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MSG & Umami – Are They The Same Thing?

compliments of Organic Lifestyle Magazine
compliments of Organic Lifestyle Magazine

MSG (also known as monosodium glutamate or additive code number 621) is used by the food industry to enhance flavour. MSG is a synthetic reproduction of natural glutamate.

‘Umami’ is the term used to describe a taste similar to that which MSG provides, and is used to describe the taste of many foods including tomatoes, mushrooms and seaweeds.  Umami is distinctly different from sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, it makes the mouth salivate and leaves an aftertaste that many find pleasant but difficult to describe.  Professor Ikeda found that the amino acid, glutamate is largely responsible for this flavour.

While MSG and Umami may be chemically similar, there is an important distinction between them that significantly affects the way each reacts in our bodies.  Umami flavour, or natural glutamic acid (glutamate), found in natural foods, is “bound” to other amino acids or proteins.  MSG is not bound.

glutamate
Credits: Science & Food

As free (unbound) glutamate, it is added to foods to enhance flavour and mimic natural umami taste. Like most synthetic isolates, MSG has its fair share of problems. It has been linked to inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and the destruction of liver tissue.

Research has found that glutamate is the most abundant amino acid in breast milk, making up more than 50% of the amino acids in breast milk, so umami is often the first flavour a newborn infant encounters. The naturally high concentrations of glutamate (Umami) in breast milk support newborn gut tissue.

Glutamate is an energy source for cells that make up the lining of the gut. Studies show that glutamate drives our digestion, sending signals to the stomach, small intestine, and liver. Besides its role in digestive health, glutamate is also an excitatory brain chemical. It plays an essential role in learning and memory. The body uses glutamate to produce another brain chemical called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is a calming and inhibitory brain chemical in the adult brain.

Shortly after his discovery of umami in 1908, Professor Ikeda patented glutamate salt, or monosodium glutamate (MSG), and it has been produced commercially ever since. Some nutrition “experts” may claim that umami and MSG are one and the same, but this is not technically correct.

MSG mimics natural glutamate’s ability to initiate certain processes in our bodies. Glutamate’s role in brain development and brain health points to why MSG (synthetic glutamate salt) has such a bad reputation.

msg umamiIn his book Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills”, Dr. Russell Blaylock, a retired board-certified neurosurgeon, explains that MSG overexcites the cells in the body to the point of damage or death. The body’s inability to utilise glutamate properly has been linked to serious disorders and potentially even triggering/worsening learning disabilities,  Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and more.

Sources:

Body Ecology and MSG
Mercola about MSG
MSG and its many aliases
Intestinal glutamate metabolism
Amino-acid composition of human milk
free glutamate in gastrointestinal function
free glutamate & gut-brain axis
free glutamate & food digestion
Cooking with MSG, worth it?

Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific & individual needs & requirements.

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