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Is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) Bad for You?

Monosodium glutamate is associated with health problems like obesity and stroke. Experts have differences in opinion on the safety of the flavour enhancer.

Man taking a bottle of monosodium glutamate from a wooden shelf

Monosodium glutamate (also known as MSG) is frequently used to prepare Asian dishes, including the ever-so-popular nasi lemak. Made from L-glutamic acid – a non-essential amino acid – it gives the food you eat an umami kick, increasing your satisfaction with every bite. 

However, an increased risk of health conditions is a stigma that has been associated with monosodium glutamate. So much so that some restaurants have announced, they’ve removed the flavour enhancer entirely from their menus.

Here are a few key facts about the ingredient to put these stigmas to bed.

Does Monosodium Glutamate Increase Your Risk of Health Problems?

Sad woman looking down while holding a measuring tape around her waist with her left hand
Monosodium glutamate consumption has been linked to obesity onset.

A notable theory about the ingredient is that it contributes to obesity onset. Yet, monosodium glutamate doesn’t affect fat cells or leptin receptors – a hormone released from fat cells that regulates metabolism.

A possible reason why monosodium glutamate links to obesity is that it makes food taste better, thus causing a person to indulge without self-control.

Some scientists have also claimed that it releases an excessive quantity of glutamate in the brain, leading to neurotoxicity (overstimulation of the nerve cells) and causing a stroke. But these claims have been refuted by other groups of scientists. Instead, they believe that low consumption of monosodium glutamate won’t cause neurotoxicity. 

Asthma onset, too, has been linked to the use of the ingredient. However, studies have proven that only a high consumption will make you vulnerable to respiratory illness.

Setting the Record Straight on the Use of Monosodium Glutamate  

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), small quantities of monosodium glutamate may actually benefit your health. These include enhancing Spleen and stomach function, detoxifying and strengthening the Liver, and regulating Heart shen (spirit). 

Be mindful that the ingredient has a salty flavour, which in TCM’s theory of five elements, relates closely to the Kidneys. 

“An overuse of monosodium glutamate can be directly detrimental to the Kidneys and impair bone health. Ancient Chinese medicine literature also states that too much salt can result in poor blood circulation within the meridian channels,” cautions Real Health Medical’s Senior Physician Brandon Yew.

Herbal Ingredients That May be Considered as Flavour Enhancements

owl of soup containing a whole chicken and various medicinal ingredients
American ginseng provides an earthy flavour when added to chicken soup. 

You may choose to use herbal ingredients as an alternative to monosodium glutamate.

  • Ginger (sheng jiang, 生姜) has a fresh and zingy flavour, and can be used to make umami broths or ramen noodles.  
  • American ginseng (ren shen, 人参) has a liquorice-like flavour with earthy undertones and may be added to chicken soup or made into tea.  
  • Codonopsis (dang shen, 党参) is sweet-tasting and is a popular addition to Chinese dishes, soups and broths. The root juice may also be extracted through steaming or stewing and used as a seasoning.  
  • Hawthorn berries (shan zha, 山楂) have a tart, tangy, and slightly sweet flavour and are used to make jelly, ketchup, preserves, jams, and chutneys. 
  • Astragalus root (huang qi, 黄芪) has a sweet and sour taste with a soap-like aftertaste. It can be added to a bone broth or steeped to make herbal tea. 
  • Chinese Angelica (dang gui, 当归) has earthy, bitter, and slightly sweet flavours. The stalks can be roasted with meat or turned into pie fillings and jams.  
  • Seaweed (hai zao, 海藻) has a briny and salty umami flavour due to a naturally high amount of glutamic acid. It can be eaten as part of a salad or used to make a Japanese condiment called furikake.  

It’s safe to say, using monosodium glutamate in small quantities won’t provoke the development of health conditions. If you still have concerns, you may consider the use of herbal ingredients.


  1. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Is MSG Actually Bad for You? [online] [Accessed 25 October 2022] 
  2. MedicineNet. 2020. Why Is MSG Bad For Your Health? [online] [Accessed 25 October 2022] 
  3. CookingLight. 101 Ways to Cook with Ginger. [online] [Accessed 25 October 2022] 
  4. Specialty Produce. Ginseng Root. [online] [Accessed 25 October 2022] 
  5. Recette Magazine. 2021. Hawthorn: The Fruit of Fall. [online] [Accessed 25 October 2022] 
  6.  Herbal Reality. Astragalus. [online] [Accessed 25 October 2022] 
  7. EnergiquePro. Astragalus Root: Recipes for the Immune System. [online] [Accessed 25 October 2022] 
  8. GARDENER’S PATH. 2020. HOW TO HARVEST ANGELICA. [online] [Accessed 25 October 2022] 
  9. TASTE. 2017. Seaweed: A Home Cook’s Secret Weapon. [online] [Accessed 25 October 2022] 

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