You will get hundreds of blogs over the internet, explaining the chemical compositions, the good/bad effects of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), and a series of approval and recommended regulations against its use. But what you need to know about MSG is the other side of the coin. Here we have tried compiling every aspect of this particular salt, right from the scratch, from its genesis, to busting out some of the myths related to it.

What is Monosodium Glutamate MSG?

Monosodium Glutamate, broadly known as MSG, is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, and is the most water-soluble salt among the rest of glutamic acid salts, like magnesium salts, potassium salts and calcium slats. The chemical composition of the salt is C5H8NO4Na, while, it is chemically named sodium 2-aminopentanedioate.

Its most important and basic use is, it acts as a great food additive and flavor enhancer in food industry. It’s well known for its ability to intensify meaty flavors in sauces, broths, and many more food items.

Monosodium Glutamate is derived from the amino acid glutamate, or glutamic acid, which is one of the most abundant amino acids in nature. Considering its genesis from Japan, Glutamate MSG is one of the main ingredients of Asian cuisine. A white colored crystalline solid, it’s an odorless chemical compound. Its high-water solubility characteristic accords to 740gm/Liter.

Monosodium Glutamate is naturally found in a number of foods, like tomatoes, meats, cheeses. Now-a-days MSG is created by fermenting starch, sugar, beets, sugar cane instead of the extraction of Glutamate MSG from seaweed broth. It’s a similar process like that of yogurt or wine.

What does Monosodium Glutamate taste like?

Discovery of MSG, paved its way to the 5th taste, apart from sweet, salty, sour and bitter. the Japanese professor Ikeda, who invented MSG, described this unique taste as Umami or savory. The “umami” vogue has turned into a massive obsession throughout the world, helping the most misunderstood food additive MSG change its tarnished image worldwide.

What is Monosodium Glutamate used for?

Its primarily used in the food industry, due to the distinctive umami flavor it adds to certain foods. It not only adds taste to the food, but also increases your appetite and metabolism.

Some of the examples:

  • Used in meat stews, broths, sauces, soups 
  • MSG balances, blends, and rounds the perception of other tastes
  • Added to tobacco to enhance its taste
  • Added to some of the canned food products and spice blends
  • Important ingredient into many of the instant ramen noodle products
  • Permitted food additive in many other instant ready to eat foods

How does Monosodium Glutamate work?

As we have seen earlier, Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, and a non-essential amino acid. What you need to understand here is, glutamic acid doesn’t have its own umami flavor. It comes because of the MSG in food, that stimulates the glutamate receptors, triggering signals to your brain.

In simple language, when you consume glutamate MSG, the sodium ions from the glutamate ions, are dissolved by your saliva, thus, setting free the glutamic acid immediately that signals your brain that you are eating something savory, tasty, protein rich food.

Busting the Myths

You may have heard the claims regarding MSG to be “allergic”, or perhaps you must’ve thought of having an allergy after a consumption of MSG, or you’ve been just curious about if claims about MSG side effects are true. Hence, we have tried to bust out the myths related to the product. Let’s investigate whether an MSG allergy is something to be worried about or is even real.

The rumor started with a letter by a person who claimed some side effects after having a meal at a Chinese restaurant. Although the letter did not conclude any of the side effects as a result of particularly MSG, but acknowledged that these symptoms may have been due to any number of ingredients in the meal including sodium, alcohol from Chinese cooking wine and not necessarily the MSG. However, the letter flamed the rumor that the side effects were because of Monosodium Glutamate.

It took to 1995 to analyze the actual analysis of MSG, when an independent scientific panel, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) published a comprehensive analysis of the safety of MSG and included a list of MSG symptoms and alleged side effects that reports claimed were associated with consuming foods with MSG. Both FDA and FASEB have rejected the claims.

Effects of using Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in foods

Glutamic acid doesn’t have its own flavor, but, the unique umami taste is added to the food, with the addition of MSG.

