Everything You Know About MSG Is Wrong — Or Is It?

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at the checkered past of MSG. A lot of people hold strong opinions about its harmfulness, for good reason. The substance goes by many aliases, appears in almost every processed food product, and is virtually inescapable.

Some curious citizens have noticed that science readily accepts the idea that the inner workings of lab rats and mice are pretty much like those of humans. We are regularly asked to accept that animal experiments are relevant to human experience.

Also, we are told that MSG has been used for decades to create obese lab rodents for researchers in need of such a commodity. Here is where a cognitive dissonance problem comes in. The brain’s logic cells put up a red flag. If this stuff is used to make fat rats, how is it not making people fat too? Consequently, MSG looks a lot like something to avoid.

Easier said than done

How many people are able to shop meticulously and cook everything from scratch, day after day after day? Could it even be possible to never eat anywhere but home? To not go to summer camp or join the military? To always refuse invitations from family and friends, to never buy lemon squares at a church bake sale? Imagine trying to maintain those standards with kids. Maybe a few intentional communities can eat clean, but that would be a tiny sliver of the population. So the debate over the effects of this food additive seems rather urgent.

What is MSG?

MSG, the “crystallized manifestation” of umami, was discovered in 1907. It is glutamic acid, which as glutamate can be extracted from seaweed and processed into crystals. When the company started to market it, the first demographic they went after were the Buddhists of China, because MSG improved the flavor of vegetarian meals without adding meat. By the 1950s, American manufacturers were putting it in everything including baby food.

But by the late 1960s, people had grown suspicious of a lot of aspects of society, and this was one of them. MSG started to receive considerable bad press that its champions would like to dismiss as undeserved. There were alarmist and inflammatory headlines.

In defense of MSG, lone warriors like religious scholar and journalist Alan Levinovitz pushed back. He says people don’t know what really affects their health and causes them to feel bad, so they ignorantly demonize certain foods, and, in particular, food additives. Their own lack of unawareness leads them to focus on the blameless MSG.

Levinovitz likens MSG critics to cult members, and cannot understand why they have picked that hill to die on. He speaks of double-blind studies which prove that MSG sensitivity is a psychological phenomenon, saying,

Strong belief can also render a harmless substance poisonous, which is exactly what happened with MSG. Scientists refer to this as the nocebo effect, and it means that careful studies are necessary to distinguish between poisons and poisonous beliefs.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How MSG Got A Bad Rap: Flawed Science And Xenophobia,” FiveThirtyEight.com, 01/08/16
Source: “Food Psych #94: How to Leave the Religion of Dieting with Alan Levinovitz,” ChristyHarrison.com, March 5, 2017
Source: “Hold the MSG,” Slate.com, 07/09/13
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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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