Study finds controversial MSG makes food healthier and tastier

Monosodium glutamate, a food additive most commonly known as MSG, has been a controversial ingredient for decades, with some claiming an allergy to it that results in headaches or other issues — something that may be, in fact, simply a sensitivity to the additive when consumed in high doses. Regardless, the ingredient is still commonly used in many food products and that may be a good thing, according to a new study.

Most varieties of pre-packaged and take-out food contain MSG as an additive, including Chinese food, many soups, flavored chips and dips, and similar products. Though it has become popular to market products as MSG-free, that may not be a good thing for many people — at least according to a study recently published in the Journal of Food Science.

The findings were two-fold: on one hand, the researchers found that participants reported foods made with MSG to be tastier; on the other hand, these foods received favorable reports from participants even after considerably reducing the amount of salt they contained. This isn't surprising considering that MSG is used as a flavor enhancer, adding a savory umami undertone to dishes.

The benefit here is quite obvious — consuming too much sodium is a known health risk factor, potentially impacting everything from blood pressure to dementia risk, and reducing the amount of salt consumed improves how healthy the meal is. By using MSG, the study found that salt levels could be reduced by 31- to 61-percent without compromising flavor.

Researchers compared this indirect benefit as being similar to replacing butter with olive oil, offering a healthier substitution that doesn't require settling for less flavor. Monosodium glutamate ultimately has only 1/3rd the amount of sodium as table salt, but with the benefit of a tasty flavor.