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Should You Avoid Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)?

Have you heard about the negative health effects of monosodium glutamate (MSG)? Find out if they're true here - and what you can use to replace MSG with if you still have concerns.

Monosodium glutamate MSG min scaled

Also known as Umami in Japanese, monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been a hot topic among health experts for several years.

Made from a non-essential amino acid called L-glutamic acid, it gives the food you eat a burst of flavor, increasing your satisfaction with every bite. 

However, an increased risk of health conditions has been associated with monosodium glutamate. Some restaurants have even removed it from their menus.

So, should you avoid MSG? Read on to learn more about this ingredient, its associated health risks, and what to use instead.

Is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) Bad For You?

An image of a doctor measuring the circumference of an obese woman's abdomen
MSG can make food taste better, increasing the number of calories you eat and leading to obesity.

A notable theory about monosodium glutamate 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 is linked 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 an increased risk of stroke.

However, these claims have been refuted by other scientists who believe that low consumption of monosodium glutamate won’t cause neurotoxicity. 

Asthma, 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 MSG

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 flavor, 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.”

Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew.

Best Alternatives To MSG

MSG is commonly found as an additive to Ramen noodles.

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

  • Ginger (sheng jiang) has a fresh and zingy flavor and can be used to make umami broths or ramen noodles.  
  • American ginseng (ren shen) has a licorice-like flavor with earthy undertones and may be added to chicken soup or made into tea.  
  • Codonopsis (dang shen) 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) have a tart, tangy, and slightly sweet flavor and are used to make jelly, ketchup, preserves, jams, and chutneys. 
  • Astragalus root (huang qi) 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) has earthy, bitter, and slightly sweet flavors. The stalks can be roasted with meat or turned into pie fillings and jams.  
  • Seaweed (hai zao) has a briny and salty umami flavor 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.

Monosodium Glutamate: Safe In Small Amounts

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.

References

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

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