The Fear Babe, Part 4: MSG

Today I shall continue my 5-part series on Think Twice Before You Buy This Type of Burger by The Food Babe, aka Vani Hari.


Next up on the list of things that scare The Food Babe is monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive that gives dishes a deep and savory, or umami, taste. The belief that MSG is a harmful food additive is so pervasive that it is often taken for granted that it is something to be avoided. The list of symptoms attributed to MSG are diverse and range from flushing and headaches to heart problems to cancer and everything inbetween. But, “decades of research have failed to demonstrate a clear and consistent relationship between MSG ingestion and the development of these conditions.” At most researchers have uncovered a small segment of the population with might be sensitive to MSG, but even this is based on limited, and not very consistent, evidence. Regardless of the evidence, public fears have driven many food manufactures, particularly of products marketed to both the vegan and “natural foods” communities, to avoid the use of straight MSG and to often proudly label their food as having “No MSG.”

But if few veggie burger manufacturers actually add MSG what is all the fuss about? Hari informs us that, “there are several hidden sources of MSG found in vegetarian meat substitutes.” For once Hari is actually somewhat right, though it would be more correct to say free glutamate. While the natural food industry generally eschews crystalline MSG they have found many natural sources of glutamate, such as yeast extract and fermented soy, to serve the same flavor enhancing function as MSG. But just as with MSG these sources pose no real danger. In fact having sources rich in glutamate in your diet can be a good thing. Soy sauce, miso, tomato sauce, mushrooms, and balsamic vinegar are all relatively common glutamate-rich foods. Do you sprinkle nutritional yeast on everything? There might be a reason for that…glutamate. Americans aversion to MSG could even be negativity impacting public health efforts in some cases. Studies have shown that sodium levels in foods can be significantly reduced without an accompanying loss of flavor if MSG is used. It could be potentially useful to replace some of the salt in certain dishes with MSG.

The Safety of MSG by Jack Norris
Is Umami a Secret Ingredient of Vegan Activism? By Ginny Messina
The Secret, ‘Vaguely Racist’ History Of MSG Fear-Mongering By Dan Nosowitz
The Monosodium Glutamate Story – Cornell College

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