Monosodium Glutamate – Safe or Unsafe

Listed as E 621 in the ingredient list of packaged foods Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is most commonly found in canned soups, processed fish and meat, dehydrated soup powders, instant noodle taste enhancers, potato wafers, soy sauce, sausages and is an integral ingredient of Chinese preparations.

The pros and cons of this flavor enhancer have been debated for a long time without any concrete conclusion. Being a debated ingredient the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all packaged foods containing MSG to specially mention it on the pack.

What is MSG? In chemical terms it is a sodium salt of the naturally occurring glutamic acid. Traditionally it was prepared from wheat gluten but is now derived from bacterial fermentation. This makes it acceptable in gluten free diets. In culinary terms MSG is a flavor enhancer which has no equal match and hence its inclusion in a variety of processed foods.

Is MSG safe or unsafe? A much debated question but no definite answer. It is said that if taken in moderate amounts there are no noted negative effects. Claims have also been made that if used with the common table salt MSG can help reduce the total sodium intake by 20-40 % while enhancing the flavor. The argument given for this is that MSG contains one third of the sodium found in table salt but is used in a far lesser amount.

Might be considered to be safe in moderate amounts but the list of negative aspects of MSG is pretty long. Some of the common MSG reactions, or MSG symptoms include: numbness, burning sensation, headache, heart palpitations, nausea, chest pain, weakness, and flushing.

However, the most serious of these side effects is considered to be the affect it has on the functioning of the brain. An assumption that needs more study is that MSG strikes at the most vulnerable part, the brain. It has been observed that children consuming foods with MSG suffer from learning disorders. This is often attributed to the consumption of ‘junk food’ which, as a point of concern, contain MSG. Affecting the neurological system of the body is equivalent to silent killing. It can lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, seizures, asthma attacks, brain cell damage, allergies and even brain tumors.

It is often said ‘there is no smoke without fire’ and the same can be said about MSG. As far as observations have revealed, this flavor enhancer could possibly lead to a trail of diseases and could also leave our younger generation crippled. Its positive sides hardly being any would it not be a good idea to stay away from it? The taste buds can easily be trained to consume food without MSG, at least until there is concrete evidence of it not being harmful to the human body.