What you need to know about MSG?

There has been so much hysteria recently over the 2-minute instant food Maggi noodles.  The Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued a ban on all variants of Nestle’s Maggi noodles, calling it ‘unsafe and hazardous’ for human consumption after a flurry of reports indicated presence of more than permissible limits of lead and monosodium glutamate (MSG) in it. Launched in India as early as 1983, Maggi is one of the most popular brands and had joined the Rs. 2000 crore brand. India is one of the largest markets for Maggi brand. What had once revolutionized urban India’s eating habits and became a part of the staple urban diet, Maggi noodles now faces consumer rejection following a ban in several states across the country. So, what is this entire hullabaloo about?

Reportedly, Maggi noodles (or its tastemaker) contains excess amount of lead and MSG breaching the 2.5 parts per million limits, which could be harmful on the human body. While the debate goes on, with a major dispute between Nestle and FSSAI about the technicality and authenticity of test reports, let us know more about the main culprit in the picture – the MSG.

What is MSG?

MSG or monosodium glutamate, commonly called Ajinomoto, a salt of the amino acid – glutamic acid (glutamate) is one of the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino acids. Gluatmate is naturally present in our bodies, and in many foods like tomatoes, cheese, mushroom, etc. and in various artificial food additives. Originating in Japan, MSG is used in the food industry as a taste enhancer to intensify the flavor of the food. Around the globe, MSG has been in the use for more than a hundred years to season food, yet the consumption has always been controversial and has been reduced to ‘safe’ customary levels. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA) demands that food that contains added MSG should list it in their ingredient panel on the packaging as MSG or monosodium glutamate.

According to some studies, the excess of MSG consumption in people can lead to short-term symptoms  like burning sensations of the mouth, head and neck, weakness of the arms or legs, headache, sweating, facial pressure or tightness, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, and weakness. MSG is especially harmful to pregnant and nursing mothers since infants and young children are four times more sensitive to MSG than adults. Though one may argue that glutamate is naturally present in natural food like vegetables, processed MSG is what could cause effects in human system, sometimes cumulatively. Also in one of the double-blind studies, it was found that MSG exposure caused muscle tightness, fatigue, numbness or tingling, and flushing in sensitive people. This is may be MSG over-stimulates the nervous system — exciting the nerves and causing an inflammatory response — thus causing radical hormone fluctuations. With time, these repetitive inflammatory responses cause the nerves to start producing more and more nerve cells that are sensitive to this kind of stimulation. The more overly-sensitive nerve cells we have, the stronger the body’s immediate response to MSG will be.

As more testing is in progress, it is time other processed foods come under the scanner too. A ban on Maggi or not, it is important to know what we eat and what it can do to our body. Eat safe, eat responsibly.

-Sharmila Shanmugasundaram


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