Is MSG really as safe as now being promoted?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-11-23

There is no denying that MSG (mono sodium glutamate) has been banned by many doctors, especially for patients suffering from hypertension, heart and renal problems, for being one of those foods that can harm our health.

This warning from our doctors has caused so much wariness about MSG that consumers now specify NO MSG when they order food in restaurants. There are restaurants that even advertise on their walls or menus that their meals are not seasoned with MSG, a sort of GOOD HOUSEKEEPING seal. It also follows that these MSG-wary consumers have also ceased from using MSG when they cook their food at home.

Thus, it won’t be a surprise if this ‘NO MSG’ consumer consciousness has caused a dramatic drop in sales of MSG brands in the country. Also, it is to be expected that businessmen who engage in the sale of MSG brands will seek remedies to declining sales. Such remedies can focus on either shifting to another enterprise or removing the mindset that causes the drop in MSG sales.

It now becomes clear that MSG promoters have decided to remove the mindset that caused the drop in MSG sales. Calling themselves the Glutamate Association of the Philippines (GAP), this group has opened a website ( and is currently running a TV commercial on expensive television primetime.

A former Philippine representative to international swimming competitions, Christine Jacob, is used as the presenter in the Gap TV commercial which promotes the idea that MSG is harmless and is in fact beneficial to one’s health. The GAP TV commercial basically synthesizes what the GAP website claims.

Following are excerpts from the GAP website: What is monosodium glutamate?

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid (glutamate). MSG is a flavor enhancer which has been used effectively for nearly a century to bring out the best flavor of foods. When MSG is added to foods, it provides a similar flavoring function as the glutamate that occurs naturally in food. MSG is comprised of water, sodium and glutamate. When eaten, MSG is separated by the body into a small amount of sodium and glutamate.

How much sodium does MSG contribute to food?

MSG’s low sodium content represents a minor contribution to the overall sodium level of a typical diet. By way of comparison, MSG contains about 12% sodium while table salt contains 39%. However, MSG is used at levels lower than salt. Considering all sources of dietary sodium (natural sodium content of foods, table salt, sodium-containing ingredients in processed foods, drinking water and pharmaceuticals), typical use of MSG contributes about one to two percent of the total sodium contained in the average diet.

Tastes have shown that when the salt level in food is reduced, food acceptability decreases. However, by using a small amount of MSG in conjunction with a decreased level of salt an acceptable flavor profile can be maintained, while sodium content can be reduced by as much as 30-40%.

Is MSG safe?

Yes. Research in Europe, the United States and Asia clearly shows that MSG used in prepared foods or as a condiment is safe for humans of all ages.

MSG has been safely used as a food ingredient since the early 1900’s. It is one of the most thoroughly tested of all food ingredients, with hundreds of scientific studies confirming its safe and effective use. MSG’s safety has been repeatedly affirmed by regulators and scientific agencies around the world.

Which scientific and regulatory bodies have studied or reviewed MSG’s safety?

In the United States, MSG has been included in the FDA’s list of substances known as Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) since 1959. Foods designated as GRAS include ingredients like sugar, baking powder and vinegar whose safety has been established through common use in food and/or through extensive testing.

Since FDA’s classification of MSG as GRAS in 1959, new and existing research on MSG has undergone continuous evaluation. In the most recent review, completed in 1995, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) reaffirmed the safety of MSG for the general population. In its review, commissioned by the FDA, FASEB found no evidence linking MSG to any serious or long-term health effects, which led the FDA to again reaffirm that MSG is a safe food ingredient at normally consumed levels.

In 1987, the United Nations World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) reviewed the scientific literature on glutamate citing 230 scientific studies. It concluded that, on the basis of available data (chemical, biochemical, toxicological and other) the total dietary intake of glutamates arising from their use at the levels necessary to achieve the desired technological effect and from their acceptable background in food, do not, in the opinion of the Committee represent a hazard to health. It found the evidence of safety of glutamate so convincing that it allocated an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for glutamate of ‘not specified’. ‘ADI not specified’ indicates that because the total daily intake of glutamate does not represent a health hazard, it is not deemed necessary to put a numerical limit on its use. This means that glutamate is placed in the safest category of food ingredients.

In 1991, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) also affirmed MSG’s safety. Having reviewed the most advanced and up-to-date research on glutamate, the SCF published a report in 1991 which designated an ‘ADI not specified’ for glutamate.

In 1992, the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association (AMA) issued a resolution supporting MSG’s safety. In particular, the Council stated that “The scientific record does not support the conclusion that MSG or Lglutamic acid as either exogenously-added flavor enhancing substances or naturally occurring components of food proteins pose a significant public health risk.” (End of GAP website excerpts)

Do you believe this assertion of the GAP that MSG is safe and beneficial to your health? If this is another scheme concocted by greedy commerce to arrest plummeting MSG sales, a lot of people will be collapsing and dying when they start disobeying their doctors and start consuming MSG with gusto.

Of course, the studies cited by GAP cannot be taken as the supreme authority on MSG even if the USFDA and AMA are mentioned as sources. There are many studies that claim otherwise - based on actual pathological cases.

Philippine authorities should look into this without bias — meaning without deferring to US studies without considering what other countries like the UK have to say about MSG health hazards.

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

[Click here for the Archive]

Home | As I Wreck This Chair | High Ground | Career Brief and Roots | Advocacies | Landmarks Copyright 2006 The Chair Wrecker by William M. Esposo