How does MSG work?

MSG
Many people in Vientiane feel they don’t have time to cook for themselves, or they prefer the convenience of street stalls and restaurants. Pho shops, ‘khao piak’ noodle stands and roadside stalls are nearly always full of patrons. But do customers really know exactly what is in their food?

MSG is widely used throughout the world, particularly in Asian cooking, and is certainly widely used in Laos. Some cooks say that the correct measurement of MSG is just a tiny pinch, but cooks can often be observed throwing one or even two heaped spoonfuls of MSG into their pots. We eat at these restaurants regularly, but over the long-term the harmful effects of MSG are hard to avoid.

MSG is a chemical called compound called Monosodium Glutamate. It is a small, white, cubic grain with no distinct flavour or smell. It is glutamic acid in its manufactured state, derived from fermenting molasses and food starch. Glutamic acid is a form of amino acid in our bodies. Combined with protein, it is present in many living cells.

The widespread use of MSG began in Japan in 1908, when a university professor isolated glutamic acid as a new taste substance from seaweed by aqueous extraction and crystallization. Commercial production of MSG soon followed. MSG is now made from industrial fermentation processes utilizing the carbohydrates from certain crops such as corn, sugar cane or cassava. Ingestion of too much MSG is dangerous, however, regardless of its roots in natural products.

Does MSG really make food taste better?
MSG does not actually enhance the flavour of food, but added to foods in the right amount, MSG can enhance other taste-active compounds, improving the way we taste certain foods.

What effects does MSG have?

Some people find that consuming MSG, especially in large quantities, can trigger various side effects and symptoms, including:

-Headaches
-Nausea
-Dizziness
-Rapid or irregular heartbeat
-Flushing or excessive sweating
-Skin rash
-Numbness
-Intense thirst
-Lethargy or sleepiness
-Ringing ears
-Tingling in the mouth

It has been suggested, but not proven, that MSG can also cause harmful effects over the long-term. It affects the nervous system and other bodily systems such the endocrine system, digestive system and some brain function. Testing in rats has shown that just 1 gram of MSG per 1kg of bodyweight causes significant brain damage. When the quantity is decreased to 0.5 grams, the damage is decreased, and when rats are administered just 0.25 grams of MSG, there is no visible damage at all.

How can I avoid MSG?

After reading this article, people may decide to stop consuming foods that contain MSG altogether. Whilst this would probably be beneficial to their health, MSG is difficult to avoid. Almost all restaurants in Laos use MSG to enhance the flavour of the food they serve, or else rely on stocks or other flavor enhancers such as Knorr which contain MSG. Small amounts are not harmful, however, and it is advised that people try to reduce the amount of MSG they intake by cooking at home without MSG or by purchasing snacks that don’t include added MSG.

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Source: VTEtoday
Translation by Work Live Laos

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3 Comments

  • This article is just flat out alarmist.

    First of all, you don’t mention at all how much of a DEBATE surrounds the potential health effects of MSG. Most of the studies (Freeman M. (October 2006). “Reconsidering the effects of monosodium glutamate: a literature review”. J Am Acad Nurse Pract 18 (10): 482–6.) used small sample sizes that were biased in some way (had self-reported MSG problems, had other sodium issues such as high blood pressure, etc.) and therefore completely Inconclusive. In fact, one of the only placebo-controlled double-blinded experiments (Tarasoff L., Kelly M.F. (1993). “Monosodium L-glutamate: a double-blind study and review”. Food Chem. Toxicol. 31 (12): 1019–1035.) used people who self-reported MSG intolerance, gave them either a capsule full of extreme amounts of MSG or sugar, and recorded the effects — and there was no significant pattern.

    Yes, if you are avoiding sodium, you should avoid it. Yes, if you have conditions like IBS, autism, or heart disease, you should avoid it. But if you’re just a regular ol’ expat reading this blog? Not much of a reason to avoid it unless you’re looking for one more thing to set you apart from the rest of this continent that eats it basically with impunity.

    • This article is a translation of one that appeared on VTE Today. You can view the original here: vtetoday.la/???????-???????????????/

  • @ MSG – If I had to guess, I’d bet you are employed in the MSG industry which has taken misleading people to an art form.

    The biggest move in recent years is for the food industry to remove MSG as a SINGLE INGREDIENT and replace it in it’s two separate components: salt, and a glutamate (such as Autolyzed Yeast or Hydrolyzed Protein).

    Get it? Salt + Glutamate = Monosodium Glutamate.

    MSG is considered a single ingredient, so by adding two separate components it allows manufacturers to legally claim “No MSG” on their labels. It’s a very dirty and misleading practice.

    IF MSG is so safe for most folks, or “regular ol’ expats” as you put it, then WHY does the food industry need to go to such lengths to hide in in our food?

    The food industry does NOT care about your health; they care about selling their product. I don’t fault them for that) they have a right to make a honest profit. But the bottom line is it’s added to boost sales, nothing else, and THAT crosses the line, in my opinion, into a dishonest profit.

    Much of the data available now about the effects of MSG and other free form L-Glutamates is conclusive and NOT debatable.

    The high incidence of fybromyalgia directly coincides with the increased use of MSG (in all it’s forms). Lyrica, a drug used to treat Fybromyalgia is a Glutamate blocker (antagonist). Coincidence? I don’t think so.

    It has been shown that people allergic to Sulfa/Sulfates have a much higher sensitivity to free form glutamate.

    Also anyone with any type of spinal injury should avoid MSG (in all it’s forms), because it directly affects your central nervous system. Look up “Neuroprotection.” You will see that it centers around reducing Glutamate Excitotoxicity through the use of glutamate antagonists.