Ah, those three letters most dreaded by every health-conscious suburban parent: MSG! Short for monosodium glutamate, MSG is a food additive commonly included in processed foods or Americanized Chinese food to give it that extra-yummy flavor — and over the years, it’s taken on a bad reputation.
However, when pressed for answers, most anti-MSG consumers can’t tell you why it’s supposedly so bad for you. Now, new information has come to light to reveal the surprising truth about MSG — and whether or not you can safely eat it.
Worries about MSG’s effects are widespread, especially pertaining to its use in Americanized Chinese food. Some U.S. consumers report headaches or numbness after dining on a plate of beef and broccoli, associating those symptoms with MSG.
And unbeknownst to most people, MSG is found in many other foods besides Chinese. Doritos, Cheetos, Chick-fil-A sandwiches, even ranch dressing all contain MSG — but when’s the last time you got a headache from ranch dressing? The additive is complex.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Back in 1907, Tokyo Imperial University professor Kikunae Ikeda was eating dinner with his family when he realized that his soup tasted better than usual. He determined that the broth had been spruced up with edible kelp, and that something in the kelp made the food delicious.
After a year of study, Ikeda was able to isolate the substance within the kelp that was responsible for its flavor. That substance was glutamic acid, and Ikeda added water and salt to it to form stabilized monosodium glutamate.
Eileen Cho / NPR
Foods like tomatoes, dried mushrooms, and hard cheeses like parmesan all contain glutamic acid. It’s even found in seaweed (which is how it was synthesized into monosodium glutamate in the first place). So, Ikeda developed a plan.
He found a way to mass-manufacture MSG by obtaining it from processed wheat and soybeans. He started a company, Ajinomoto Inc., to make MSG and sell it, while continuing to research the substance. People absolutely loved the stuff.
Ikeda hypothesized that due to glutamate’s presence in natural foods, it was likely an indicator of available protein, and humans developed a taste for it as a survival mechanism. That taste is what drives us to crave it in meats, cheeses, and other snacks.
International Glutamate Information Service
In other words? Turns out, MSG is super delicious. That craveworthy, extra-yummy flavor in many of your favorite snack foods is created by MSG. The flavor is called umami, and our taste buds are particularly sensitive to it. Yet many people refuse the additive.
Fear of MSG is mostly traceable to a 1969 study by brain scientist John Olney, who found that high-dose MSG injections into newborn mice caused stunted development, neurological damage, and hormone system changes.
Robert Boston / Washington University
Word of this discovery reached the nutrition community and raised alarm. However, the mice were being injected with high doses of MSG, and humans normally consume it by mouth in tiny doses — an important distinction.
Yuko J. Nakanishi et al.
Moreover, the mice were only injected with MSG, and nothing else. When humans consume it, we take it with other food, and studies have shown that MSG alone affects the body differently than MSG on a full stomach. Over time, we’ve revisited these studies.
So how have opinions of MSG changed? Many studies in the late 20th century that deemed it dangerous were revisited and found to be flawed. Confounding variables, or factors that might confuse an experiment’s results, were often present in those studies.
Cassie Myers / Stanford Medicine
For example, one major confounding variable is the fact that many studies aren’t truly “blind.” With MSG studies, this means that the study’s participants can taste when MSG is present, due to its characteristic flavor. This could lead to them imagining symptoms, known as the placebo effect.
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for NYCWFF
Another issue with early MSG research came in the form of scientists writing about MSG’s effects on themselves. However, these were subjective articles about eating at Americanized Chinese restaurants, attributing ill feelings to MSG, when the food was also unhealthily fried and contained high quantities of sodium.
Joey’s World Tour / YouTube
Remember, anything is bad for us if we eat too much. Most of one’s diet should be fresh fruits and vegetables, but if you’re just having one of those tough days…indulge in your Cheetos and kung pao chicken. Then get back on the broccoli train.
Unless you avoid ALL processed food, you’re not going to be 100% sure that you’re avoiding MSG, and if you don’t notice it when eating Cheetos or Doritos, then you won’t notice it while eating a bowl of lo mein. Some, however, are hypersensitive to the additive.