Effects on Human beings 

Let’s check monosodium glutamate effects on human-beings according to different age/gender groups. 

On Children

Glutamate is metabolized by human body the same way as it metabolizes the naturally found glutamate in foods. The body doesn’t discriminate according to where the particular glutamate entered the body.  Hence, children metabolize glutamate as efficiently as adults.

In fact, the only source of nutrition for the newborns, is the breast milk, which, by the way, is rich in free glutamate. It contains 11 times more glutamate than cow’s milk, which is healthy for an infant’s easy digestion and raising its immunity levels.

On Elderly 

According to scientists, studies have found that elderly people generally face taste disorders and reduced salivation, due to the high intake of medicines and side effects caused by prolonged medications, which is why, Monosodium Glutamate is found to be beneficial to improve the taste sensations, hence, simulating the gastric functions, improving their food intake.

For Pregnant Women

It’s evident by now, that if you never faced any adverse effects before pregnancy, it is safe to consume MSG during pregnancy as well. However, you need to strictly limit its consumption to once in a while indulgence.

But you need not forget the fact that, if you have faced any of the unpleasant side effects explained previously, any time before your pregnancy, you should strictly avoid MSG consumption.

Effects on specific Health Conditions

On flavor and calorie intake

MSG spurs up the glutamate receptors found on your tongue and in your digestive track, sparking off the release of appetite regulating hormones. MSG helps you to feel full. Thus, when you eat certain filling foods your calorie intake is reduced leading to help you lose weight.

On your Brain

It’s true that if the glutamate activity increases in your brain, through the glutamate receptors, it can cause harm to your brain cells, and also can raise blood levels of glutamate.

However, dietary glutamate has very little or no effect on your brain, as it cannot penetrate through the blood brain barrier. Hence, there is no evidence of glutamate MSG acting as an excitotoxin, if consumed in limited amounts.

Another interesting fact is, MSG acts on the glutamate receptors, which enables glutamate receptors then release neurotransmitters, which plays a vital role in both physiological and pathological processes. These glutamate receptors are present across the central nervous system.

On Obesity and Metabolic disorders

Many times, MSG is associated with gaining weight, or obesity symptoms, in humans. But there is no proof of any relevancy of dietary MSG intake and obesity.  If consumed in approved limits, glutamate MSG doesn’t cause any of the obesity or blood pressure

On causing Cancer

There is no proven scientific evidence to the fact that, MSG consumption leads to cancer. Nor does it increase the risk of cancer. But again, if you witness any of the side-effects it is better to avoid its consumption.

Is Monosodium Glutamate Gluten free?

Gluten is the general name for the proteins found in cereal grains like wheat, barley. Yes, it is true that gluten was closely related to gluten at first, but, During the early MSG production years, manufacturers isolated glutamate from wheat gluten.

Now-a-days glutamate is produced by fermenting sugar beets and molasses, also, in the lab directly from carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sodium and oxygen. This shows, how monosodium glutamate (MSG) has managed to avert from gluten, posing itself a safe food additive.

(Note: you need to decide yourself while purchasing a product, what label it contains, as according to FDA norms, MSG is permitted with specific labels, like, “No MSG”, “Contains MSG”, “Containing Wheat”, “generally recognised as safe-GRAS”)

Bottom Line

We tried to get to the bottom of the monosodium glutamate misperceptions, or the myths associated with it. Despite the prevailing negative publicity, glutamate MSG has managed to get a better status in global market, especially throughout US. 

According to a survey, the average daily intake of MSG is 0.55–0.58 grams in US and UK. The truth is, anything out of limit will harm you. Which is the case of MSG. if consumed in moderate concentrations it isn’t harmful. In fact, it helps increase your metabolic activities. If you already eat a balanced diet with plenty of whole foods, you shouldn’t have to worry about high MSG intake.

MSG is the most misunderstood and misinformed food additive till date. As its popularity is increasing in many parts of America, the Food norms associated with the salt are being eased these days.

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