MSG is bad for us right? Well, it all depends on who you believe. I’m using MSG as an example here, but this situation probably occurs with every product available – which research can you trust? I saw an article today about soy milk vs cow’s milk and there were so many varied and opinionated responses in the comments section that reflect how individual our diets can be.
Firstly, what most debaters can agree on about MSG, condensed into about three lines and as my best interpretation – a Japanese scientist in the early 1900s wondered why a particular type of seaweed soup tasted so good, and discovered MSG was the responsible party. He extracted the compound from the seaweed and ‘bottled’ it. It came to ‘western’ cultures after WWII, when American troops occupying a Japanese base wondered why the Japanese rations tasted so much better than their spam. They took samples home and MSG is now used in as a flavour enhancer in more items than we care to imagine.
If one is interested enough, or feels like looking, there is plenty of research to suggest that MSG causes more problems than just the occasional headache from eating Chinese food. Scientists opposed to it have linked it to many conditions/diseases like Autism, ADHD, Diabetes/Obesity and Cancer; as well as plenty of issues surrounding it’s effect on unborn/newborn/ailing.
This kind of research is of course not good publicity for the fakefood* companies that depend on MSG for profit, and they try hard to push the case for it’s continued use. If one purely listens to mainstream media, one is likely to come across articles such as this that seem to relieve MSG of all blame. First question that springs to my mind is – How much do such journalists get paid? Of course, this research is also conducted by scientists, so who or what to believe is still the question.
A large indicator for me that companies put profits before people is their active promotion of less transparent labeling for food, confirmed with a quick glance at the alternative names for MSG. If I see any of these names on an ingredients list –
E621 or additive 621 or flavour 621 or anything else 620-625
– then the product goes back on the shelf. These are just the more common replacements, there are plenty more at this website. The issue for me with this list is that (yeast extract) vegemite pizza is such a good hangover cure, but we’ve managed to reduce our intake to about every second weekend. Chips/crisps are another problem, and a main culprit for MSG-addictiveness. I had an experience over a year ago where I ate most of a box of Pringles myself, and woke up the next morning with what felt like a hangover despite not drinking anything. After devouring a vegemite pizza, I swore off Pringles for life (successful so far), and only eat plain salted chips now. Know what – they’re good enough to satisfy the junk cravings.
So, clearly my feet are firmly planted on the ‘bad for us’ side of the fence, for three reasons. Firstly, I believe that anytime we process or extract anything from it’s natural state, we alter it in a way that changes how it behaves. So while MSG that exists in tomatoes or breast milk is fine for us, the additive is bad. Secondly, if the product is harmless (or any product for that matter), why do companies fight labelling laws? There should be nothing to hide. Lastly, I like to follow the money on these things; who has more to gain here – a huge company dependant on this product for maximizing profit, or an individual with a few book sales at best. I trust wherever the money isn’t.
Small Habit, Big Change – Buy plain salted chips instead of MSG-filled ones
*fakefood is my new name for things that we put in our mouth but are not really food.