Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a controversial food additive that companies use to enhance flavor. MSG is derived from a naturally occurring amino acid in our bodies. Amino acids are organic compounds that are essential for bodily functions. The substance is also naturally present in most foods; such as cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms and seaweed. When MSG is added for flavor it is produced by fermenting starch, sugar beets, sugar cane and molasses. Some of the products that may contain MSG as an additive include cured meats, seasoning blends and bouillon cubes, frozen meals, cookies and crackers, salad dressing and mayonnaise.
Although many findings state the benefits of MSG, many studies have linked MSG with various forms of toxicity. The detrimental effects of MSG include:
- Weight Gain: Some studies have linked MSG consumption to weight gain obesity.
- Asthma: Studies have proved episodes of asthma in people who take a high amount of MSG.
- Neurotoxicity: Scientists have earlier claimed that MSG consumption results in the release of excessive glutamate in the brain, causing neurotoxicity (excessive stimulation of the brain) and it is linked to strokes.
- Symptoms: In some people, MSG above 3 g may induce a group of symptoms; which include headache, drowsiness, sweating, facial pressure or tightness, numbness/tingling or burning in the face, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, nausea and weakness.
The FDA mandates that MSG must be labeled by its usual name of monosodium glutamate when used as an ingredient in food. Foods that naturally contain MSG aren’t required to list MSG as an ingredient. Here are some of the top foods that commonly contain MSG:
- Fast Food- One of the best-known sources of MSG is fast food, particularly Chinese food. Although many Chinese restaurants have stopped using MSG as an ingredient, others continue to add it to a number of popular dishes, including fried rice. MSG is also used by franchises like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Chick-fil-A to enhance the flavor of foods.
- Chips and Snack Foods- Many manufacturers use MSG to boost the savory flavor of chips. Consumer favorites like Doritos and Pringles are just some of the chip products that contain MSG. mixes; MSG can be found in a number of other snack foods.
- Seasoning Blends- Seasoning blends are used to give a salty, savory taste to dishes like stews, tacos and stir-fries. MSG is used in many seasoning blends to intensify taste and boost the umami flavor cheaply without adding extra salt. In fact, MSG is used in the production of low sodium items to increase flavor without the addition of salt. Additionally, MSG is added to some meat, poultry and fish rubs.
- Frozen Meals- Many companies that make frozen dinners add MSG to their products to improve the savory flavors of the meal. Other frozen products that often contain MSG include frozen pizzas, mac and cheese and frozen breakfast meals.
- Condiments- Condiments like salad dressing, mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce and soy sauce often contain added MSG. In addition to MSG, many condiments are packed with unhealthy additives like added sugars, artificial coloring and preservatives.
If you feel that you’re sensitive to MSG, its best to avoid products that contain it. Be sure to always read food labels to ensure your food is free of MSG. Better your health options one step at a time!