Many people have a negative perception of monosodium glutamate (MSG), but if pushed, they couldn’t tell you why. Some of the accusations usually levelled at MSG include: obesity, neurological diseases, and addiction. The hype got so hot that labels began advertising themselves as ‘NO MSG’ in order to get more customers. But just how harmful is MSG to your body?
What is MSG?
MSG is a non-essential amino acid that’s largely made-up of glutamate. Your body can produce this naturally, even if glutamate isn’t present in your diet. It naturally occurs in many of the foods we eat, such as cheese and other protein-rich products.
Glutamate releases a savoury taste on our tongues called ‘umami.’ Generally glutamate makes food taste more delicious. MSG is simply glutamate with an added sodium molecule. When digested, these two molecules dissolve, basically leaving you with glutamate in your tummy. When you have a problem with MSG, you’re basically saying you have a problem with glutamate.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
Largely, the problems with MSG come with consuming too much of it, but too much of anything is bad for you – sorry to state the obvious. In Asia, MSG is highly present in dishes, but there aren’t MSG related maladies in those cultures like there are in America and Europe. Why?
It’s speculated that, although MSG is harmless in small quantities, Americans and Europeans are suffering from reactions to MSG because of Chinese takeaways – otherwise known as the ‘wonton soup headache.’
To disguise the low-quality products in the meal, this fast food is jacked up to the nines with MSG to make the dishes taste nice. Even when MSG is prevalent in a diet, there’s no evidence that it creates health issues, unless you binge. As a commonplace ingredient, there are no problems associated, and that’s why Asian cultures don’t struggle with MSG-related problems.
Some people can experience symptoms when they consume far too much free glutamate in one single meal. This can include headaches, numbness or tingling, increased temperatures, tight muscles, and feeling weak. To put this into context, it’d take eating about a whole jar of marmite to reach unhealthy levels, and it’s unlikely that anyone would feel very well after that experience.
Why Is MSG Addictive?
In the same way that chocolate is addictive, MSG is addictive. When you eat a piece of chocolate, your body releases happy chemicals that tell you to eat as much as possible of the product, as you may not get the chance to again – it’s an instinctive reaction to tasty food.
As MSG taps into the umami, savoury receptors on the tongue, the same addictive reaction takes place as any nice-tasting food. When these urges are given into, it’s more likely that an individual will eat too much, causing weight problems. For example, a little fat in your diet is healthy, but eating vast quantities is liable to cause damage to your body and expand your waistline. Basically, everything in moderation.
This post has been contributed by Ungerer, a worldwide supplier of food flavourings.