Mythbusting Mondays: Is MSG safe or dangerous? Here are the effects of ajinomoto on health

Monday Mythbusters

[Representational image] | Photo credit: Creative Commons

Quick, what’s the one cooking ingredient that comes to food safety? Around half of you out there have probably thought of monosodium glutamate (MSG). Today, we answer that much-asked question: Is MSG safe?

Yes, there are many rumours that this food additive affects the health adversely. One common thread in all is the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. It is characterised by a feeling of bloatedness and nausea after eating Chinese food.

The needle of blame almost always points to MSG. However, the truth is no scientific study has been able to conclusively show that MSG is bad for health.

What is MSG?

Monosodium glutamate or MSG, as the name suggests, is a salt of sodium. It is also known as ajinomoto, after the Japanese firm Ajinomoto, which produces it on a mass scale.

To be a little more technical, it is the salt form of the amino acid known as glutamic acid. And glutamic acid occurs naturally in the human body and many foods.

It is used as a food additive to give dishes that typical Umami or meaty taste. And although that glutamate bears a resemblance to gluten, MSG does not contain gluten.

A person with Celiac disease — one of whose symptoms is gluten allergy — may have an allergic reaction to soy sauce. However, that reaction is to the wheat component of the sauce — which contains gluten — and not to MSG.

[Representational image] | Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Is MSG safe?

While we can argue ad nauseam as to whether MSG is safe or not, let the experts weigh in here. And we are talking about experts at the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA).

The official USFDA page for MSG says the organisation views its addition to food as “generally recognized as safe.” It adds: “Although many people identify themselves as sensitive to MSG, in studies with such individuals given MSG or a placebo, scientists have not been able to consistently trigger reactions.”

But what about Chinese Restaurant Syndrome? The USFDA says: “Over the years, FDA has received reports of symptoms such as headache and nausea after eating foods containing MSG. However, we were never able to confirm that the MSG caused the reported effects.”

[Representational image] | Photo credit: Creative Commons
It adds: “These adverse event reports helped trigger FDA to ask the independent scientific group Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) to examine the safety of MSG in the 1990s. FASEB’s report concluded that MSG is safe.

“The FASEB report identified some short-term, transient, and generally mild symptoms, such as headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness that may occur in some sensitive individuals who consume 3 grams or more of MSG without food.

“However, a typical serving of a food with added MSG contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG. Consuming more than 3 grams of MSG without food at one time is unlikely.”

[Representational image] | Photo credit: Creative Commons

Final verdict: Safe!

So we seem to have a consensus here on the question: Is MSG safe? The answer: YES!

In case you need more proof, let’s turn to the USFDA again, which says the glutamate is MSG and that in foods are “chemically indistinguishable.” It also says: “Our bodies ultimately metabolize both sources of glutamate in the same way.”

If you need further evidence, read what the USFDA says about MSG safe limits: “An average adult consumes approximately 13 grams of glutamate each day from the protein in food, while intake of added MSG is estimated at around 0.55 grams per day.”

All in all, MSG is clearly safe for consumption. Of course, there are limits to it, but then there are also limits to everything we can consume. After all, even water can kill you if drunk in heavy proportions, and we are not talking about drowning!

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