MSG is Back!

Articles
September 03, 2009

MSG is Back!

In an odd turn of events, MSG (monosodium glutamate) is starting to appear as an ingredient in some foods and food magazine recipes, prompting more questions about this mysterious additive which until recently was practically on it’s last legs.

In an odd turn of events, MSG (monosodium glutamate) is starting to appear as an ingredient in some foods and food magazine recipes, prompting more questions about this mysterious additive which until recently was practically on it’s last legs.

Although the FDA considers monosodium glutamate a “generally recognized as safe” food ingredient, many try and avoid this so called flavor enhancer. Its safety has been debated for years due to what some refer to as the “Chinese restaurant syndrome” as MSG was originally a common ingredient added to enhance the flavor of Chinese foods. The FDA recognizes that it may cause the short term reaction, MSG symptom complex/Chinese restaurant syndrome, in some people which can include the following symptoms: headache, nausea, numbness, tingling or burning in or around the mouth, sense of facial pressure, heart palpitations, and chest pains among others.

MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate- therefore made up of glutamate, water and sodium. Glutamate is a common amino acid (a building block for proteins), found in nature and in fact is one of the main components of protein foods such as meat, fish and some vegetables. This may surprise you but Glutamate is also produced in the body and is essential in human metabolism as well as an active neurotransmitter in the brain.

One of the controversies surrounding MSG is that although all of its components are used and found in the body, ingesting it as a free amino acid, not linked to other components in food, is a new commercially processed phenomenon – and might I say not “natural” – therefore could pose unknown stresses and risks during digestion and assimilation in the body.

Glutamine is one of the 20 amino acids used by the body, it is considered non-essential, therefore the body can produce it regularly. L Glutamine and D Glutamine refer to the actual physical and spatial structure made up by the individual elements of Glutamine- they are virtually mirror images of each other. L Glutamine is the form commonly found in the body, D Glutamine on the other hand is neither used nor active in the body. It is synthesized from Glutamic Acid – and is the principal carrier of Nitrogen in the body, functioning as an essential energy source for cells, as well as assisting in brain function, digestion, and immune system function. The majority of glutamine is stored in skeletal muscle.

When it comes to the labeling of MSG, it is equally as confusing. The FDA requires that products containing MSG clearly include it in the ingredient information, so check labels if you wish to avoid this additive. However, there are other ingredient sources of MSG or free glutamic acid that may affect MSG sensitive people, including: monopotassium glutamate, calcium caseinate, gelatin, textured protein, hydrolyzed protein, yeast extract, and autolyzed yeast. Flavorings, seasonings, boullions and carrageenan often contain MSG or it is formed during manufacturing and processing.

Yet another reason to read those food labels carefully!