Humans are born with five taste sensations: bitter, sweet, salty, sour and umami. Umami, a Japanese word that describes a meaty or savoury taste, is thought to be a fifth flavour. It is this umami flavour that is found in many Japanese foods, bacon and also in the food additive MSG. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of the common amino acid glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is naturally present in our bodies, and in many foods and food such as tomatoes and cheeses.
In 1959, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labelled MSG as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), which allows its use in food products. However, its safety remained controversial and therefore, when MSG is added to food, the FDA requires that it be listed on the label.
Within 10 years of its introduction into the US food market, a condition known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” entered the medical literature, describing the numerous side effects, from numbness to heart palpitations that people experienced after eating MSG. Today that syndrome is more appropriately called “MSG Symptom Complex,” which the FDA identifies as short-term reactions to MSG. These reactions include:
- Facial pressure or tightness
- Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
- Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
- Chest pain
Monosodium Glutamate / MSG can lead to several health issues and has potential to cause several health complications, as we had seen in our previous blog post too. It is best to avoid food which have sizable quantity of MSG.
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