What is MSG?
MSG is short for monosodium glutamate. It is an e-number (E621) that is used to enhance flavour.
Chemically, MSG is a white crystalline powder that resembles table salt or sugar.
MSG enhances the savoury, meaty 'umami' flavour of foods.
This additive is popular in Asian cooking and used in various processed foods in the West.
The average daily intake of MSG is 0.55–0.58 grams in the UK.
Why is it controversial?
It is an excitatory neurotransmitter, meaning that it stimulates nerve cells in order to relay its signal. Some people argue it over-stimulates nerve cells.
One study in 1969 found that injecting large doses of MSG into newborn mice caused harmful neurological effects.
However, there is little evidence that dietary intake of MSG leads to excitotoxin (killing of nerve cells).
However, this does not mean that it has been deemed safe; some people report that excessive consumption of foods rich in MSG (+3g - way more than the average UK intake) causes headaches, muscle tightness, numbness, tingling, weakness and flushing.
Likewise, some people may be more sensitive to the effects of MSG than others. For example, some claim that people with asthma feel more side effects.
MSG and Fullness
One reason why MSG is deemed useful in cooking is because more flavour makes you feel fuller/more satisfied by a meal.
However, eating foods that contain MSG (such as takeaways and processed foods) contain high levels of saturated fat, sugars, and more, which ultimately result in weight-gain if not consumed in moderation.
How should I feel about MSGs?
Well, that's up to you.
You're unlikely to over-consume MSG in one day, but it's important to keep an eye on the amount of processed foods your eating, making sure you're consuming more wholefoods than processed.
Like all things, processed food should be viewed as a treat and consumed every now and then as opposed to every day.
How to avoid processed foods:
- MEAL PREP - cook in bulk & freeze the extra!
- USE LESS - can you use less oil, sugar & salt in cooking?
- ORDER LESS - learning how to cook traditional meals properly (e.g. Chinese or Indian dishes) can often taste as good (if not better!) than the takeaways.
- COOK IT - invest in some good quality spices & herbs. Chinese 5 spice and low-salt soy sauce can transform a noodle dish, and fresh herbs can be bought for less than a pound at most supermarkets!
- BE TREAT-WISE - save the takeaways for special occasions, or put limits on how many you allow yourself.
- MAKE YOUR OWN - use a Sunday afternoon to make your own sauces & freezing them (shop-bought sauces such as pasta sauces are often full of hidden sugars!)