MSG - monosodium glutamate - has a bad rap.
For years, we’ve been told MSG (the sodium salt of glutamic acid) - often associated with cheap Chinese takeaways - is awful for our health and to be avoided at all costs.
But one scientist argues it should be used as a “supersalt” and encourages adding it to food.
Steve Witherly is a food scientist who creates his own 'supersalt mix' consisting of nine parts salt, one part MSG, and a bit of disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate.
“I like to encourage my kids to eat a little healthier, so I'll sprinkle a little supersalt in there. That stuff is really powerful,” he told Business Insider.
“For example, I had a whole-wheat pizza - and my kids hate whole-wheat - so I put a little supersalt in the tomato sauce, and they sucked that whole thing down.
“Broccoli is tremendous if you add butter, garlic, and supersalt,” he claims, adding that most savoury dishes and meat are enhanced by the salt mix.
According to Witherly, MSG is perfectly safe. It’s a bold claim, but could he be right?
The worst jobs for your health
The worst jobs for your health
1/10 10. Surgical and medical assistants, technologists, and technicians
Overall unhealthiness score: 57.3 What they do: Assist in operations, under the supervision of surgeons, registered nurses, or other surgical personnel and perform medical laboratory tests. Top three health risks: 1. Exposure to disease and infections: 88 2. Exposure to contaminants: 80 3. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 69
2/10 9. Stationary engineers and boiler operators
Overall unhealthiness score: 57.7 What they do: Operate or maintain stationary engines, boilers, or other mechanical equipment to provide utilities for buildings or industrial processes. Top three health risks: 1. Exposure to contaminants: 99 2. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 89 3. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 84
3/10 8. Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators
Overall unhealthiness score: 58.2 What they do: Operate or control an entire process or system of machines, often through the use of control boards, to transfer or treat water or wastewater. Top three health risks: 1. Exposure to contaminants: 97 2. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 80 3. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 74
4/10 7. Histotechnologists and histologic technicians
Overall unhealthiness score: 59.0 What they do: Prepare histologic slides from tissue sections for microscopic examination and diagnosis by pathologists. Top three health risks: 1. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 88 2. Exposure to contaminants: 76 3. Exposure to disease and infections: 75
5/10 6. Immigration and customs inspectors
Overall unhealthiness score: 59.3 What they do: Investigate and inspect people, common carriers, goods, and merchandise, arriving in or departing from the US or between states to detect violations of immigration and customs laws and regulations. Top three health risks: 1. Exposure to contaminants: 78 2. Exposure to disease and infections: 63 3. Exposure to radiation: 62
6/10 5. Podiatrists
Overall unhealthiness score: 60.2 What they do: Diagnose and treat diseases and deformities of the human foot. Top three health risks: 1. Exposure to disease and infections: 87 2. Exposure to radiation: 69 3. Exposure to contaminants: 67
7/10 4. Veterinarians, veterinary assistants, and laboratory animal caretakers and veterinary technologists and technicians
What they do: Diagnose, treat, or research diseases and injuries of animals and perform medical tests in a laboratory environment for use in the treatment and diagnosis of diseases in animals. Top three health risks: 1. Exposure to disease and infections: 81 2. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 75 3. Exposure to contaminants: 74
8/10 3. Anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, and anesthesiologist assistants
Overall unhealthiness score: 62.3 What they do: Administer anesthetics or sedatives during medical procedures, and help patients in recovering from anesthesia. Top three health risks: 1. Exposure to disease and infections: 94 2. Exposure to contaminants: 80 3. Exposure to radiation: 74
9/10 2. Flight attendants
What they do: Provide personal services to ensure the safety, security, and comfort of airline passengers during flight. Greet passengers, verify tickets, explain use of safety equipment, and serve food or beverages. Top three health risks: 1. Exposure to contaminants: 88 2. Exposure to disease and infections: 77 3. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 69
10/10 1. Dentists, dental surgeons, and dental assistants
Overall unhealthiness score: 65.4 What they do: Examine, diagnose, and treat diseases, injuries, and malformations of teeth and gums. May treat diseases of nerve, pulp, and other dental tissues affecting oral hygiene and retention of teeth. May fit dental appliances or provide preventive care. Top three health risks: 1. Exposure to contaminants: 84 2. Exposure to disease and infections: 75 3. Time spent sitting: 67
The negative buzz around MSG first started in 1968 after a report claimed it could lead to headaches, skin flushing, chest pains and numbness.
It was blamed for what became known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” AKA the symptoms people often have after eating Chinese food.
And people are so afraid of MSG that it’s not unusual to see Asian restaurants and foods proudly proclaiming they’re MSG-free in the hope of assuaging the concerns of potential customers.
But now more and more experts are speaking out to say MSG might not be anywhere near as harmful as many people think.
According to the American Chemical Society, “MSG can temporarily affect a select few when consumed in huge quantities on an empty stomach, but it's perfectly safe for the vast majority of people.”
If you eat a lot of MSG - just like if you ate vast quantities of salt - you’d feel sick, but consumed in a reasonable amount, it should be completely safe.
Witherly is a fan because it adds flavour to dishes, specifically enhancing umami, and means his children eat more vegetables as a result.
What’s more, MSG actually occurs naturally in certain foods like tomatoes and cheese, so if you add a sprinkle of supersalt to your pizza like Witherly, you’re having a veritable MSG feast.