Some people are able to notice MSG whenever it’s present — whether in a takeout box of noodles, or in a ranch dressing mix — due to an allergy to MSG. This doesn’t affect everyone, however, and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
Do be careful where you get information about MSG, though. A lot of the “MSG facts” websites are just promotional devices, funded by MSG manufacturers themselves. As with any product concern, you should seek information from independent researchers without connection to, or funding from, the manufacturers of those products.
Janglish Jerry / Taiken.co
Although MSG isn’t necessarily something you should gorge on, it likely isn’t any worse than sugar, hydrogenated fats, or sodium. Like every other processed food, enjoy it as a treat and in moderation, and don’t make it a staple.
To make a long story short: should you worry about MSG? If you’re a super-healthy eater, and consume no processed food at all, then yes, MSG isn’t for you. But if processed food is in your diet, then MSG isn’t any worse than any other fast-food ingredient.
Stefan Jeremiah / New York Post
The road to health is not an easy one to navigate. Between following a rigorous diet and breaking your back in the gym, it can seem downright impossible. But many gurus are now claiming there’s an easier way.
Their secret weapons are the so-called superfoods. Though there’s no strict definition for this term, it typically refers to nutrient-rich fruits and veggies like kale, acai berries, and pomegranates. They’re changing the way some people approach their entire lives.
Eschewing conventional food wisdom, health nuts are guzzling superfoods by the pound. They’ll religiously consume kombucha — even if they hate the taste — simply because the promised benefits are too good to pass up.
Tik Tok / Brittany Broski
Supposedly, the perks go beyond basic vitamins and minerals. Superfoods tout the ability to boost your energy, improve your memory, and even cure diseases. As a real bombshell, some nutritionists claim they prevent cancer!
With such a laundry list of benefits, superfoods seemingly offer us the chance to wipe away all our mortal weaknesses and become demigods. But before you blow your salary on a truckload of kale, know that other experts are pushing back against these dietary miracles.
The idea that fruits and vegetables are good for you isn’t in dispute. They help you feel better and maintain regular body functions, unlike most junk food out there. But the truth behind their cure-all status is less than appetizing.
In terms of stopping cancer, nutritionist Stacy Kennedy explained that superfood sellers haven’t provided “enough scientific evidence and research to support many of the claims.” But the issue around superfoods is more about marketing than it is about science.
YouTube / International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation
For one thing, “superfood” doesn’t really mean anything. At least not on a consistent basis. Instead of being an official term, this buzzword gives merchants an easy way to make a buck.
While the superfood concept seems like a modern development, the Harvard School of Public health revealed it began in the early 1900s. The United Fruit Company started a banana craze by claiming the fruit could remedy celiac disease and diabetes.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the company was little more than a band of snake oil salesmen, swindling desperate people with unbelievable promises. This fraudulence has carried into our current fad as well.
Even the hallowed food pyramid has been tainted by corporate money-making interests. They put pressure on the U.S. government to carve out larger sections for their particular products, especially grains, to expand consumer demand.
The Food and Drug Administration, try as they might, are often slow to respond to every sensationalized health trend. They’ve barred brands from claiming outright that products can stop disease, but the amount of misinformation out there is still overwhelming.
Flickr / The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Aside from dishonest sales interests, a big problem with superfoods is that consumers don’t realize they pose drawbacks as well as benefits. Take, for instance, a smoothie blended with all-natural fruits and juices. It sure sounds healthy.
But along with all those vitamins, the drink is packed with naturally occurring sugar! In fact, such a smoothie usually contains more sugar than a can of Coca-Cola. Suddenly, it doesn’t sound so super.
However, there is a responsible way to safely eat your fancy berries and avocado toast. Bona fide dieticians say that it’s all about variety. Your body needs a wide array of nutrients, which can only be found in a wide array of foods.
So when you gorge on a single “superfood,” the result isn’t much different from chowing down on a giant stack of dessert. Still, the health-conscious shift toward these trendy greens and seeds is ultimately a positive development.
