Starting in the 1960s, monosodium glutamate was demonized for causing headaches, flushing and other symptoms lumped into “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” However, current consensus among researchers and the Food and Drug Administration is that anti-MSG sentiments are largely unfounded and that the glutamate-containing flavor enhancer is generally safe to eat in reasonable amounts.
Investigators have consistently been unable to trigger reactions in most subjects with exposure. And now a new study, published in the journal Nutrients and using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, suggests that MSG could actually make the typical American diet more healthy, not less so.
How? Umami-laced MSG contains about two-thirds less sodium per serving than salt. The study authors suggest that boosting the flavor of salty items like cured meats, frozen meals and soups by replacing some salt with MSG could reduce the population’s sodium intake by approximately 3% overall—perhaps enough to improve some health measures, including blood pressure.
Among people who often consume products in at least one category that is normally high in sodium (like cured meats), the addition of glutamate could reduce sodium intake by even more (7%–8%). But having more people accept MSG on ingredient lists will be no easy feat.