Have you ever wondered why those potato crisps taste so good you want to pick up another bag just as you’re finishing your first one? Flavor enhancers are used by the food industry to make food taste better. One of the most controversial is Mono-sodium Glutamate, or MSG.
What is MSG?
MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the 20 amino acids present in the body. It occurs naturally in many fermented or protein-rich foods such as soy sauce, mushrooms, broccoli, parmesan and walnuts. Glutamic acid also happens to be the principle excitatory neurotransmitter in our central nervous system. The process of manufacturing MSG involves fermenting corn, beets, molasses, sugar cane or starch to free up the naturally occurring glutamate and extracting the sodium salts that will then be used to enhance flavor.
However, when this man-made MSG is added to processed foods, it does more than just improve taste. Indeed, some studies link this additive to a host of health issues.
MGS greatly enhances the “umami” (savory) taste of food by stimulating our brain and encouraging the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for controlling our pleasure centers. In a study carried out by the Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacy in Bucharest, scientists examined the effect of a water and MSG solution on the feeding behavior of mice. They found the mice were repeatedly drawn to the MSG feed, demonstrating that this additive “induced an addictive alimentary behavior.” 
Linked to Obesity
MSG has clear links to the current obesity epidemic. It is added to almost all fast food, enhancing its flavor and making it moreish. Its addictive quality means that people want to eat more and more of it, again and again.
A study carried out by the Department of Biochemistry at the Zagazig University in Egypt found that MSG decreases the secretions of leptin . Also known as the “satiety hormone”, leptin creates a feeling of fullness and lets the body know when to stop eating. A reduction in this helpful hormone leads to a loss of appetite control, causing overeating and weight gain.
What about the Brain?
As if that wasn’t enough, MSG is labelled a neuro-exito-toxin because it over-stimulates nerve cells, leading to them to literally excite themselves to death. This can lead to a host of neurodegenerative diseases, and indeed research has linked excito-toxic neural damage to strokes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s . What’s more, The Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine finds that MSG may also be linked to ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. 
Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to know whether MSG has been added to food. This ingredient is listed under different names such as magnesium glutamate, hydrolyzed protein, yeast extract, gelatin, textured protein, soy protein, and whey protein isolate to name but a few . The best way to limit your exposure to MSG is simply to cut out processed foods from your diet.
There are many natural and healthy ways to improve the flavor to dishes. Why not toast some seeds and sprinkle some over your food? Adding herbs and spices to meals will intensify their flavor and make them tastier and more satisfying. Better still, these wholesome condiments are healthy and beneficial to the body—savor your food, the natural way.