MSG — get the facts

I have a love-hate relationship with the Internet, especially when it comes to health and nutrition information.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Internet, especially when it comes to health and nutrition information.

I love that I can get information quickly but I hate the overwhelming amount of information available and the variable quality of information.

I recently received an e-mail that suggested Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer added to foods, was the cause of obesity. The author backed up the claim by saying “Studies show that …” implying it was backed by credible and in-depth studies.

I decided to enter the term “MSG” into a search engine and it generated hundreds of thousands of hits. I, like many people, am not an expert in this area nor do I have the time to sift through all this information. So where can I go to find reliable sources of information?

In B.C., calling 811 and asking for a registered dietitian at HealthLink is a good first step. Registered dietitians can access large medical databases to determine the strength of these claims.

Other good sources are the Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s websites. All of these are available to the general public.

Now back to MSG …. MSG itself does not cause obesity; however, it is often found in processed foods that have little nutritional value but high in calories.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization expert committee on food additives and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology both conducted thorough evaluations and concluded that the use of MSG does not constitute a health hazard for most people. There are people who are sensitive to it who may suffer symptoms such as a burning sensation, headache, nausea or facial pressure approximately 20 minutes after eating.

Those people should avoid MSG and similar compounds under the names of hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP), hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), or hydrolyzed soy protein (HSP).

I do not recommend people consume products with MSG. Many of the products MSG is added to are typically processed, high in sodium, fat and refined carbohydrates — basically high-calorie foods with few nutrients.

There is lots of evidence that these types of food contribute to obesity along with quantity of food intake, activity levels, amount of sleep, food security, genetics, hormones, and social pressures.

If you want to eat a healthy diet, my advice is to make sure your plate of food looks like this: half filled with colourful and minimally cooked fruits and veggies, a quarter of the plate should be whole grain carbohydrate like brown rice or quinoa and the other quarter low-fat protein, like skinless grilled chicken breast, and preferably plant-based proteins like curried lentils.

The more processed a food is, the more likely it has lost nutrients and flavour, which requires the addition of flavour enhancers like MSG. If you do choose a product with added MSG, reduce your portion size, drain and rinse off canned juices and most importantly contact the manufacturer to recommended not using MSG. You can often do that by e-mail.

Rose Soneff is a community nutritionist with Interior Health.

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