Glutamate is an amino acid and is also the primary component of the well-known food additive MSG, or monosodium glutamate. Restaurants, especially Chinese restaurants, often display signs stating that there is no MSG in their food. The Food and Drug Association, FDA, requires that companies list MSG on their food labels, but whether glutamate or MSG pose significant health risks is unknown.
MSG is a food additive that is made by fermenting sugar beets, sugar cane or corn, which results in a white crystal substance that people can easily blend into food. Fermentation is a method of processing food that involves a chemical breakdown, typically using yeast or bacteria, just as grapes ferment to become wine.
Eating glutamate may cause possible reactions, typically mild and not lasting long. These may include sweating, headaches, facial tightness, flushed skin, nausea, heart palpitations, chest pain and weakness. The FDA receives many reports of adverse reactions to MSG consumption, but no direct link has been found between glutamate and these problems. Yet, researchers acknowledge that a small percentage of people do, indeed, suffer from these reactions, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Children and adults increase their risk of becoming obese through glutamate consumption, says Dr. Russell Blaylock, in an CBN News article, "The Hidden Danger in Your Food." Dr. Blaylock studies flavor enhancers like glutamate. Dr. Blaylock warns that adults are five times as sensitive to glutamate as mice and research has shown a link between obesity in mice and glutamate. Children are 20 times as sensitive as mice, so even though the amount humans consume may not be equal to that consumed by the mice who became obese, the increased sensitivity puts people at risk, as well. Glutamate also remains in the blood of humans longer than in other animals. Another possible contributor to obesity in animals that correlates to glutamate consumption is that when animals are exposed to glutamate when young, they tend to prefer sweeter foods and avoid healthier choices.
MSG as an additive has been used as a flavor enhancer in foods for decades and it is in more foods than people think. Some fast food restaurants use MSG, but so do some more expensive restaurants. And it is not just restaurants. School cafeterias and grocery stores have MSG foods in them, too. Even infant formulas may use MSG, according to CBN News. Some foods have glutamate naturally. Protein rich foods such as meats, dairy and vegetables have glutamate naturally. Tomatoes and mushrooms are other foods that contain glutamate and are commonly used for flavoring.