MSG. We hear a lot about it. Many people think ‘Chinese Food’ when they hear it, because there was a lot of hoopla about added MSG in Chinese food years ago.
So, what’s the deal? What is it? Is it bad for us?
Monosodium Glutamate is a naturally occurring chemical compound. What? It’s natural? Yep…so is arsenic.
Basically, it is an amino acid that reacts with brain chemicals that tells your brain “this stuff tastes amazingly good” when you eat it. It’s similar to what salt does, but at a much higher degree (about five times, from the research I’ve read). Glutamate is naturally occurring in various foods. Monosodium Glutamate is an additive that is added to packaged food and some meats. It is created when the amino acids in protein are broken down and separated. This is generally done through microbial or bacterial fermentation, or through use of hydrochloric acid. The bacteria is typically genetically engineered, and beets or corn are common crops used.
So, what’s the problem?
First, MSG spikes glutamate levels in the blood very quickly, unlike naturally occurring glutamate in foods. This means that the same amount of the additive is not processed the same way as the same amount as the naturally-occuring substance. This could propose a problem in regards to how the body processes the msg, and it may create a toxicity problem in the brain.
Second, MSG is considered an “excitotoxin”, which is basically a toxin that stimulates the brain to the point of possible damage. When the excitotoxin levels that stimulate a neuron do not decrease after a period of time, or increase, the neuron actually kills itself. You can see how this is a problem with MSG, but not naturally occurring glutamate, since the levels spike quickly, instead of slowly processing over time.
The FDA has classified MSG as “generally regarded as safe”, which means that it is safe for the general population, under ‘normal’ use. That excepts those with glutamate allergies or sensitivities. One problem is that no standard of safe amounts has been determined for MSG, and the amount being eaten by those who eat a large amount of processed and fast food has greatly increased since the FDA classification back in the 1950’s. Because each person reacts differently, it is difficult to set a limit.
MSG has been linked to neurological conditions, heart conditions, and diabetes. Many parents of kids with neuro conditions, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, Tourette’s Syndrome and ADHD have seen positive changes in their kids when removing MSG from their diets. Personally, it is one additive we avoid like the plague.
MSG and other additives that act like it in the body go by various names:
hydrolyzed protein (anything that says “hydrolyzed” is probably going to be an excitotoxin)
autolyzed yeast extract
natural flavor (yeah, this is a biggie, you never know if it’s msg or not)