Skip to main content

What is MSG and is it Bad for you?


The name MSG is a phase that tends to scare consumers and drives them away from eating certain foods. But, do all consumers know exactly what MSG is and is it really as bad as it is made out to be?


MSG stands for MonoSodium Glutamate and it is composed of water, sodium, and glutamate. Glutamate is present in protein foods, and it helps out brain function. MSG is a flavour enhancing ingredient and is not a food additive. MSG does not have a specific flavour when eaten on its own, and it used to enhance the natural flavours of foods such as meat, poultry, soups, seafood, gravies, and vegetables. You may know MSG to give of the Umami flavour, which is known as the fifth taste. 


Over the years, the media has demonized MSG in a negative connotation. There is a general consensus that MSG will cause “headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, malaise”, and that it is an “unhealthy” way to enhance flavours of foods. In general, MSG has been negatively associated with Chinese cuisine, however many consumers fail to realize that it is in many more foods. MSG is present in commonly eaten western foods such as KFC or Doritos. Additionally, nutrition labels are championed when they have “no added MSG or contain no MSG”, which give consumers the idea that they should fear MSG and avoid it as much as possible. Many people from word of mouth have heard that MSG leads to migraines or symptoms of asthma, however there is not enough research to prove this fact. 


Overall, according to Health Canada, MSG is not a health hazard. Some people may have hypersensitivity to MSG that can temporarily produce symptoms such as blurred vision, tinglings, chills, headaches, and nausea. But, these symptoms can at most last for 2 hours and they are not associated with severe adverse health effects like many people believe. 


In summary, MSG is not harmful and should not be as demonized as much as the media and word of mouth plays it out to be. The stigma of MSG has perpetuated for many years and significantly lacks definitive research. Our job as consumers is to be educated about the foods that we eat, and to challenge common misconceptions that many have deemed to be true over the years.