The Truth About MSG
MSG is the Chris Brown of ingredients – despised by many for the bad taste it leaves in their mouth.
But according to scientists, monosodium glutamate isn’t necessarily deserving of its bad reputation (unlike Chris Brown, who definitely is).
The whole “MSG is the devil” thing began in the 1960s when a scientist named Dr Ho Man Kwok wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, documenting the unpleasant physical symptoms he experienced after eating at Chinese restaurants.
His letter spawned a flurry of media attention about the possible dangers of MSG, as well as scientific studies into the ingredient.
But the research was never able to draw a definitive link between MSG and the symptoms some experience after consuming it – headaches, sweating, nausea, facial tightness, numbness and fatigue.
One Washington University study of mice found that when injected with large amounts of MSG to the brain, they grew up to be stunted and obese.
But the mice received quantities of MSG far bigger than a human would typically consume in a bowl of Chinese food, and it was shot directly into their brains.
Aside from that case, countless other studies failed to draw any conclusive link between MSG and negative physical side effects.
Now the medical world has taken the position that while some people have an intolerance or allergic reaction to MSG, the ingredient is not inherently bad for you.
“Researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms,” writes dietician Katherine Zeratsky.
“Researchers acknowledge that a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. Symptoms are usually mild and don't require treatment.”
It’s also been deemed “generally recognised as safe" by America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Dr Vicki Kotsirilos, a spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, agrees.
“MSG is generally safe in most individuals but there are some sensitive individuals who have reported reactions such as headaches, flushing, nausea and palpitations following ingestion of MSG,” Dr Kotsirilos told Coach.
“They usually know when this occurs as they are able to trace the reactions to the restaurant or take away food, and may even occur a few hours later or the next day.
“The best advice is to avoid MSG in food when suspected. Symptoms are usually mild and transient, but if you are concerned check with your GP.”
MSG isn’t only present in Chinese food. It enhances the tongue’s perception of flavours, particularly umami – the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salty and bitter – so if you’ve been getting in on that food trend, you’ve probably eaten some MSG.
But there’s no reason to panic (unless you are one of the small number of people that have a reaction to it). Like any artificial food additive, it’s okay to consume it occasionally, you just wouldn’t want to eat it all that often.