MSG – bad or good?


Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common additive used to enhance the flavour of a variety of foods. Many restaurants use it due to its umami flavour that increases saliva production, making food more enjoyable.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains that MSG is a safe additive, however, they require it to be listed on food labels if it is used.

Sensitive individuals can experience the following reactions when consuming MSG-containing foods: 

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Flushing
  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning
  • Feeling weak
  • Asthma

MSG is found naturally in foods such as tomatoes and cheeses and in its natural form does not have the same toxic effects on the body. People with a true MSG allergy or intolerance would likely need to avoid these natural forms as well. 

MSG has been linked to increases in obesity and metabolic disorders, however, it is likely due to over-consumption of foods containing MSG rather than the MSG itself. In high quantities, MSG can definitely have neurotoxic effects and frequent consumption can predispose individuals to insulin resistance and reduced glucose tolerance.

MSG acts on the glutamate receptors and the production of neurotransmitters which are involved in mental and physical health.

These receptors are present throughout the central nervous system but are most prevalent in the limbic zone which houses the hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala. These areas of the brain control appetite and feeding behaviour so if the receptors are constantly stimulated, cravings increase, and people are unable to recognize when they have had enough to eat.

MSG can disrupt the hormone leptin. 

Leptin helps to regulate the balance between the amount of food consumed and how the body uses it for energy. Leptin controls our hunger so if there is not enough leptin, we can feel hungry all the time despite not needing additional calories.

MSG is often added to processed foods and is frequently found in items such as:

  • Tinned vegetables
  • Frozen meals
  • Tomato sauce, mustard, and salad dressings
  • Soups
  • Cold meats
  • Soy Sauce
  • Crisps
  • Instant noodles

While high amounts of MSG are not good for us, many of the symptoms listed above can be caused purely by over-eating and especially over-eating the wrong types of foods. A diet that is high in refined carbohydrates, sugars, and processed foods will fast-track many metabolic diseases and will leave you feeling exhausted and unhealthy.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 25 August 2022 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am