MSG is Umami: 5 Facts (Not Fear) from the World Umami Forum

Last week I had a whirlwind three-day trip in one of my favorite places–New York City–at the World Umami Forum. The event was presented by Ajinomoto, maker of MSG.

First off, MSG/Ajinomoto is not my client, nor am I paid to talk about MSG. They did provide my travel for the event (standard practice for freelance media). When my close friends’ eye balls nearly popped out of their heads when I mentioned that I traveled to an MSG event, I thought, okay, I need to share the facts with you, too.

There is so much “no” and “non” and “free” on food packages these days (some useful, some not so much) and I don’t want you to have to unnecessarily fear yet another food or ingredient, including MSG.

Here are some important facts about MSG:

1. The bottom line is that MSG (monosodium glutamate) is just one sodium molecule away from glutamic acid, a naturally occurring amino acid in the cells of most living things, including humans and yummy whole foods. It’s even high in breastmilk. So think of MSG as the manufactured version (via extraction and fermentation) of the natural version. The body doesn’t even know the difference between the two.

2. MSG fear stems from an opinion article in a scientific journal in the 1960s, observing how people seem to have symptoms after visiting Chinese restaurants. The doctor listed out a few possible culprits, like cooking wine and MSG. And so the headlines began.

3. The old studies that showed negative effects of MSG: the subjects were injected in the muscle with the equivalent of 3 bottles of MSG. I.e. not how MSG is normally consumed. Plus, the studies were not well designed.

4. The newer studies that are well done (double blind, placebo-controlled, MSG eaten, not injected) show no difference in effect between placebo and MSG.

5. In 2018, the International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition, deleted the section on MSG from the document.

There are more really interesting updates about MSG that I learned from the scientists and food historians that presented. I hope you find this information helpful. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions.

I produced an educational video where I interviewed TV host, chef, world traveler, and author Andrew Zimmern about umami and MSG. Give it a watch below:

Michelle Dudash, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, author of the best-selling cookbook Clean Eating for Busy Families, and creator of the 4Real Food Reboot, an online meal planning program for weight loss.

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