by various factors- genetics, nutrition, physical activity, and lifestyle. While taking a lot of additional salts, MSG might increase water retention and weight gain but it is not a direct cause of obesity. Maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is essential, as is being aware of the amount of added salt, MSG, in the foods you consume. Additionally, regular physical activity and a healthy lifestyle can support general health and prevent the development of obesity and related health conditions.
Every processed fast food item involves the use of chemicals. Therefore, it is essential to gain a sound understanding of the food items you are eating. Remember that not only is it crucial to eat healthily, but it is also important to stay well-informed about what you’re eating.