Picture of MSG crystals; found at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MSG_crystals.JPG
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, has been mass produced and put into lots of dishes to produce a meaty, hearty flavor (umami). But, recently there has been a lot of pushback against eating MSG. Some people say it causes dizziness and headaches, and even others claim more drastic symptoms, like chest pains and nausea. Some say these claims are not true in general. Is MSG really bad for you?
What is MSG?
MSG is a salt, made of sodium and glutamate. What is funny is that one of the amino acids that make up many of our proteins in our body is glutamic acid, which is an incredibly similar compound to MSG. When ingested, monosodium glutamate separates into sodium and glutamate ions, which can then react with acid to make glutamic acid. In fact, the FDA says, “The glutamate in MSG is chemically indistinguishable from glutamate present in food proteins.”
So, glutamate is definitely not bad for humans, as it is naturally produced in a lot of metabolic processes. So what is bad about MSG? It has sodium, which could be considered bad at high levels, but it does not have any more sodium than common salt does.
Is MSG Bad?
Actually, there is no clinical research that has shown any causation between MSG and any negative symptoms (here is a link to a scientific article that examined the prominent literature researching MSG symptoms: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19389112). There could be some people who have an allergy to MSG, which would cause negative effects, but MSG in general has not been shown to be bad for humans. In fact, a bunch of naturally occurring foods have glutamate in it, including tomatoes…but they are definitely still good for you! So, next time you see MSG in a food product, don’t let that be the sole reason to avoid that food!