MSG, the abbreviation for Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer (the sodium salt of the common amino acid glutamic acid) commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups, and seasonings. In Nigeria, many of us use seasoning and condiments that are packed with Monosodium glutamate. Examples of these are Maggi, Knorr, Ajinomoto, Vedan, etc.
What’s the big deal about MSG?
Many people have deemed it unsafe and do not want to consume it or even see one ingredient containing it. Over the years, regulatory bodies and clinics in many parts of the world have received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG.
These reactions have now been put under a new term called MSG symptom complex. These symptoms include but not limited to these in people who have recounted their experiences;
- Facial pressure or tightness
- Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas of the body
- Rapid heartbeats (heart palpitations)
- Chest pain
So, you might be wondering, “why did NAFDAC approve MSG when people see these symptoms?
Is MSG safe for consumption?
MSG is known as an excitotoxin – a substance that overexcites body cells to the extent that they are damaged or killed. Studies show that regular consumption of MSG may result in adverse side effects which include depression, disorientation, eye damage, fatigue, headaches, and obesity.
However, FDA, for example, claimed to have received reports of symptoms such as headache and nausea after eating foods containing MSG. However, FDA was never able to confirm that MSG caused the reported effects. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) also examined the safety of MSG in the 1990s. FASEB’s report concluded that MSG is safe.
Even NAFDAC allows it as food ingredients in Nigeria, they must have regarded it as safe for consumption.
What Foods Contain monosodium glutamate?
Most canned soups, beef and chicken stock, flavoured potato chips, snack foods, frozen dinners, fast foods, instant noodles, soy sauce, steak sauce and Worcestershire sauce, cheeses, are flavoured with added MSG.
In Nigeria, NAFDAC allows the use of MSG in seasoning cubes such as Maggi, Knorr, and Ajinomoto. Others that you can still find on NAFDAC’s website include;
- Ever Rich Tasty Cube Chicken Flavour
Ingredients: Hydrolyzed Chicken Proteins, Monosodium glutamate (MSG, Salt), Starch.
- Hanno Chicken Cubes 100G
Ingredients: Hydrolyzed Chicken Proteins, Monosodium glutamate (MSG, Salt), Starch
Which ones should you be wary of?
The products that give me the most concern are Ajinomoto, A-1, Vedan and the seasoning that comes with most Noodles. Ajinomoto, A-1 and Vedan appear to be only MSG that has been made into granules. People use them to cook meat a lot and many “buka” and “mama put” joints still use them a lot. These products are made by Chinese and it seems to be a major ingredient added to many of their foods.
It was discovered and patented in 1909 by Ajinomoto Corporation in Japan. In its pure form, it appears as a white crystalline powder. MSG has been established that they can cause problems in animals when consumed in some quantities. However, when added moderately in foods and ingredients, they should not cause any problems. Some quantities have been shown to cause adverse effects.
How to know a food contains Monosodium glutamate
Regulatory bodies the world over require that foods containing added MSG be labeled as such. Manufacturers are required to list it in the ingredient panel on the packaging as monosodium glutamate.
As mentioned earlier, MSG occurs naturally in ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and protein isolate, as well as in tomatoes and cheeses.
When these listed foods/ingredients are used as ingredients in foods, manufacturers are not really required to list the food ingredients as containing MSG. However, they must list all those ingredients on the ingredient panel.
About how much MSG we should consume!
The FASEB report identified some short-term, transient, and generally mild symptoms, such as headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness that may occur in some sensitive individuals who consume 3 grams or more of MSG without food.
However, a typical serving of a food with added MSG contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG. Consuming more than 3 grams of MSG without food at one time is unlikely.
Let me say at this point, that we should limit the level of consumption of MSG. Even though it was reported that we can’t easily consume 3 grams of added MSG in foods, we should also note that glutamate is available naturally in some foods.
Finally, the level at which MSG is added in most foods today is safe. It would be hard to eat enough to see the adverse effects. If you see develop any of the above symptoms from eating foods that contain MSG, you may want to avoid it.