Is MSG bad for you?
Monosodium glutamate gets a bad rep, and is even blamed for 'Chinese restaurant syndrome', but this is perhaps a little unfair.
Asked by: Erica Evans, Worthing
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, certainly has a bad reputation, conjuring up images of takeaways and highly processed foods. But this ‘umami’ flavour enhancer – first extracted from seaweed in 1908 – contains only sodium (one of the ingredients of common table salt) and glutamic acid, which is naturally found in foods such as mushrooms, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.
A popular belief is that MSG can cause headaches and a generally ‘icky’ feeling known as ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’. But this is a myth: scientists have found no evidence linking typical MSG amounts to headaches, or any other health problems for that matter. Just like salt, a sensible amount is perfectly safe, and tasty too.
Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun facts.
Giles is a professor at the University of Cambridge, whose research focuses on food intake, genetics and obesity. He is a broadcaster and author, and his latest book is Why Calories Don’t Count (£14.99, Orion).
- Try your first 6 issues for just £9.99 when you subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine.
- Risk - free offer! Cancel at any time when you subscribe via Direct Debit.
- FREE UK delivery.
- Stay up to date with the latest developments in the worlds of science and technology.