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Is glutamate really that bad? A nutritionist explains if it is really harmful

Date: June 18, 2024 Time: 07:29:06

“Nowadays almost everyone has heard of a substance like monosodium glutamate. And most people consider it harmful. What is it really like and is it so dangerous? Let’s understand the material.”

What we will tell you

What is the monosodium glutamate?

This is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. It is made up of glutamate and sodium. The first is a natural amino acid found in large quantities in the human body and in many foods. These include seaweed, tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, soy sauce and parmesan. Most animal protein is made up of 11-22% glutamate, while plant protein can contain more than 40%. The second is an essential mineral.

If you look at the amino acid profile of a protein, glutamate itself will not be there. Instead, you may see “glutamic acid.” The difference is small. Glutamate is simply glutamic acid to which a mineral ion is added. It is the most abundant free amino acid in the brain. Our body also produces it. Additionally, it can act as a neurotransmitter.

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The substance was first discovered by Professor Ikeda Kikunae of the University of Tokyo in 1908. The chemist wondered what gives seaweed broth its spicy flavor. The scientist was able to independently isolate 30 g of glutamic acid from 40 kg of product. He didn’t stop there. Kikunae established commercial production of a flavor enhancer. It is true that it was called “ajinomoto” then.

Nowadays it is used as a flavor enhancer. It looks like a white crystalline powder. It dissolves well in water and has a slight protein smell.

Monosodium glutamate is listed on food labels as E621.

In Russia, the substance is included in the list of food additives approved for use in food production. The exception is baby food. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also considers it safe.

It is now added to sauces, meat and fish products, instant noodles, condiments, chips and snacks. That is, all products that have a meat flavor or smell. It is also actively used in Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese cuisines.

How is monosodium glutamate obtained?

There is a myth that it is a harmful chemical that is addictive. However, this supplement is of natural origin. It is obtained from the bacteria Corynebacterium glutamicum, which is formed from sugar cane, beets and tapioca. In the process, amino acids are released, from which monosodium glutamate appears. That is, it is a method of fermentation of natural products.

Scientists also tried to obtain glutamate through hydrolysis of plant proteins and direct synthesis. Most often it is made with kombu seaweed. However, these methods are not as effective as fermentation. That’s why they don’t apply.

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Effect of monosodium glutamate on taste.

Monosodium glutamate makes spicy foods tastier and other foods containing it have a “meaty” taste.

This food supplement is one of the most powerful salivation stimulants. However, this is a harmless effect. The way it improves flavor is by targeting specific glutamate taste buds on the tongue.

Although MSG is found in large amounts in many protein foods, it only enhances flavor when it is free. That is, it is not associated with other amino acids. By stimulating the taste buds, the savory flavor is enhanced.

A person is able to distinguish four flavors: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. At the same time, we have receptors that recognize glutamic acid and its salts. The fifth flavor is called Japanese style: umami. This is a kind of dietary protein marker that tells the body that the food contains a large amount of the necessary protein.

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Is monosodium glutamate harmful?

Concern about the dangers of MSG began after Dr. Kwok of the United States wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968. In his speech, the doctor talked about “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” It involves “numbness in the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and back, as well as weakness and palpitations.”

The expert suggested that these symptoms could be caused by wine, high sodium content, or seasoning with MSG. However, it was the flavor enhancer that was identified as the likely culprit.

Concerns about negative effects also arise from reports of disturbing effects that have been observed in animal studies.

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The analysis determined that the additive may be a neurotoxin. Because brain damage was found in newborn mice fed the substance. It should be noted that the rodents were given extremely high doses that did not correspond to the norm for human consumption. Therefore, it is incorrect to apply these results to people.

The potential impact on weight is another concern. Many cite a rat model of obesity that was observed after consuming glutamate. But it was injected into the animals’ brains. This damaged the tissue of this organ, which caused this effect.

Research shows that high doses of flavor enhancers, taken orally or by injection, can damage brain tissue. However, recent evidence suggests that MSG added to people’s diets does not have a negative effect on body weight. In addition, normal consumption of the enhancer with food does not affect energy absorption and fat metabolism.

But there is a group of people for whom it is not recommended. These are people with kidney diseases, cardiovascular diseases, pregnant women and children under three years of age. If you have an individual intolerance, you should exclude foods containing sodium glutamic acid from your diet.

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Benefits of monosodium glutamate

Surprising fact: MSG has benefits.

Reduce the consumption of salt

The flavor enhancer contains 61% less sodium than table salt. Partially replacing it with monosodium glutamate reduces the sodium content in dishes by 32%. This does not have a negative impact on its flavor.

Improved flavor

With age, the sense of taste and smell tends to deteriorate. This can cause a decrease in appetite. This problem is exacerbated by age-related decreases in salivary flow, which makes chewing and swallowing difficult.

Monosodium glutamate improves both taste and salivation. Therefore, it may influence calorie intake in older adults. But here there is an important point: to what products it is added. Adding it to spicy foods produces a greater increase in calorie intake than adding it to bitter, sweet, salty or sour foods.

Positive effect on body processes.

Sodium salt participates in the production of gastrointestinal juice. Products with this mineral normalize water-salt metabolism and maintain acid-base balance. The flavor enhancer also helps maintain normal blood volume and blood pressure.

There is no need to be afraid of this flavor enhancer. In modern studies reporting its side effects, large doses (≥3 g) were administered without food for a short period of time. And even in this case the clinical manifestations were mild and temporary. It would be difficult to achieve such doses by consuming foods containing MSG under real-world conditions. There is also no evidence to suggest harmful effects of MSG in the general population.

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What foods are high in monosodium glutamate?

It is important to note that a large amount of foods we consume daily contain glutamate in free or bound form. Among them (in 100 g):

nori – 1400 mg; kombu – 3000 mg; tomatoes – 260 mg; grape juice – 260 mg; mg; broccoli – 170 mg; oysters – 140 mg.

By the way, there are a number of products that do not contain this flavor enhancer. It is never added to sweets, chocolate, yogurt or carbonated drinks.

Also read:

The doctor explained which protein supplement is best for the body.

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Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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