Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Trivial Tuesdays - MSG

Dear readers,
I am fully aware of the drastic drop in posting this last month or so, life yet again has caught up with me and I get home completely pooped from work with no will to write or do anything but eat, shower, and sleep. However, starting this week, I will try to post twice a week. I can't wait to tell you all about this huge moth my brother found next to our front door yesterday - really exciting stuff.

Let's get started. 

From last week's short post on tomatoes, we move on to the fascinating world of food and chemical additives.

Q.7
What does MSG stand for? 
...


...

A.7
Mono Sodium Glutamate

      Ah! what a tasty topic. I think I would describe it as meaty, brothy, and/or savory. Wait, that's too long. What would encompass all of these things? Oh, why of course, why not dub it ''umami'', the Japanese word for delicious. Brilliant, considering it was first extracted from seaweed in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist. This compound has been used as a flavour enhancer for over a century now, but still the debate continues: to eat or not to eat MSG, that is the question.


     The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) finds no problem with the usage of MSG and has placed no limit to the quantity that can be added to food as it is a naturally occurring amino acid.  In addition to naturally producing the stuff ourselves, it can also be found in tomatoes, parmesan cheese, mushrooms and certain nuts -which explains why we often use them to flavour our food. EUFIC (European Food Information Council) vouches for the safety of the product and that claims it can even help reduce sodium levels in food. No studies, so far, have managed to directly link MSG to the ''Chinese Restaurant Syndrome'' (CRS - yes this is a medically recognized syndrome discovered in 1968...crazy, I know). CRS is characterized by sweating, headaches, flushing, and in more serious cases, swelling of the throat and chest pain.


    Well, everything would be peachy if the only information out there came from pro-MSG groups, it's not and far from it. The information I've read in many cases is quite disturbing and merits your own research into the matter but for the time being here is what I'm keeping in mind next time I'm buying a pack of chips. 
Scientists use MSG to create obese strains of mice and rats for research on diabetes and diets. These same animals have been diagnosed with, in addition to diabetes and obesity, brain lesions, stunted skeletal growth, and female sterility to name a few of the more comprehensible medical terms. MSG has also been linked to Alzheimer's disease. 


    I particularly liked this explanation of MSG's modus operandi offered in The Science Creative Quarterly article published in 2009.
  ''MSG stimulates appetite by inducing insulin release so that glucose is taken up, despite not having consumed anything with carbohydrates (sugars). As a result of high insulin concentrations, your blood sugar level drops and you end up being hungry again only hours later.''
Basically, you can add MSG to just about anything and make your body believe that it is eating something savory and protein rich.

    MSG is a proven additive and  justifies the slogan  ''Betcha can't eat just one''. Some go as far as blaming MSG to the sudden rise of childhood obesity.

    Be warned, MSG can take on many names, here are a few key ingredients to look for (from Rense.com) :
* Food Additives that ALWAYS contain MSG *
 
Monosodium Glutamate
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Hydrolyzed Protein
Hydrolyzed Plant Protein
Plant Protein Extract
Sodium Caseinate
Calcium Caseinate
Yeast Extract
Textured Protein (Including TVP)
Autolyzed Yeast
Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
Corn Oil 

    With the information available, I conclude too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. As for all things, moderation and consuming a wide variety of food should keep you healthy enough. But as a reference point, McGill's faculty of science draws the line of no return at 2.5 grams. Their studies have shown a slight increase of headaches and feelings of weakness beyond this point.

Happy Munching!
Take care!

_________________________________________________________________________________
References: 
Eufic. 2002. The Facts on Monosodium Glutamate. Eufic Archives. [online] Available here. [Accessed May 24th 2010)
Lam, P. 2009. MSG: More Than Meets the Tongue. The Science Creative Quarterly. 4. [online] Available here. [Accessed May 24th 2010].
Olney, J.W. 1969. Brain Lesions, Obesity, and Other Disturbances in Mice Treated with Monosodium Glutamate. Science. (164) p.719-721

Schwarcz, J. 2009. Monosodium Glutamate: Fact vs Fiction. McGill Faculty of Science Blogs [online] Available here. [Accessed May 25th 2010].
Unknown. MSG – Slowly Poisoning America. Rense.com. [online]. Available here. [Accessed May 25th 2010].

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