Wednesday, June 9, 2010


In their mad rush to have the eyes, ears and minds of innocent consumers, food processing industry is known to practice the art of "dressing up" their products and score against each other. The fact that in doing so they are compromising the quality of life of their customers by using many chemical additives, some approved and others under the GRAS list, is not realized. Mono Sodium Glutamate, popularly known as MSG is one such chemical approved for use in many countries, though there are some restrictions in its use in some products. Why one needs flavor enhancers, if good quality raw materials are used in the food preparation is beyond any body's comprehension. New studies throw more light on the repercussions of MSG use, especially amongst children.

To day thousands of products churned out by the food industry in Europe, the US, Australia, Japan and other advanced countries contain MSG at varying concentrations. The products include snacks, soups, sauces, meats, flavored potato chips and a host of others. Soy sauce which is an integral part of foods in China, Japan and other oriental countries, contains glutamic acid and this has been cited as the basis to deflect any question regarding the safety of MSG by chemical process by the manufacturers. Industry is well aware that though glutamic may be present in free form in many natural foods, it is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, the MSG that has the property of enhancing flavor dramatically because it easily dissolves and ionizes in aqueous phase. The mere presence of glutamic acid in a complex form need not necessarily cause any harm and hence such a stand may not be tenable. What is not made clear is how far the commercially made MSG is pure and what artifacts are generated with any adverse consequences during the manufacturing process.

While adults may have the biological ability to deal with MSG ingested through foods, what bothers concerned scientists is its devastating consequences in children. Unfortunately there are no clear guidelines that bar use of MSG in foods targeted at children though responsible industry players do not use it in such products. While children of 3 years of age and below are not supposed to be taking any foods containing MSG, in practice what prevents them from consuming products flavored with MSG available freely in the market? Is it not a tragedy that knowing pretty well that MSG can be risky, no one is seriously concerned about its ubiquitous presence in practically every food that is consumed to day? Is it absolutely necessary to boost the natural flavor by adding MSG at the expense of human health? Why does a society like that in the US, already over burdened with over-weight and obese people need further incentive to eat in the form flavor enhanced products? These are questions the world has to face one day and it is better to tackle the matter to day rather than leaving it to posterity to suffer the consequences.

It is ironical that a country like the US with most liberal view on MSG use, suffers maximum health damage because of wide scale manufacture and consumption of nutritionally unbalanced and health-wise unsafe foods. Within 10 years of clearing the use of MSG in food in the US, hundreds of studies had emerged showing adverse changes in the body and much data has accumulated as published articles in many reputed medical journals. Several rat studies revealed irreversible destruction of the retina after MSG ingestion. Other studies showed glutamate to be a major excitatory neurotransmitter that causes the inflammation of the nerve or brain cell within 90 seconds of contact and within 3 hours the brain cells were found to be dead. A relatively recent study dramatically brought out that the dendrites of the brain cell and the hypothalamus were being damaged by MSG. Dendrites are the branched projections (like antennas) of the brain cell that conduct the relay of information from brain cell to brain cell. The hypothalamus is critical for both learning and memory and controls the onset of puberty, growth regulation, appetite and sleep cycles. It regulates the pituitary gland which regulates the entire endocrine system. Damage to the hypothalamus has been linked to endocrine disorders and obesity. What an impressive credential for this flavor booster!

Unless the world acts now to ignore industry inspired studies carried out by obliging scientists, proclaiming the safety of MSG and take effective action to ban MSG from all foods, it may have to regret later.

1 comment:

Cheng said...

Thanks for an inspiring post. I recently visited a MSG factory and was almost convinced to use MSG in homemade food to reduce amount of salt intake since MSG would help bringing out the flavor without adding much salt. My friend also use MSG regularly in her cooking. It's definitely hard to avoid MSG now, be it the market or at home. I'm hoping to see some actions against it some day.