This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker November 2010 edition
MSG was invented in 1908 in Japan by Kikunae Ikeda. Originally fermented from a seaweed broth, today MSG is made from fermenting sugar in a process not dissimilar from that used to make soy sauce. Chemically MSG is a salt of the amino acid glutamate; C5H8NNaO4. By 1940 MSG was a popular ingredient in many foods, but by the 1970s studies on mice had linked MSG to health concerns and 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome' was on the rise. MSG was well on the way to becoming the nutritional bad boy that it is today. As anyone who follows food of the month, as well as the author's ramblings on science, will know, there are big problems with studies on mice, and findings can point the way forward but should never be taken as definitive. Even the highly reliable studies used to establish lethal dose can be significantly off when a human tries the test on themselves!
Epidemiological data makes the mice studies look alarmist, with a lack of lesions, hypothalamus damage and obesity in Asian populations with high MSG intakes over their life times, however discredited, the association will never go away. Studies have also looked at the evocatively named 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome' and discovered the culprit is glutamate. Feed people susceptible to 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome' glutamate rich foods or a source of glutamate and they report the same symptoms as found with MSG containing food. The solution becomes rather simple, avoid glutamate and MSG. Looking at the research MSG is actually among the safest food additives you can find, linked to less adverse health events than salt.
The linking of MSG to obesity has turned out to be a little difficult to prove; again evidence so far is that take away food, not MSG is the real culprit!
With MSG off the hook, it is time to look at how it works. Many years ago it was thought that taste consisted of salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. However, a fifth taste 'umami' has been added to describe a naturally occurring taste found in foods such as ripe cheese and tomatoes. MSG stimulates these receptors, and it is by this route MSG works to enhance flavour.
So, you are wondering why MSG is of interest to bodybuilders? Simple, flavour. Many bodybuilders, athletes and health conscious individuals eat food that is plain, and with many commercial sauces being too fat or sugar laden to grace their plates it can often be difficult to have a tasty meal. Add to this the detrimental effects of commercial farming and storage methods on the flavour of vegetables dinner time can become a bit of bland affair. If you are watching your salt intake too, then things only get more difficult. Adding flavour is usually done by adding fat, sugar, and salt, what MSG allows is less of those three for the same amount of taste.
As it stands, MSG is still a controversial ingredient, but one whose scientific pedigree is very impressive. Give it a go in your cooking, it's cheap and it could make your food a lot more cheerful!1 comment