Updating MSGdish readers on recent media attention to topics that we savor… MSG, Glutamate, Umami, and related food trends.
Scientists Have Known MSG Is Safe for Decades. Why Don’t Most Americans?
Author: Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN
MSG: “You probably know it as that terrible-for-you substance in Chinese and packaged foods that many products proudly proclaim they’re made without. But the truth is, MSG’s bad reputation isn’t deserved. In fact, studies show that the ingredient actually has nutritional benefits and adds an umami flavor to dishes.”
“MSG, which stands for monosodium glutamate, is simply a combination of sodium and glutamate, an amino acid that is abundant in nature and naturally present in many everyday foods like tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, mushrooms and even breast milk. The body digests the MSG seasoning and glutamates in foods the same way and cannot tell the difference between the two. So why is our understanding of the substance all off?”
It’s Time for America to Fall Back in Love With MSG
Author: Joanna Rothkopf
Forget everything you thought you knew about the needlessly-controversial ingredient.
“After decades of junk science, and then good science disproving the junk science, and chefs and food writers promoting the good science, plus the reality that most of the world uses MSG every day without incident, most of us still can’t get over the idea that even a taste of the additive will somehow blind you, or make you tingle, or faint, or get super cranky.”
One presenter at the World Umami Forum “explained the chemistry behind how glutamate occurs naturally in high levels in umami-rich foods like tomatoes and parmesan cheese, and then even higher in things that have been fermented or aged.”
Savory Foods Can Promote Healthy Eating Behaviors
Author: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Researchers have found that consuming a broth rich in umami — or savory taste — can cause subtle changes in the brain that promote healthy eating behaviors and food choices, especially in women at risk of obesity.
“Previous experimental studies have shown that intake of a broth or soup supplemented with monosodium glutamate (MSG), a sodium salt of glutamate, prior to a meal can decrease appetite and food intake, especially in women with a propensity to overeat and gain weight. In a study published March 30 in Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers evaluated changes in the brains of healthy young women after they consumed chicken broth with or without MSG added.
“Previous research in humans studied the effects of umami broths on appetite, which is typically assessed with subjective measures. Here, we extended these findings replicating the beneficial effects of umami on healthy eating in women at higher risk of obesity, and we used new laboratory measures that are sensitive and objective,” said senior author Miguel Alonso-Alonso, MD, PhD, an Assistant Professor at the Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine.
“The results may open new ways to facilitate healthy eating and reduce food intake in the general population. Many cultures around the world advocate drinking a broth before a meal. Our study suggests the possibility that people at high risk of obesity could benefit from an umami-rich broth before a meal to facilitate healthy eating and healthy food choice,” said Alonso-Alonso. “However, here we only evaluated immediate effects and in a laboratory context. Future research should address whether these observed changes can accumulate and affect food intake over time and/or whether they can be leveraged to help people lose weight more successfully.”
Patients Often Mistake Migraine ‘Triggers’
Author: Liz Highleyman
Tracking app data show little association for chocolate, nitrates, MSG
Chocolate and other foods commonly thought to trigger migraine were found to have little relationship to headache onset when patients kept systematic track.
According to MedPage Today, “A wide range of factors are thought to trigger migraine headache. Some, such as stress, lack of sleep, and hormonal fluctuations, are supported by considerable evidence. Others, such as specific food items, are more anecdotal and research has yielded mixed results. Digital tools that make it easier for patients to record their experience can help shed light on suspected associations.”
“We know that migraine and its triggers differ for every person,” said American Headache Society scientific program committee chair Peter Goadsby, MD, PhD, of King’s College London. “These data will hopefully help healthcare providers when evaluating the lifestyle and experiential factors of an individual patient’s life.”
In the study 385 individuals (52.6%) suspected MSG as a triggering factor, while 347 (47.4%) did not. Among the 227 people with analyzable data, MSG was found to be associated with increased risk for seven people (3.1%), decreased risk for two people (0.9%), and no association for 218 people (96.0%).
“Contrary to the widespread expectations of our study subjects, the data reveals that foods containing chocolate, MSG, and nitrates are rarely associated with migraine attacks and surprisingly, for a minority of individuals, they may be associated with a lower risk of attack,” N1-Headache founder and CEO Alec Mian, PhD, said.
No More Freaking Out About MSG
Author: Yvette d'Entremont (aka "SciBabe")
Thanks to the internet, we have the ability to both debunk old wives’ tales and make up new ones. But no matter how many efforts are made by science writers, there is always someone who says MSG gives them headaches. Or it gives them intestinal problems. Or the MSG ate their homework. (It’s worth noting that some people may have sensitivity to MSG when ingesting it in large amounts, but the chances of something like this happening is so small that MSG sensitivity isn’t widespread)…
“We now know that the data says, over and over again, that MSG is safe (and the FDA categorizes it as “generally safe to eat”). A meta analysis published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners in 2006 showed that there had been no consistent ability to show any causal relationship between MSG and “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” In 2000, researchers set out to analyze the responses to MSG in people who had reported symptoms from ingesting it, and found that they could not reproduce these effects. Finally, a 2016 review concluded that a causal relationship between MSG and CRS has not been proven.
“According to the FDA, some people may experience mild symptoms when they eat three or more grams of MSG on an empty stomach. Keep in mind, though, that a typical serving of food has less than 0.5 g of MSG, so consuming three grams without food is unlikely, which is why this doesn’t give a lot of useful information about the actual safety of ingesting MSG. (Hey, if you ate three grams of salt on an empty stomach, that could give you some symptoms, too.) And if you’re worried about MSG versus the glutamate naturally occurring in foods, you probably don’t have to be. The FDA’s website says that the “glutamate in MSG is chemically indistinguishable from glutamate present in food proteins. Our bodies ultimately metabolize both sources of glutamate in the same way. An average adult consumes approximately 13 grams of glutamate each day from the protein in food, while intake of added MSG is estimated at around 0.55 grams per day.”