Monosodium glutamate, better known as MSG, is a hot topic these days, even making an appearance on a recent episode of The Doctors. We wanted to find out more about this commonly-used ingredient, so we asked Washington University’s director of university nutrition Connie Diekman, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD, to help us understand exactly what MSG is and why it’s used.
BFF: What exactly is MSG and why is it used in food production?
Diekman: MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a flavor enhancer that combines sodium and glutamate or glutamic acid, which is an amino acid found naturally in the body and in higher protein foods. MSG has one-third of the sodium content of salt, so using it in recipes allows for a reduction in actual sodium or salt. MSG also provides what is referred to as an “umami” flavor. Umami brings forth a “meaty” type taste, thus enhancing the mouth-feel of food. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library reports that scientific evidence is a Grade 1, or Good, as it relates to the ability to reduce sodium in foods.
BFF: Is MSG harmful to human health? Are there any studies that show harmful effects from consumption of MSG?
Diekman: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library reports that, at this point, there are inconsistent results on the presence of reactions after ingestion of MSG. In children or adults with chronic urticaria (hives), ingestion of MSG did not worsen symptoms. In adults with asthma, ingestion of MSG did not worsen symptoms. The USDA views MSG as a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) substance since the scientific evidence does not exist to indicate that it has any negative health impacts.
P.S. The folks over at WiseGeek.org, a team of writers and researchers, had this to say about autolyzed yeast, a natural derivative of MSG.
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