Have you ever experienced an unexplained bout of ravenous hunger moments after eating out at a restaurant? Before you blame it on your digestive system for having rapidly metabolized the ingested food, think again. It may have something to do with a certain ingredient that was added to that tantalizing plate full of noodles that you devoured with much enthusiasm. Researchers have concluded that it is the effect of MSG on the palate that plays truant with the human digestive system.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), commonly known as “ajinomoto” is one such food additive that has come under much criticism for exhibiting such reactions in the human body.
Ajinomoto as an additive, is mainly used in Asian and oriental cooking. However, it is gaining popularity in western cooking as well. And similar to salt and pepper, ajinomoto is also used as a table top seasoning. Due to its taste enhancing characteristics, MSG nowadays has become an indispensable part of commercial cooking – and some restaurants use it alarmingly liberally.
Every time we consume packed food, canned food, fast food, instant noodles, instant soup powders, and restaurant-made food, we are consuming MSG.
What that Plate of Meat Does to You?
Scientists claim that the “feel good” factor that one experiences after consuming a dish comprising chicken or meat is because of MSG contained in that recipe. How? Here’s how: the addition of MSG to recipes and food dishes is solely for enhancing the taste and flavor of the same. Sautéed and stir fried vegetables served at a restaurant won’t taste as good when prepared at home, thanks to MSG missing from the dish.
MSG is known to mislead the palate into believing that the food (mainly meat, in this case) just consumed is loaded with proteins and is therefore nutritious. MSG is neither a preservative nor a tenderizing agent added to meat dishes. The meaty and broth-like taste is known as “umami”, something that most commercial food makers try to bring out in their dishes. “Umami” is the fifth taste that the food industry is focusing on.
Let’s look at the Scientific Side…..
The sodium salt that is derived from glutamic acid is known as MSG. Glutamate, an amino acid, is naturally found in almost all types of foods, mainly fish, meat, dairy products, and even certain vegetables. For instance, vegetables such as mushrooms and tomatoes that are added to foods for promoting better taste, contain high levels of glutamate.
Interestingly, glutamate is also produced in the human body for performing specific functions such as replenishing the body’s protein content and also the metabolism of key nutrients. The amount of sodium contained in salt is thrice more than the sodium present in MSG. Researchers have concluded that the total sodium content in a food dish, while retaining its flavor, can be reduced by almost twenty to forty percent when MSG and salt are used together.
How Harmful can MSG Get?
No scientific study till date has indicated any strong connection between the consumption of MSG and adverse health reactions. As per the FDA, MSG is a harmless flavoring agent that can be used in cooking. Despite this, this additive has come under much criticism following cases wherein people, after having consumed foods containing MSG, complained of headaches, nausea, sudden sweating, facial tightness, and a burning sensation in the chest. However, much of this can also be attributed to varying body types with different reactions towards food additives.
From the biological perspective, MSG stimulates the secretion of insulin in the pancreas. This acts as an appetite enhancer and one doesn’t reach a state of satiety, which in turn leads to sudden hunger pangs. Secretion of insulin lowers blood sugar levels which gives a feeling of hunger. The perfect example of MSG-laden foods are packaged soup powders that contain dehydrated vegetables and small bits of dehydrated meat. The presence of MSG in soup powders gives them a typical broth-like taste.
How Can You Avoid MSG?
One of the best ways of avoiding MSG is by simply staying away from foods containing this additive. And, the best way to do this is by thoroughly reading the literature available on the outer labels of tinned, canned, and packed food products. Many a times, there are packaged foods that clearly mention “CONTAINS NO MSG”.
Most importantly, do not give in to sudden bouts of hunger soon after eating out at a restaurant. It might just about be the MSG acting in your body and not actually your hunger.
Sanjana Roy is a content writer with Transparency Market Research, a market intelligence firm based in the U.S. While her job profile entails writing on various global industry segments, her area of interest is food and beverages. She is especially interested in exploring trend-setting ideas that will define the food industry of the future, with a focus on health issues, new consumption trends and patterns, and the “food culture” that prevails today.