MSG, or monosodium glutamate, holds quite the tempestuous position in the Western diet. While most often thought of as a Chinese import due to its prevalence in certain cuisines from the country, MSG can actually be found in a variety of supermarket products. Reports concerning the possible adverse effects of consuming MSG seem to disagree, especially when dealing with the host of questionable sources online. Let’s filter out the clickbait then, and get down to what exactly is the real deal on MSG. Is it good or bad for you?
What the FDA Has to Say on MSG
First off, the word “glutamate” in the name does not denote the presence of gluten. There is no gluten in MSG. Glutamate actually occurs naturally in many of the food proteins we eat.
Under the regulations of the Food and Drug Administration, monosodium glutamate is listed as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). While this may initially seem as a bit too much leeway/uncertainty on whether you can eat it or not, it’s important to remember the difference in language use between scientists and the general population. In science, 100% certainty doesn’t really exist. This means that GRAS has greater strength in what it’s trying to say that what you might use the same words for in everyday conversation.
MSG has been studied quite a lot, and, at this point, it’s safe to say that the urban legends surrounding some sort of instant, volatile response are far from accurate for everyone. This isn’t to say that MSG is healthy, just that, like salt or sugar, a little bit in your diet won’t cause you problems like trans fat may. So where does all the bad reputation come from?
Chinese Food and the 60-Year Old Anecdote
While MSG can be found in canned vegetables and soups as well as processed meats, it’s most famously known as a flavor enhancer in Chinese food. In fact, the initial rumors and bad press surrounding the additive stem from a certain letter (not a study) published in The New England Journal of Medicine back in the 1950s in which a doctor alleged that eating Chinese cuisine containing MSG led to a variety of mild symptoms labelled as “Chinese restaurant syndrome” and later “MSG symptom complex.” Once word got out, stories and anecdotes of others began to surface making similar claims involving the sudden onset of a variety of symptoms after consuming MSG. These include headaches, sweating, nausea, chest pains and more.
While there may be a lot of stories floating around online, researchers have been unable to reproduce these reactions to MSG in numerous studies. Despite their results, the stories persist, which has led researchers, according to the Mayo Clinic, to acknowledge that “a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. Symptoms are usually mild and don’t require treatment. The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid foods containing MSG.”
What You Should Do
At the end of the day, MSG is not the bizarre threat it has been made out to be. Barring some extremely unlikely response you may have to it, MSG should rank as just another unhealthy food additive. Avoid eating a lot of MSG because it isn’t good for you, but feel free to try some on your Olumia Life Cheat Half-Day should the mood strike.
Connect with us to discuss how Olumia Life can benefit you and your practice. Physicians may contact our Olumia Life project lead, Steven Willey MD.Connect with Us
Our Director of Corporate Wellness will respond within 24 hours.Getting started is simple! Connect with us to discuss how we may assist.Connect with Us