A common ingredient found in Asian foods, MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a common food additive that has been the topic of many health and food studies over the past 40 years. The topic of MSG in food has had a lot of mainstream media attention recently, but is it really that bad for you?
What is MSG?
Discovered in 1908 by a Japanese chemistry professor, MSG is an odourless, white crystalline powder and common food additive that people often associate with Asian food. According to research by Science Direct, MSG is derived from glutamate, a very common amino acid that occurs naturally. It contains less than a third of the sodium found in salt, and creates a savoury taste (called ‘umami’) when added to food.
What is Australia’s official stance on MSG?
Currently, Food Standards Australia New Zealand consider MSG a safe and authorised food additive in the EU and Australia and New Zealand, in line with good manufacturing practice, which means that a food manufacturer can use the food additive only up to the limit that achieves its specific purpose.
What are the negative effects of eating MSG?
According to Food Standards, a small number of people may have a hypersensitive reaction to large amounts of MSG when eaten in a meal. Side effects include headaches, numbness/tingling, flushing, muscle tightness, and general weakness, but none are considered long-term or life threatening.
Is MSG actually bad for you?
MSG has been researched by many different people over the decades, and while many scientists have suggested links between MSG and various ailments, none have found conclusive evidence that confirms MSG, as it is commonly eaten in meals today, has negative health effects.
Food Authority NSW says:
“Numerous international scientific assessments have been conducted, involving hundreds of studies. None of these have conclusively linked MSG to asthma or ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’.”
“Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) reviewed the safety of MSG in 2003 concluding ‘there is no convincing evidence that MSG is a significant factor in causing systemic reactions resulting in severe illness or mortality.”
“In Australia and New Zealand, no food additive — including MSG — is approved for use in food until its safety has been established by FSANZ. MSG and other glutamates are among a group of food additives that are generally permitted in foods, due to their safety.”
What’s the takeaway?
MSG is not bad for you. However, glutamate-sensitive persons may experience negative side effects after eating MSG in a meal. In general, it causes no ill-effects.
How can I check if food has MSG in it?
Look for Flavour enhancer (MSG) or Flavour enhancer (621) on the ingredients list. Keep in mind that labels such as ‘MSG-Free’ and ‘No added MSG’ are not regulated in Australia, and as such may not be entirely true.
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