MSG: Hero or Villain?

Posted on Updated on

Once upon a time, a fair maiden Glutamate and a strapping lad Sodium got together and had a child: Monosodium glutamate, who later became known as Ms. G for short. Ms. G was born in 1908 and had an awesome childhood. She had a magical power that caused taste buds to experience the taste “umami.” Everybody in the United Plates of Food loved her and wanted her in all their dishes. She became quite popular. Not to mention, Ms. G had 1/3 the amount of sodium of her half brother NaCl, or Sir Tablesalt. Everyone in UPF understood the destructive hypertension Sir Tablesalt brought to the land so Ms. G was considered a hero to all who enjoyed the umami flavor and lower sodium alternative.

But as time passed, people started blaming her for symptoms they were having after eating a number of Asian dishes she starred in.  These symptoms included headaches, nausea, flushing, sweating, heart palpitations, and chest pain.  People called it “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”  To make matters worse, people pointed at her for the cause of migraine headaches, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and intolerances.  Soon, she became known as a villain.


Before we delve into the fate of Ms. G I think it’s best to take a brief story time intermission.  So no one confuses fairy tale and fact, I’m going to switch gears here and give it to you straight.  Since many thought MSG was the culprit of the afore mentioned health concerns, scientists carried out research involving MSG and its effects in both animals and humans.  Research has been going on for decades and still, scientists cannot find conclusive data stating MSG is harmful.  In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even classifies MSG as a food additive that is “generally recognized as safe.”  Sure, a few studies have proven MSG to be harmful.  BUT, these were done in mice given extreme amounts of the additive compared to their weight.

Still, scientists agree that some people may be sensitive to the effects of MSG. For this reason, the FDA requires that foods containing added MSG list it in the ingredient panel on the packaging as monosodium glutamate. Of course, MSG occurs naturally in ingredients like hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed yeast, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, protein isolates, and also in tomatoes and cheeses. Even foods with these naturally occurring MSGs cannot claim “No MSG” or “No added MSG” on their label. Moreover, it cannot be listed as “spices and flavoring.”

This is where people get heated. Many food companies don’t necessarily follow these requirements and try to cover up MSG in whatever way they can. It is up to the consumer to recognize MSG’s other common names (these among others) if he really wants to know for sure.

So, does everyone live happily ever after? Keep reading to find out!


To this day, scientific evidence shows Ms. G is safe, yet some may need to restrict her in the food they eat to avoid adverse reactions. Thankfully, this is such a small number of individuals and studies of Ms. G and her link to health concerns are inconclusive.

Hero? Villain? Neither? Maybe one day the United Plates of Food will unveil her true identity.