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Author Topic: Is monosodium glutamate (MSG) harmful?  (Read 5302 times)

Offline Nance Cunningham

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Is monosodium glutamate (MSG) harmful?
« on: 04/12/2009 09:30:04 »
Nance Cunningham asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Hello,

I live in a country where you can buy bags of MSG in the corner shop, and people typically use more of it in their food than salt.

Iam often asked whether MSG is really bad for the health, so I have been looking for some time for accurate information. Some of my
friends worry about the sodium contributing to cardio-vascular problems, some have heard alarming rumours about the effect of eating
MSG, like cancer and neurotoxicity.

Given the amount of MSG consumed by the Japanese, who first produced it industrially a hundred years ago, and the fact that they have the best life expectancy on earth, I guess that MSG is not the poison that some make out it to be. But is it bad for you at all?

Looking on the Internet, all I find is a big food fight. The salt-backers point to the high sodium content of MSG, say it is a new,
artificial additive, and that newer research shows salt is not as important in heart disease as previously thought. Some even say that as glutamate is a neurotransmitter, it overstimulates nerves and kills them. There are also the toxic panickers that I won't even mention further.

The MSG-backers argue that the sodium in MSG does not contribute to heart disease in the same way that the sodium in salt does, and that using MSG reduces people's salt consumption, and anyway it is a natural amino acid, so it is healthy to use MSG. They point to
research showing that the levels of MSG used in restaurants are not enough to trigger intolerance except in a tiny percentage of people, equivalent.

With all the noise by industry and panickers, I haven't been able to locate quality research on the subject, so I am hoping you can clear this up.

Also, both salt and MSG banish blandness, but by very different means.  Can you explain how they work?

Thanks,

Nance Cunningham
Chiang Mai, Thailand

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 11/01/2010 10:42:10 by BenV »


 

Offline Make it Lady

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Re: Is monosodium glutamate (MSG) harmful?
« Reply #1 on: 10/01/2010 21:07:19 »
I think the key with MSG is to make sure you drink plenty of water with dishes containing it. It tends to cause a dehydration problem from the sodium content. This causes the chineses food hang over that some people experience. Lots of tests have been carried out to link problems with MGS but I haven't found anything conclusive either. I think it all depends on which camp you are in. All I know is that I love the savoury taste it gives and I could see why people may think it is addictive. It does give me the same sensation that chocolate gives other people and so I want more. This is why I have looked into it before as I think I have an addiction. Nothing conclusive on this either. Anyone else?
 

Offline stereologist

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Re: Is monosodium glutamate (MSG) harmful?
« Reply #2 on: 11/01/2010 03:19:46 »
I have friends that claim that MSG causes them all sorts of problems and for that reason they only use natural soy. I believe that MSG is produced by fermentation and that soy sauces always contain MSG. They vehemently disagree and assert that MSG is a chemical that is added to the "bad" soy sauces. I told them that MSG was originally isolated from seaweed and that it is a natural material. I also told them that the fermentation process produces MSG.

I believe that their beliefs on MSG are not founded in fact, but in hysteria. The problems they listed sounded like a hypochondriacs list of ills: headaches, lethargy, sleepiness, inattention, etc. These soft and indistinct issues are more likely with the alcoholic beverages served with the meal than the MSG.

Still they choose to believe that their natural soy is MSG free. That all MSG is made in chemical plants. That MSG does not appear in nature.

Weird isn't it?
 

Online Bored chemist

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Re: Is monosodium glutamate (MSG) harmful?
« Reply #3 on: 11/01/2010 07:14:03 »
We have centuries, if not millennia, of history of use of things like soy and roquefort which are both loaded with glutamate. At the least, you have to accept that for most people, glutamate is harmless at the sort of levels used in food.
 

Offline BenV

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Is monosodium glutamate (MSG) harmful?
« Reply #4 on: 11/01/2010 10:50:06 »
There's also loads of MSG in tomatoes and parmesan, so Italian food is probably just as rich in it as Asian food.

While I was in Thailand, I would buy pineapple with a little bag of salt, MSG & chilli powder - once you get over the unusual (to a western palate) combination, it was lovely.

I can't comment on the safety aspects, but with regards your question at the end about how they work to banish blandness - both salt and MSG are flavours that we have receptors for on the tongue (the taste of MSG is called 'Umami' or 'Savory').  So the presence of MSG excites more receptors on the tongue (just as salt does) - thus 'banishing blandness' as you so delightfully put it.
 

Offline Make it Lady

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Is monosodium glutamate (MSG) harmful?
« Reply #5 on: 11/01/2010 17:36:22 »
So the fact that I would kill for tomatoes and love Italian food only goes to show that for some reason the stimulation of my umami sensors seems to be addictive for me. I don't find salt that stimulating but umami is definitely my weakness.
 

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Is monosodium glutamate (MSG) harmful?
« Reply #5 on: 11/01/2010 17:36:22 »

 

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