The Denver Post
A refrigerator full of fruit won’t stop cancer, but it may stop you from inhaling the real enemy: processed foods. Besides depriving you of real nutrients, these edible abominations contain all kinds of crazy preservatives and chemicals.
So it’s great that the superfood movement supports organic, local farmers. Just be on the lookout for any Old MacDonald who makes a guarantee that’s too good to be true. You’ll thank yourself later!
After all, eating right is one of the most important steps you can take to achieving wellness. Unfortunately, humans aren’t the only ones who are falling victim to a harmful cuisine craze.
Consider your furry friends. When it comes to showing pets love, the most effective method is often feeding them. With a one-track mind on their next meal, even the most standoffish pet can be won over.
YouTube / Animal lovers
To make sure they never run out of treats for their furry friends, many pet owners will stock up on every type of chow imaginable. As of late, however, a few independent folks are taking a different approach.
Recent years have seen a sharp uptick in people making their own pet food. Supporters provide a myriad of explanations as to why they got into it. They say it’s cheaper, it’s healthier, and that it’s a great way to more closely bond with your animal.
YouTube / Pure Living For Life
Besides viral recipe blogs, chefs have published full-on cookbooks explicitly for the purpose of preparing pet fare. Odds are that many of these cooks don’t put as much effort into their own diet!
In The Vintage Kitchen Shop
But is this homemade gourmet kibble worth it? Pet owners can squabble all day long about whether or not it’s easier to just buy the store brand, but experts are introducing an additional point to the discussion.
Jennifer Larsen is a research veterinarian at UC Davis, where she’s taking a hard look at cat and dog nutrition. She and her team have closely examined over 100 popular pet food recipes, which have led to some strong conclusions.
Obviously, pet owners want nothing but the best for their companions. There’s no shame in embracing your inner cat fanatic. Still, Jennifer warns that many of these recipes are actually endangering felines.
In many cases, the recipe writers skew their concoctions based on what’s appetizing to humans. But even if your kitty licks her lips at your dinner, that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy option for her.
Reddit / Char10tti3
Evolutionarily, cats are hunters. They need the specific nutrients provided by fresh meat, or carefully designed pet food. Felines simply cannot adapt to other diets, even if there are no warning signs at first.
But rest assured, nutritional deficiencies will manifest themselves before long. Jennifer and her team have identified the full range of consequences, which run from annoying to potentially fatal.
For one thing, homemade cat food often contains fattier ingredients than animals are used to. They’ll certainly enjoy these meals – often meowing for seconds and thirds — but this diet can lead to severe obesity.
Bothell Pet Hospital
At the other end of the spectrum, cats are falling ill due to a lack of nutrients. Vegan diets lead to all kinds of health disorders, with the worst recipes including ingredients that are toxic to cats.
At the same time, Jennifer recognizes that she can’t persuade all pet owners to stop making their own cat food. But they should, at the very least, ensure that they follow certain guidelines.
South Boston Animal Hospital
It turns out that dogs aren’t the only ones who enjoy gnawing on a good bone! Bone meal serves as cats’ primary source of calcium. That’s a must for strong bones and healthy teeth.
Vegetables are acceptable in smaller quantities, though felines don’t really need them to stay healthy. Just made sure to avoid cabbage, brussels sprouts, and broccoli, as they cause bloating.
Many pet owners instinctively season their pets’ food the same way they’d prefer their own. But for cats, it’s better to leave the spice rack alone. Some common flavoring ingredients are pure poison to cats.
Chocolate Covered Memories
For instance, prominent fangs and a hypnotizing gaze aren’t the only traits that cats share with vampires. They also can’t tolerate garlic, so make sure not to ever put it in a kitty dish.
Jennifer wants pet owners to know that regulating a cat’s diet is complicated. You want to make sure they’re only biting into healthy foods. Otherwise, you could really be regretting your kitchen adventure.
Flickr / Tnarik Innael
She says that, ultimately, “Extensive training and expertise is necessary in order to fully understand the various aspects of this process.” So you’re probably best off leaving it to the experts and buying high-quality food from your local store.
While diet is certainly important, pet professionals have determined that there are other aspects of animal health that most of us are completely ignoring.