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The Truth About MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) may be hard to say ten times fast, but it certainly isn’t bad for you. In the past, this flavor enhancer has been linked to asthma attacks, headaches and brain damage, however researchers and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration have found no definitive evidence between these symptoms and MSG. Chances are you’ve eaten MSG within the last 24 hours without even knowing it, as it is found in all prepared foods.

So why the bad rep? Karen Hemmes, registered dietetic technician at Banner Baywood Medical Center, offered some perspective on what MSG is and its potential benefits.

MSG + Food = Umami

“MSG is the salt form of the amino acid glutamic acid/glutamate, which occurs naturally in our bodies and in a variety of common foods such as vegetables, seafood, meat, fermented soy products and cheese,” Hemmes said. “Glutamate and MSG are involved with taste perception and provide a unique taste known as the fifth taste, or umami.”

How It Affects Our Body

According to the FDA, our bodies metabolize MSG and glutamic acid the same way and cannot differentiate between the two in our diets. This means that our bodies do not know the difference between glutamate coming from fresh vegetables or seafood, or glutamate coming from the MSG in other meals.

Although being sensitive to MSG is biologically plausible, Hemmes noted there is no scientific evidence supporting negative effects of MSG on humans.

Its Potential Benefits

Hemmes said MSG has potential benefits for those on low-sodium diets and older adults who have lost the ability to taste umami.

“While 1 tsp of MSG contains 500 mg sodium, 1 tsp of salt contains 2300mg,” Hemmes said. “Using MSG can help decrease the total amount of sodium in our diet, which should be between 1,500 to 2,000 mg per day. And it can help aid in improving the overall nutritional status of the elderly.”

Moderation is Key

As with everything, moderation is key. Although MSG contains less sodium than table salt, it’s not time to start shaking it out on every dish. Eat sensibly and make healthy choices.

The bottom line is there is no evidence that MSG is harmful to the body. As long as you cook food thoroughly and prepare it well, there’s no need to avoid MSG. Now, who’s craving Chinese takeout?

To get a check on your health, visit bannerhealth.com to find a provider in your area.


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