MSG In Your Food: Is It Bad For You?

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MSG In Your Food: Is It Bad For You?

MSG, a common food additive, is a part of the everyday food we consume (whether we know it or not). Is this bad? Should we be more concerned and paying closer attention to ingredient labels to avoid potentially harmful side effects?

What Is It?

MSG, also known as glutamate or glutamic acid, is defined by the medical dictionary as a "white crystalline compound used as a food additive to enhance flavor." While MSG itself will not be scripted across your ingredients labels, it will hide under other various names and labels such as yeast extract, seasoning, whey protein, protein-fortified, chicken flavoring, beef flavoring, ultra-pasteurized, low sodium, soy protein concentrate and textured protein.

Potential Side Effects

  • Headaches
  • Abnormal heart rhythms and heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating, flushing and wheezing
  • Facial numbness
  • Weak, dizzy, general feelings of sickness

Potential Side Effects

These symptoms can be more severe or enhanced if MSG is consumed on an empty stomach, as it will enter the bloodstream quicker. Symptoms can also be more severe if you have a higher level of sensitivity to MSG.

How Does it Taste?

MSG affects your food by directly enhancing sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness. Umami, recognized as one of the basic five tastes, is an indescribable and hard to explain taste, but represents the meaty or savory taste of MSG.

How Is It Made?

MSG is made from starch, corn sugar, or molasses from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Natural fermentation, the process in which MSG is made, is also used to make common foods and beverages such as yogurt, beer and vinegar.

More About MSG

  • The flavor enhancing property of MSG was discovered in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, through the isolation of a substance in seaweed.
  • MSG first came to market in 1909. It was originally sold under the trade name aji-no-moto. In the U.S., this is now more commonly known as Accent.
  • In 1959, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) labeled MSG as "GRAS," otherwise known as "Generally Recognizable As Safe."
  • MSG did not become more prevalent in the United States until post-World War II, when the US military noticed Japanese military rations were much more flavorful and tasty.

Foods to Avoid

If you are worried about the presence of MSG in your food, here are some common foods to avoid:

  • Chinese food
  • Instant soups
  • Deli meats
  • Some salty snack chips
  • Bouillon cubes (chicken or beef flavoring, seasonings)
  • Canned soups
  • Precooked frozen meals
  • Broth stock
  • Fast foods
  • Diet drinks

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Have you ever wondered why passing by a McDonald's makes you drool? MSG is partially to blame. Put simply, MSG enhances the smell and taste of food; it even stimulates hunger. Even talking about a hot batch of salty fries can make you want to drop everything, run to the nearest chain and gobble to your hearts content. Folks, it's not your imagination: it's MSG.

MSG, more formally known as monosodium glutamate, is a manufactured sodium salt. It can lead to several potentially dangerous side effects, especially for those whose bodies react to the additive as a toxin.

The FDA requires that any product featuring MSG be labeled accordingly. However, MSG is often listed under misleading ingredient labels such as "yeast extract," "natural flavors," "hydrolyzed vegetable protein" and "sodium caseinate."

Could this food be creeping into your everyday dishes without you knowing? The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

To read more on MSG and your health, check out our slideshow above.

To learn about foods that may not be as healthy as you think, explore Is Oatmeal Unhealthy?, The Pros and Cons of Dried Fruit: Is It Healthy? and What Types of Peanut Butter are Unhealthy?.

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