Is MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) Paleo or Keto Friendly?
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is composed of sodium and the amino acid glutamate. Sodium is an essential mineral, and glutamate is the most abundant amino acid in the human brain and the most common neurotransmitter in the body . MSG is a popular food additive due to stimulating savory taste receptors and giving food a “meatier” flavor [2, 3]. From a purely chemical standpoint, MSG is simply degraded into sodium and glutamate during the digestive process.
The MSG food fears were born from a 1968 article in which a US doctor described “Chinese-restaurant syndrome” — numbness and weakness caused by cooking wine, the high sodium content of the foods, or the added MSG seasoning, all just speculative guesses . Sensationalism grew when animal research showed brain damage from unrealistically high doses of MSG being fed to mice or MSG being directly injected into the brains of monkeys . It should be noted that glutamate cannot cross the blood-brain barrier . Overall, concerns center around MSG being a neurotoxin, promoting obesity, and causing allergies .
Although there is currently zero evidence that MSG causes neurological damage in humans, it may cause headaches in some people . However, the best-controlled human studies that successfully blind participants and administer MSG as a seasoning on food rather than as an isolated addition to drinking water show no relationship. Another concern revolves around MSG disrupting hypothalamic signaling, promoting overeating, and causing obesity. However, interventions adding MSG to the diet of humans show no effect on food intake or body weight, and the hypothesis of hypothalamic disruption comes from a faulty premise where MSG is injected into the brains of animals .
However, there are concerns over MSG allergies. While the effects are rare, some people may react with hives [10, 11, 12 ] and allergic rhinitis [ 12,13 ]. While some people may also react with asthma, the only controlled trials have reported no difference between a MSG challenge and placebo . In people who believe themselves to react adversely to MSG, they may experience symptoms above and beyond the nocebo effect only when MSG is given in large doses without food .
On the flip-side of these controversies, MSG may help people reduce sodium intake without negatively impacting the taste of a foods like soups, stocks, seasonings, noodles, meat, and nuts [16, 17] . Additionally, although MSG doesn’t promote overeating in general, there may be a small appetite-enhancing effect [18, 19] in older adults who would benefit from eating more due to anorexia of aging. However, not all studies support this. [20, 21].
Consideration for Monosodium Glutamate MSG in Paleo and KETO Certified Programs
• MSG is the salt of sodium and glutamate
• It is a relatively safe food additive
• May have benefits for individuals on a low-sodium diet
• May have benefits for aging adults
• MSG can be converted to glucose, but MSG is not consumed in quantities for this effect to be significant.
• Provides zero calories and does not interfere with ketogenesis or hyperketonemia
Verdict on monosodium glutamate (MSG)
While it is clear that MSG may not actually warrant the hysteria it has received, it is unlikely that the food additive will be approved for the Certified Paleo or KETO Certified programs due to its overwhelmingly negative reputation. Thus, adding it to the programs may cause backlash from the community which may reduce the benefit of these certifications to the brand.
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