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Food scientist, dietician differ on safety of MSG-containing seasonings

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Amarachi Okeh

A food scientist and a dietician have expressed different views on the safety of food seasonings containing monosodium glutamate, commonly known as MSG.

Speaking with PUNCH Healthwise in separate interviews, Deputy Director, Food Technology Department and Head, Food Product Development Division, Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi, Lagos, Dr. Mrs. Funmi Oladunmoye, said MSG seasoning poses no health risk.

However, an Assistant Chief Dietician at Ajeromi General Hospital, Olusola Malomo, warned that MSG must be used in moderation, noting that it has been linked to diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

According to Oladunmoye, MSG is a flavour enhancer and just like others, has no side-effect whatsoever on the body.

“Monosodium glutamate, MSG, is a flavour enhancer and is safe for human consumption,” the deputy director said.

She, however, added that MSG should be consumed in moderation.

According to the FDA, MSG is the sodium salt of the glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is naturally present in our bodies, and in many foods and food additives.

The FDA also said MSG occurs naturally in many foods, such as tomatoes and cheese, noting that it is has been classified as generally safe by the agency.

Oladunmoye added that “people need to know that MSG is very safe for consumption, with no detrimental effect to human health, if used in moderation.”

She dispelled rumours that say MSG causes fibroid, noting also that it does not have any negative effect on weight loss.

However, speaking with PUNCH Healthwise, Olusola Malomo, said the use of MSG remains controversial.

Malomo said that besides its enhancing flavour effect, MSG has been linked with obesity, metabolic disorders, neurotoxic effects, adding that it also has detrimental effects on the reproductive organ.

Citing a study done in rats, the dietician said MSG increases the level of total protein, cholesterol and oestrogen which leads to increased proliferation of fibroid cells.

He, however, noted that MSG can be used in controlled quantities and is also found in fermented local condiments like iru, ogiri and daddawa.

Also airing her view, Nancy Umeh, a scientist and chef in a video she shared on Instagram, said that glutamate is a non-essential amino acid that is important for metabolism.

She also pointed out that all research done regarding MSG has been on rats where they are injected with quantities of MSG which she said no human can consume.

According to Umeh, the process of MSG production for public consumption is through the industrial fermentation of natural foods with certain strains of bacteria to which sodium is added to make it stable.

She explained that MSG is produced the same way insulin and vitamin C are produced.

According to Umeh, MSG got its negative reputation when a doctor sent a message to the New England Journal of Medicine claiming that he started having headaches and palpitations after eating food containing the seasoning.

“Almost 40 years later, there has still not been found a study that can prove any of his claims,” she said.

She noted that people trying to stay off MSG now add too much sea salt to their meals.

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