Debunking myths about MSG

There is no definitive scientific evidence to show that MSG is harmful to health


​ Our Correspondent March 05, 2020

KARACHI: For anyone out there who has ever read the labels on food items, they must have come across the term Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – a flavour enhancer found in various food items since the early twentieth century. The additive is mostly used in Chinese cuisine, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats. Locally, it is also known as Chinese salt.

In more recent times, however, MGS has been wrongly associated with some health issues. According to Medline Plus, over the years, MSG earned its bad reputation because of a condition called the MSG symptom complex, also called Chinese restaurant syndrome (CRS). It refers to a group of symptoms – including headache, nausea, skin flushing, and sweating – that some people allegedly experience after eating at a Chinese restaurant.

Although complaints related to the use of the additive originated in the United States, many countries gradually started imposing an outright ban on it. Interestingly, however, there is no definitive scientific evidence to show that MSG is harmful to health.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set up an independent inquiry into MSG, which ultimately concluded that MSG is safe to use. In addition to the FDA research, a joint expert committee by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation could not establish that MSG has any involvement in CRS and noted that the syndrome itself was based on “anecdotal” evidence rather than any scientific fact.

‘MSG in Chinese food isn't unhealthy -- you're just racist’

According to a CNN report, activists argue that the MSG symptom complex did not develop out of health concerns, per se, adding that the idea is “outdated and racist” against the Chinese cuisine and culture. The notion has been so widespread that even the Merriam-Webster dictionary has a biased entry about the Chinese restaurant syndrome, without providing scientific reasoning.

Redefine CRS campaign

After years of demonisation, activists – in collaboration with Japanese food and seasoning company Ajinomoto – have launched an online campaign called Redefine CRS, not only to educate the masses but also to urge the Merriam-Webster dictionary to change the definition of MSG and reflect the scientific consensus on it, per the CNN report.

A website named ‘Why Use MSG’ has also been launched to educate people about the history of CRS, what is MSG, how safe is it to use in the light of scientific evidence, and why should it be used.

What is MSG?

MSG is one of the common amino acids naturally found in foods like tomatoes and cheese. Over time, people found a way to extract and ferment it. This fermented MSG is used to add a savoury flavour to different foods like stews or chicken stock.

Helps with weight loss

Certain foods are more filling than others. Eating filling foods should reduce your calorie intake, which may aid weight loss. According to healthline.com, some evidence suggests that MSG may help you feel full.

“Studies note that people who consume soups flavored with MSG eat fewer calories at subsequent meals (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source),” it says.

“MSG’s umami flavor may stimulate receptors found on your tongue and in your digestive tract, triggering the release of appetite-regulating hormones.”

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