MSG- Is it bad for you?

By: Nutrition expert- Vidula Kozarekar, Mumbai.

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MSG is one of the most widely used food-additives in commercial foods. Its application has increased over time and it is found in many different ingredients and processed foods obtainable in every market or grocery store. MSG gives a special aroma to processed foods which is known as umami in Japanese. This taste sensation is also called “savoury” (1).

MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. The dynamic duo is created from a mix of sodium and glutamate, an amino acid found naturally in foods like Parmesan cheese, tomato, mushrooms, cured meats, and soy sauce.

In the last 30 years, MSG usage has greatly increased. Now it is found in frozen entrees, crackers, canned tuna, soups, processed meats, cosmetics, dietary supplements, infant formula, salad dressings, vaccines, and in many other food products (2).

In many countries MSG goes by the name “China salt”. Beside its flavour enhancing effects, MSG has been associated with various forms of toxicity. MSG has been linked with obesity, metabolic disorders, Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, neurotoxic effects and detrimental effects on the reproductive organs.

FAQs’ about MSG: (3)

  • How is it made?

In 1908, a Japanese professor named Kikunae Ikeda was able to extract glutamate from this broth and determined that glutamate provided the savoury taste to the soup. Professor Ikeda then filed a patent to produce MSG and commercial production started the following year.

Today, instead of extracting and crystallizing MSG from seaweed broth, MSG is produced by the fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses. This fermentation process is similar to that used to make yogurt, vinegar and wine.

  • Is MSG safe to eat?

FDA considers the addition of MSG to foods to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Although many people identify themselves as sensitive to MSG, in studies with such individuals given MSG or a placebo, scientists have not been able to consistently trigger reactions.

  • Does “glutamate” in a product mean it contains gluten?

No—glutamate or glutamic acid have nothing to do with gluten. A person with Celiac disease may react to the wheat that may be present in soy sauce, but not to the MSG in the product.

  • Adverse effects of MSG- how much is too much?

FASEB’s (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) report concluded that MSG is safe. The FASEB report identified some short-term, transient, and generally mild symptoms, such as headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness that may occur in some sensitive individuals who consume 3 grams or more of MSG without food. However, a typical serving of a food with added MSG contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG. Consuming more than 3 grams of MSG without food at one time is unlikely.


MSG is a controversial food-additive used in canned food, crackers, meat, salad dressings, frozen dinners and a myriad of other products. It is found in local supermarkets, restaurants and school cafeterias alike. While MSG probably has huge benefits to the food industry, the ubiquitous use of this food-additive could have negative consequences for public health.



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