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MSG health concerns come under scrutiny

Lana Bandoim's picture

MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a controversial food additive commonly used to enhance products by giving them a savory flavor. Although MSG is typically associated with Chinese restaurants, it can be found in a variety of items ranging from canned soup to processed sausages. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) labels MSG as generally recognized as safe, but there are reports of reactions to the flavor enhancer.


The European Food Information Council acknowledges that some people are sensitive to monosodium glutamate and can have a reaction to it, but research has not been able to support it. The Mayo Clinic states that a reaction to MSG can include sweating, headaches, nausea, chest pain and other symptoms. However, the Food and Drug Administration considers it under the generally recognized as safe category and allows it to be used in food. Nevertheless, this compound remains controversial and requires more research.

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It is not hard to see the consumer influence on the food industry. For example, all natural beef jerky includes a statement that MSG is not added. More processed foods that commonly rely on monosodium glutamate to enhance the flavor are appearing on the market with new recipes that eliminate MSG. Some consumers are not satisfied with the Food and Drug Administration’s labeling of the compound, and brands are reacting to their demands.

A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill revealed that MSG is connected to obesity. Researchers from North Carolina worked with scientists from Northwestern University in Chicago, INTERMAP Cooperative Research Group, Fu Wai Hospital and the Cardiovascular Institute at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. In a group of 750 participants, people who consumed the most MSG were at the highest risk of being obese. Dr. Ka He states: “We found that prevalence of overweight was significantly higher in MSG users than in non-users[.] We saw this risk even when we controlled for physical activity, total calorie intake and other possible explanations for the difference in body mass.” The researcher pointed out questions about many health concerns related to monosodium glutamate are still unanswered.