Kitchen Myths

Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken

MSG is bad for you

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is an amino acid that was originally isolated from seaweed. It was found to provide a flavor that was neither sweet, salty, sour, or bitter (the 4 traditional basic tastes). This savory taste, called umami, is not really a flavor in itself. Rather, MSG makes food taste better—it is a flavor enhancer. It rapidly gained popularity as an additive in many restaurant and processed foods.

Then came “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” so-called because people would complain of various symptoms after eating at Chinese restaurants, where MSG was a popular additive. Subsequent to this, a raft of scientific studies failed to turn up any shred of evidence for a health effect of MSG, and in fact people who vociferously claimed to be MSG-sensitive have proven unable, in double-blind studies, to reliably tell whether food has MSG in it. Plus, there’s the fact that Parmesan cheese and tomato paste, among other foods, have high levels of glutamate and no one gets a “syndrome” from them. So, stop worrying about MSG and enjoy your lo mein!

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6 responses to “MSG is bad for you

  1. Sharon Green December 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Obviously you have never had a migraine or have spoken candidly or with empathy with anyone who suffers from sensitivities to these glutamates. Parmesan cheese and tomato paste most definitely cause headaches and other issues. It could be a combination of issues though that make the double blind study problematic…a high yeast count in the body could allow for a stronger response on one occasion vs. another – or obviously from person to person. So for those sensitive to yeast, MSG and other derivatives of MSG do cause many issues. Sugar coat if you wish, but sooner or later, you WILL come across someone that you care about who is effected by this. Of course, the easy solution is don’t eat it. The problem is, we don’t always know what or where these additives are hiding. Good luck and here’s hoping you don’t have a love one who struggles long because migraines are most definitely debilitating. Speak with multiple neurologist and see if you don’t find several who would agree with me…especially the ones who actually get migraines. You have either done very little research on both sides of the equation or you are in bed with MSG propaganda.

  2. Pingback: Weekly Roundup of Science and FOOD | Science Fare

  3. Pavlik Logvinenko January 15, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Everything here is right except that umami is not flavor itself and MSG is just flavor enhancer. There are at least two studies that shows that human(and other mammals) tongue has specific receptors for recognizing umami flavor. In detail here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11894099 and http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v3/n2/full/nn0200_113.html.

  4. Cheryl October 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I live in NYC and I ate from the self-serve soup bar at Duane Reade, and I came down with a severe headache after eating it. It was only then that I realized the soup contained MSG. I also suffer the same symptoms after eating the spice packet with oodles-of-noodles. Trust me, MSG is definitely detectable, but for me it’s only detectable AFTER the fact. I would not be able to discern it from a taste test.

    • laura November 23, 2012 at 8:23 am

      same problem here. I don’t tolerate artificial MSG or at least food filled with it. I think it depends on the fact that natural and artificial glutamate are slightly different molecules and the concentration of the natural kind compared to the added artificial one is different.

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