Sensitive to MSG?  Guess What… You’re Not! Featured / Food Safety / Food Technology / Nutrition

I can’t keep count of how many people have casually told me “I’m actually really sensitive to monosodium glutamate (MSG).”  News breaker… you’re not.  I know you think you are… and you really want to tell me all about your symptoms… and that you’re the special one… but I promise, you’re not.

That being said you probably could cut back on the fried rice and General Tsao’s chicken.  I mean you did just complain about being bloated…

Let’s walk through the science.

What is MSG?

MSG is a flavor enhancer which has been used effectively for nearly a century to help bring out the best flavors in foods.  MSG can be used in many savory dishes including meat, fish, poultry, many vegetables and in sauces, soups and marinades.  It harmonizes well with salty and sour tastes but contributes little or nothing to sweet or bitter foods.

MSG is the sodium salt of the common amino acid glutamic acid (or glutamate), which is naturally found in most foods and in your body (remember – amino acids are the building blocks for proteins).  It occurs naturally at high levels in many foods such as tomatoes and Parmesan cheese, and the glutamate in commercially produced MSG is chemically indistinguishable from the glutamate naturally present in food.  Our bodies handle both sources of glutamate in the exact same way. Breast milk actually contains high levels of glutamate that’s produced naturally by the human body.

The average adult consumes about 13 grams of glutamate each day from the protein in food, while intake of added MSG is around 0.5 grams.  Want to taste the best scrambled egg on earth?  Add a pinch of MSG.  Try it… you won’t regret it.

How is MSG created?

In 1908 a Japanese scientist, Kikunae Ikeda was able to extract glutamate from seaweed broth and show that it provided the savory taste to the soup.  Today, instead of extracting MSG from seaweed broth, it is created by the fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses. This process is the same used to make other common food products such as soy sauce, vinegar and yogurt.

Is MSG safe?

Absolutely. Scientists have not been able to confirm MSG causes any of the reported effects (e.g., headache, nausea, etc).  There is no limitation for use of MSG in foods because international scientific and regulatory bodies have failed again and again to identify any harm from consumption of MSG.

In 1968, an American doctor wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine claiming to have experience symptoms of numbness in the back of neck and a feeling of pressure in the fact and upper chest muscles, which he coined as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”  He suggested this was caused by MSG because of its widespread use in Chinese restaurants, without any study, data or proof.  While the term Chinese Restaurant Syndrome caught on in the U.S., study after study has failed to show any consistent effects among individuals who claim to be “MSG-sensitive” when blindly exposed to fairly high levels of MSG.

How much sodium is in MSG?

MSG has a low sodium content.  It contains about 12% sodium while salt contains 39%.  MSG is used at levels much lower than salt.  Using low levels of MSG allows food scientists to effectively reduce the sodium content of foods, like ready-to-eat soups by up to 40%, without sacrificing flavor.  Take out salt, add a pinch of MSG, and cheers to your health.

Don’t get me wrong, you are a very special person… just not one that’s sensitive to MSG.

For additional information see the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Questions and Answers on Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)” consumer information website.


Comments

  1. Shantanu Y. Says: September 24, 2018 at 11:33 pm

    Myth debunked. Thanks Taylor 🙂

  2. Nonsense…my BP skyrockets,severe lethargy brain fog 5 min after ingesting

  3. About 6 months ago my boyfriend started getting migraines on a fairly regular basis after only having one or two his entire life. I love Asian food and always want to eat it when we dine out. He finally realized that he only got migraines after we ate Asian food. I found a “cure” for the headaches that takes some time to work but eventually reduces the migraine to a bearable state and neutralizes the effects of the MSG. Your article does nothing to address allergic reactions to MSG and stigmatizes people who claim to be sensitive to it. Further, it provides no proof that it can’t make people ill.

  4. Dr Wallace, please explain why after eating a food w MSG in it, that u think I’m not allergic to it when it gives me diarrhea. I can tolerate sm amts apparently, but I get severe stomach pain, feel faint, have to have bowel movement that ends up w severe diarrhea.
    I just ate a fried egg w mayo sandwich w 2 slices of crumbled fried bacon-Gwaltney.The MSG had to be in:Sodium Phosphates, S. Erythorbate or S.Nitrite, 2 % or less listed on bacon pkg.

    • It could be many things… I just tried one of those food sensitivity tests and am awaiting the results. It’s likely another ingredient or food sensitivity vs. anything related to MSG.

  5. Dene Taylor Says: February 14, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    If you are so certain, why is that when I forget to request “no MSG” with my favourite dish at the Chinese restaurant, I have difficulty sleeping, and are dragging the next day. Yet when made without MSG I sleep well and the following day is productive.

    Note I also am sensitive to other food additives, and stabilizers in processed food and keg beer.

    My credentials? Advanced chemistry degree, and a career of identifying root cause for problems.

  6. Janet Davis Says: February 16, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    This is very false. MSG causes a sensitivity in some people, a sensitivity which is poorly understood. It differs from a true allergy, but symptoms can be similar.
    It does not lead to death the way a peanut or shellfish allergy can but the symptoms are disconcerting.
    My sensitivity began with severe headaches when I would eat at chinese restaurants as a child. Now at fifity, I never have had headaches like that in my life.
    I realised I was sensitive to it and would always avoid it. The last time I accidently had it the symptoms progressed to a shortness of breath. I exused myself from the table and went to the restroom. I felt faint and my chest turned blotchy red. The symptoms lasted for about ten or fifteen minutes. We were at a chinese restaurnt in Berkeley CA and I had asked to have my food made without MSG.
    When I returned to the table to question the waitress she said there was MSG in the soup, which was communual to the table, I had just eaten the soup and that is what made me sick.
    Ever since I only eat at restaurants that do not use MSG and I am vigilant.
    My third similar reaction was at a restaurant that it turns out had it in the sauce.
    Knowing it is not a true deadly allergy is helpful, as I have learned it lacks the ige response. However the symptoms are unpleasant enough for me and many others which is why we avoid it.
    Every single person I know that avoids it has personally had the physical responses similar to me, they are not just afraid it is bad for you for no reason, they have personally experienced it.
    As we all know Dr Wallace medical science is replete with illnesses mediical science is ignorant of so please don’t speak as the definitive word on all and dismiss people’s symptoms just because you do not understand them.

  7. I suffer from migraines only after I ingest MSG. Once I thought that this was debunked because I hadn’t accidentally had it. Then I found out that the flu shot I had just received uses MSG as a stabilizer.

    Although my experience is only one data point, I can assure you that every time I have a migraine it has been directly traced to MSG I accidentally consumed.

    My mother used to put MSG on everything I ate. I didn’t used to have any migraines. This only started when I was about 35. I suspect there is some limit that my body reached.

    You cannot universally say that people aren’t sensitive.

  8. John Steven Stanley Says: March 3, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    Whenever I ingest a meal that contains msg I get a serious stomach spasm by the following day. It has been happening to me from I was a teenager (13/14???) and now I am 60 and just been able to pinpoint it

  9. Does it help to report the restrant that uses MSG which has made a dozen or more people I know sick? Sweet Tomatoes is basicly a vegetarian Restrant, but it also serves soups and breads. I always thought that MSG was used to fill people up, so the restrants don’t lose money on the larger portion eaters? Not as a flavor enhancement. I honestly believe this is what its intended for. Or there is that something else being used to make people feel fuller? Wish I knew what it was. Should be unlawful. Gives so many people I know headaches and diarea. Something needs to be done. This restrant doesn’t even post there using MSG.

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