Is MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) Paleo or Keto Friendly?

Is MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) Paleo or Keto Friendly?

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 [1]. 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 [4]. 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 [5]. It should be noted that glutamate cannot cross the blood-brain barrier [6]. Overall, concerns center around MSG being a neurotoxin, promoting obesity, and causing allergies [7].

Although there is currently zero evidence that MSG causes neurological damage in humans, it may cause headaches in some people [8]. 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 [9].

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 [14]. 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 [15].

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

Certified Paleo
•  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


KETO Certified 
•  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.



1. Tapiero, H., Mathé, G., Couvreur, P., & Tew, K. . (2002). II. Glutamine and glutamate. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 56(9), 446–457. doi:10.1016/s0753-3322(02)00285-8

2. Yeomans, M. R., Gould, N. J., Mobini, S., & Prescott, J. (2008). Acquired flavor acceptance and intake facilitated by monosodium glutamate in humans. Physiology & Behavior, 93(4-5), 958–966. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.12.009

3. Luscombe-Marsh, N. D., Smeets, A. J. P. G., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2008). Taste sensitivity for monosodium glutamate and an increased liking of dietary protein. British Journal of Nutrition, 99(04). doi:10.1017/s000711450788295x

4. Chinese-Restaurant Syndrome. (1968). New England Journal of Medicine, 278(14), 796–796. doi:10.1056/nejm196804042781419

5. Olney, J. W., & Ho, O.-L. (1970). Brain Damage in Infant Mice following Oral Intake of Glutamate, Aspartate or Cysteine. Nature, 227(5258), 609–611. doi:10.1038/227609b0

6. Hawkins, R. A. (2009). The blood-brain barrier and glutamate. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(3), 867S–874S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27462bb

7. Niaz K, Zaplatic E, Spoor J. (2018) Guest editorial: Extensive use of monosodium glutamate: a threat to public health? EXCLI J. 17:964. DOI: 10.17179/excli2018-1092

8. Obayashi, Y., & Nagamura, Y. (2016). Does monosodium glutamate really cause headache? : a systematic review of human studies. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 17(1). doi:10.1186/s10194-016-0639-4

9. Brosnan, J. T., Drewnowski, A., & Friedman, M. I. (2014). Is there a relationship between dietary MSG obesity in animals or humans? Amino Acids, 46(9), 2075–2087. doi:10.1007/s00726-014-1771-6

10. Genton, C., Frei, P., & Pecoud, A. (1985). Value of oral provocation tests to aspirin and food additives in the routine investigation of asthma and chronic urticaria. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 76(1), 40–45. doi:10.1016/0091-6749(85)90802-4

11. Supramaniam, G., & Warner, J. O. (1986). ARTIFICIAL FOOD ADDITIVE INTOLERANCE IN PATIENTS WITH ANGIO-OEDEMA AND URTICARIA. The Lancet, 328(8512), 907–909. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(86)90423-x

12.Simon, R. A. (2000). Additive-Induced Urticaria: Experience with Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). The Journal of Nutrition, 130(4), 1063S–1066S. doi:10.1093/jn/130.4.1063s

13. Asero, R., & Bottazzi, G. (2007). Chronic Rhinitis with Nasal Polyposis Associated with Sodium Glutamate Intolerance. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, 144(2), 159–161. doi:10.1159/000103229

14. Zhou, Y., Yang, M., & Dong, B. R. (2012). Monosodium glutamate avoidance for chronic asthma in adults and children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd004357.pub4

15. Geha, R. S., Beiser, A., Ren, C., Patterson, R., Greenberger, P. A., Grammer, L. C., … Saxon, A. (2000). Review of Alleged Reaction to Monosodium Glutamate and Outcome of a Multicenter Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study. The Journal of Nutrition, 130(4), 1058S–1062S. doi:10.1093/jn/130.4.1058s

16. Jinap, S., Hajeb, P., Karim, R., Norliana, S., Yibadatihan, S., & Abdul-Kadir, R. (2016). Reduction of sodium content in spicy soups using monosodium glutamate. Food & Nutrition Research, 60(1), 30463. doi:10.3402/fnr.v60.30463

17. Maluly, H. D. B., Arisseto-Bragotto, A. P., & Reyes, F. G. R. (2017). Monosodium glutamate as a tool to reduce sodium in foodstuffs: Technological and safety aspects. Food Science & Nutrition, 5(6), 1039–1048. doi:10.1002/fsn3.499

18. Bellisle, F., Monneuse, M. O., Chabert, M., Larue-Achagiotis, C., Lanteaume, M. T., & Louis-Sylvestre, J. (1991). Monosodium glutamate as a palatability enhancer in the european diet. Physiology & Behavior, 49(5), 869–873. doi:10.1016/0031-9384(91)90196-u

19. Mathey, M.-F. A. M., Siebelink, E., de Graaf, C., & Van Staveren, W. A. (2001). Flavor Enhancement of Food Improves Dietary Intake and Nutritional Status of Elderly Nursing Home Residents. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 56(4), M200–M205. doi:10.1093/gerona/56.4.m200

20. Essed, N. H., van Staveren, W. A., Kok, F. J., & de Graaf, C. (2007). No effect of 16 weeks flavor enhancement on dietary intake and nutritional status of nursing home elderly. Appetite, 48(1), 29–36. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2006.06.002

21. Toyama, K., Tomoe, M., Inoue, Y., Sanbe, A., & Yamamoto, S. (2008). A Possible Application of Monosodium Glutamate to Nutritional Care for Elderly People. Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 31(10), 1852–1854. doi:10.1248/bpb.31.1852



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