If you’ve been wondering about MSG and its effects on health, read on for some interesting facts
What is MSG?
MSG stands for “Monosodium Glutamate” and is made of water, sodium and glutamate. Glutamate is an amino acid that is used to make proteins in food and our body.
MSG doesn’t have a specific flavour of its own. Instead, MSG is used as an ingredient to enhance the natural flavours of foods such as meat, poultry, soups, stews, casseroles, gravies, seafood, snacks and vegetable dishes.
Glutamate itself is also found naturally in foods such as corn, green peas, mushrooms and tomatoes
Is MSG the same as salt?
No. MSG is made from water, sodium and glutamate. Table salt is made from sodium and chloride
Is MSG safe to eat?
Yes. According to Health Canada and other organizations worldwide like World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives, MSG is not a health hazard. Some people have reported a sensitivity to MSG. It is the glutamate part of MSG that can produce symptoms such as:
- Tingling and/or burning sensation
- Feeling of pressure on the face
- Pain in the chest
These symptoms of MSG sensitivity are generally temporary and can appear about 20 minutes after eating MSG and last for about two hours. If you suffer from this sensitivity, it is best to avoid MSG and glutamate.
Note: Do not automatically assume that you have a sensitivity to MSG if you experience any of these symptoms. Check with your doctor to make sure that you do not have another condition or allergy that might be causing these symptoms
Is there a link between MSG and migraine headaches? What about asthma?
There is not enough research to prove whether MSG triggers migraine headaches. If you find that you tend to get a migraine after eating MSG, the best advice is to avoid eating MSG-containing foods. For more information on dietary triggers of migraines and headaches read our article
Which foods contain naturally-occurring glutamate?
some cheeses (Parmesan and Roquefort)
How can I tell if a food contains MSG?
“Monosodium Glutamate” must always be stated on the list of ingredients whenever it is added to a pre-packaged food. MSG is usually added in small amounts, so you’ll find it towards the end of the ingredients list (because ingredients are listed in descending order of the amount present in the food).
If the MSG is part of a spice or other ingredient used in the food, it must still be declared on the list of ingredients. Note that there are no labelling requirements for naturally-occurring glutamates.
How can a dietitian help?
A dietitian can help teach you the skills to read and understand food labels. If you are having particular symptoms after eating, a dietitian can help you identify potential food triggers and give you advice on how to eat well while avoiding these foods. To connect with a dietitian, use our Find a Dietitian tool.
Glutamate is an amino acid (protein) naturally found in many foods. According to research, MSG is not considered a health hazard when eaten in small amounts to enhance the flavour in food. If you are concerned about MSG, read the ingredient list of the food product.
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This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada.
Last Update – November 2, 2021