Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups, and processed meats. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that is “generally recognized as safe,” but its use remains controversial. It’s hard to not find articles discussing the health risks and side effects associated with its addition. For this reason, when MSG is added to food, the FDA requires that it be listed on the label.
MSG has been used as a food additive for decades. Over the years, the “FDA has received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG.” These reactions — known as MSG symptom complex — include:
- Facial pressure or tightness
- Numbness, tingling, or burning in the face, neck, and other areas
- Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
- Chest pain
However, researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms that are applicable to most adults, so it remains up to each individual to treat additives with relative caution. Researchers acknowledge though, that a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. Symptoms are usually mild and don’t require treatment. The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid foods containing MSG. Still, dietitians and physicians recommend avoiding high percentages of processed foods, many of which will contain varying amounts of MSG, due to possible cumulative effects. Again, moderation is the key message for MSG.
Edited by: Lindsey Traudt, LCPC