MSG is short for monosodium glutamate. It is a food additive that is commonly used in condiments such as soy sauce and is also a constant flavoring ingredient in Chinese dishes.
The term umami is a Japanese loanword that roughly means “savory” and is the word used to describe the taste of MSG or any dish that is laden with this distinct flavor. The taste is ascribed to the glutamate component of this food additive. The tongue actually has receptors for this specific compound which differentiates umami from the other basic tastes.
In the early years of its production MSG was made by hydrolyzing wheat gluten. A second method used afterwards was direct synthesis of MSG component substances through the use of acrylonitrile, a chemical used in the fiber industry. Today the food additive is made through bacterial fermentation. The glutamate is filtered from the amino acids secreted by the bacteria and then sodium is added at a later stage.
The Superhuman Food Pyramid recommends that you avoid including MSG in your diet. Despite its tempting flavor, there are certain health risks that MSG components can present.
Read on to know about the negative effects of MSG and why it won’t help you Become Superhuman.
MSG Health Risks
When MSG is broken down by the body it goes back to free sodium and glutamate compounds. Both substances are necessary for certain internal functions but their quantity and presence in the blood has to be strictly controlled.
Sodium is one of the main electrolytes that among other things maintain your body’s water balance. As it was mentioned in the article on regular table salt, too much or too little sodium can lead to two dangerous conditions where there is respectively too much or too little water in the body.
Glutamates meanwhile are a type of protein and serve as neurotransmitters. This substance plays an important role in the proper functioning of the nervous system and that naturally includes the brain. When there is too much glutamate present however, nerves can become excessively stimulated. This can then lead to nerve cell damage and possibly affect the normal operation of other organs like the heart muscles for example. There are also parts of the brain unprotected by the blood-brain barrier that can be affected.
This is the reason why MSG is called an excitotoxin. Glutamate is present as glutamic acid in various types of natural food, particularly in protein-rich food. But it is only in MSG where the substance is refined and purified. This makes the glutamate in MSG easily absorbable in the intestines and then presents an immediate and noticeable increase of the substance in the blood.
Headaches, nausea, unexplained tingling sensation, rapid heartbeat – these are some of the symptoms reported about MSG that doctors lump together as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”. MSG is after all a regular flavoring in Chinese cuisine.
Those that believe MSG is safe point out that no direct links between such symptoms and the food additive have been proven. They say that it is more likely that MSG is frequently identified as the cause because its savory flavor stands out. Whether any acute effects can be proven or not, it is still quite possible that regularly consuming a substance that over stimulates nerves for a long period can lead to an increased rate of nerve degeneration.
Sodium and glutamates are important substances for human health. But there are far safer sources of these compounds than MSG and your body only needs very little of each to function normally.
The next post will move on to the second part of the Superhuman Food Pyramid – fruits. I’ll discuss which fruits to eat, moderate, and avoid in order to achieve your Superhuman health goals.
In the meantime, here is a complete listing of the herbs, spices and sweeteners on Superhuman Food Pyramid:
If you have questions, comments or feedback about the negative effects of MSG, the Superhuman Food Pyramid, this website, or other aspects of Becoming Superhuman, then leave your thoughts below, as well as any tips you have on the negative effects of MSG.