The safety of MSG has been confirmed by its use for more than 100 years around the world, along with a substantial body of scientific evidence. While MSG is commonly known for its use in foods such as fast-food chicken, salad dressings, and snacks, it can also be used in home cooking to add savory deliciousness to better-for-you foods like vegetables.
What is MSG?
MSG is an umami seasoning that is made through a fermentation process that starts with plants like corn and sugar cane. The key component of MSG, that which gives it umami deliciousness, is glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid found in tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, breast milk, and more. Moreover, your body cannot distinguish between the glutamate in a tomato and the glutamate in MSG.
MSG Verified as Safe
MSG has been wrongly associated with causing ill effects after eating Chinese food, the so-called culturally offensive ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.’ It dates back to 1968 when a letter to the editor of a prestigious medical journal questioned whether symptoms he personally experienced after eating a Chinese meal could have been attributed to MSG, among other things.
Since then, MSG has undergone exhaustive scientific inquiry by prestigious expert advisory bodies and regulatory authorities worldwide, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a joint committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and more, and all have approved its use. MSG is safe, in fact, it is one of the most extensively tested food ingredients in history.
A Tool to Reduce Sodium in Recipes
Not only is MSG safe but it has been shown to help people reduce sodium intake while enhancing the taste of vegetables and whole grains. MSG has two-thirds less sodium than salt and when used as a partial substitute for salt, it lowers sodium and enhances flavor.
A study conducted by scientists at UC Davis showed how MSG can promote the enjoyment of better-for-you foods by enhancing umami flavor while also significantly reducing the sodium content of a dish. According to the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory report, sodium intake continues to be at an all-time high in the U.S., with about 90% of Americans consuming too much. MSG is a win-win for most Americans who eat too much sodium and not enough vegetables and whole grains.
Using MSG at Home
Interested in trying MSG (umami seasoning) at home? It’s easy. Create a 50/50 blend of MSG and salt in your salt shaker and use it as you would use salt in soups, seafood, vegetables, grains, sauces, eggs, and any other savory foods. This simple change can reduce sodium up to 40 percent and add yummy umami flavor to foods.
This article was written by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN, LD, in partnership with Ajinomoto North America, Inc. It was first published on the Produce for Better Health Foundation website, and is reprinted here with permission.
About Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN, LD
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN, LD is a food, nutrition and media communication consultant and owner of No Nonsense Nutrition, LLC. She recently retired as the director of nutrition for WebMD, where she helped build a state-of-the-art food, diet and nutrition portal. She currently serves as a contributing editor to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Magazine, is a member of the board of directors of the True Health Initiative, Inc. and Nutrition4Kids’ medical advisory board, and is a Nutrition Expert for the Ajinomoto Group.