Monosodium Glutamate – or MSG as it is commonly referred to – has been a recent topic of debate, leaving many to question how safe it is to consume.An umami flavor enhancer, MSG can be found in many foods such as Chinese cuisine and other types of processed foods. It is one of the most popular food additives today. It’s responsible for balancing, enhancing and blending the flavors in food. It’s safety came into question after many people began experiencing some of the same symptoms after consuming it – headache, sweating, facial pressure, tightness, weakness, nausea, chest pain, numbness, tingling in the face, etc. Coined the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” these symptoms have drawn the Food and Drug Administration to require that all food manufacturers include MSG on its labels whenever it is present in food. Despite this requirement, the FDA has labeled MSG as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for human consumption product. So is it good or bad? And what does it mean in terms of weight management?
Research suggests that MSG is commonly linked to weight gain and obesity.
Is this food additive a reason so many people find it difficult to manage their weight? Years of research says yes. Research suggests that MSG is commonly linked to weight gain and obesity. One of the biggest links found is that consumption of MSG damages cells found in the hypothalamus, which is responsible for food intake. The cells damaged with MSG consumption are found in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, and these cells are primarily responsible for producing dopamine and regulating appetite. Sodium glutamate is the sodium that is found in free glutamic acid. Glutamate is responsible for activating a protein that regulates the metabolism. This activation causes you to have a slow metabolism and decreases any aspiration for physical activity.
In order to stop the protein from slowing down yourmetabolism, the fat cells in the body release a hormone called Leptin. Leptin is responsible for regulating how the body stores fat. If a person begins to gain weight, the fat cells will produce Leptin to tell the brain that it is storing too much fat. If the brain receives the signal, the person will begin to have a decreased appetite and will stop eating. Although Leptin is released for this purpose, it is ineffective because the hypothalamus doesn’t recognize the signal from the fat cells. This process is what researchers call Leptin-resistance, which scientists say occurs as a direct result of MSG consumption.
Researchers suggest that Leptin is the hormone that is most likely involved in weight gain due to MSG consumption. This is because the more MSG consumed by a person, the more Leptin that is released by the fat cells to stop in order to deactivate the protein that is causing slow metabolism and a lack of desire to exercise and to stop storing fat.
Leptin-resistance means the protein will remain activated, and it is one reason why weight gain may occur. Because of this, the person will continue to feel hungry and store fat. Meanwhile, Monosodium Glutamate, after it has already been consumed, sends a signal to the pancreas to release insulin to the blood. Insulin in the blood will lower a person’s blood sugar, which causes them to feel hungry and eat even more.
Other researchers suggest that those who are gaining weight may just in fact be consuming excess portions of the food because of the flavor enhancing effects MSG produces. Additionally, many food scientists claim that the food additive is addicting as evidenced by the fast food industry using it in replace of salt.
Foods with MSG
MSG is essentially found in almost all foods. Some popular ones include:
- Chinese foods and other Asian cuisines
- Processed foods
- Low-fat or fat-free milk products
- Protein powders and protein drinks
- Salad dressings
Other foods have natural MSG found in them, such as:
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Grapes and grape juice
- Other fruit juices
- Parmesan cheese
Food manufacturers, although required by the FDA to label MSG on their products, are finding ways to hide it to consumers. Here are some other substituted terms that, if seen on labels, will tell you there is MSG present:
- Monosodium glutamate
- Monopotassium glutamate
- Glutamic acid
- Vegetable protein extract
- Whey protein concentrate
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Hydrolyzed plant protein
- Yeast extract
- Corn maltodextrin
- Disodium caseinate
- Vegetable gum
- Wheat gluten
What Can Be Done?
So what can you do to make sure that you are decreasing your consumption of this food additive? The average consumption of MSG by Americans is still within a tolerable range. Make sure you are cognizant of your MSG intake as much as you can be by looking at food labels, and be sure to stay active and exercise consistently.