Monosodium Glutamate aka MSG makes our food taste nicer but at the same time, how and why are we so worried about it?
Monosodium Glutamate or popularly known as MSG, is present in a lot of our condiments, cooked food and instant food. MSG was first invented in 1908, by a Japanese biochemist who wanted to replicate the savoury taste (umami) of kombu, a seaweed used in a lot of Japanese soups.
Contrary to popular belief that it is very salty, MSG doesn’t actually taste nice on its own but coupled with something savoury, it enhances the taste of the food. It is a popular additive in packaged and processed food because it’s affordable and makes savoury food taste better.
MSG has been blamed for reactions such as headaches, heart palpitations, tingling or burning in the face and neck, and nausea. However there hasn’t been any definitive link between MSG and these symptoms. In an article by the New Scientist, it suggested that MSG sensitivity is mostly in our heads.
We have conducted a (very… alright, micro) small experiment where we didn’t tell our fellow acquaintances from another division who claimed to have MSG sensitivities about the MSG content of their food in Taiwan. It turned out that even when the food had MSG, the aforementioned acquaintances ate the food and didn’t complain at all!
MSG is found naturally in foods such as tomatoes, cheese, seaweed, fish, mushrooms and even breast milk! Thus, the question is, why are people ‘sensitive to MSG’ but don’t complain when they eat foods with naturally occurring MSG?
A doctor with the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute (Melbourne, Australia), Merlin Thomas, says that clinicians and scientists agree that MSG is safe for human consumption but in very high doses or high concentrations, it could affect some people for a short period of time. Dr. Thomas is however, more worried about the other aspects of our diet. He thinks that banning MSG isn’t the simplest solution but instead, we should be eating fresh and whole food instead.
It is a common misconception that MSG causes excessive thirst. There is no clear connection between MSG and this reaction but thirst can be caused by many things. Dehydration due to not drinking enough water or if you’re unwell with vomiting and diarrhoea could cause excessive thirst. Eating salty or spicy foods could also cause you to feel thirsty as well. An alarming problem would be diabetes with symptoms such as needing to urinate frequently, unexplained weight loss and fatigue.
Another common myth is that MSG could cause hair loss and this has since been disproved. Factors such as genetics, ageing, hormonal changes, illness, medications, emotional and physical stress and radiation therapy are more likely to cause hair loss.
If you feel unwell consistently, it’s best to check with a doctor to ensure that there’s nothing wrong with your health. As with any type of food, it’s best to take everything in moderation and this extends to MSG as well. Eat fresh, whole foods and make sure you’re drinking enough water.