August 16, 2008
MSG Spice Causes Obesity?

People fighting the battle of the bulge need every advantage they can use. Here's an easy one: Cut out the spice monosodium glutamate. People in rural Chinese villages who put MSG on their food weigh more than those in the same villages who do not use MSG.

CHAPEL HILL People who use monosodium glutamate, or MSG, as a flavor enhancer in their food are more likely than people who don't use it to be overweight or obese even though they have the same amount of physical activity and total calorie intake, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health study published this month in the journal Obesity.

Researchers at UNC and in China studied more than 750 Chinese men and women, aged between 40 and 59, in three rural villages in north and south China. The majority of study participants prepared their meals at home without commercially processed foods. About 82 percent of the participants used MSG in their food. Those users were divided into three groups, based on the amount of MSG they used. The third who used the most MSG were nearly three times more likely to be overweight than non-users.

"Animal studies have indicated for years that MSG might be associated with weight gain," said Ka He, M.D., assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health. "Ours is the first study to show a link between MSG use and weight in humans."

Because MSG is used as a flavor enhancer in many processed foods, studying its potential effect on humans has been difficult. He and his colleagues chose study participants living in rural Chinese villages because they used very little commercially processed food, but many regularly used MSG in food preparation.

"We found that prevalence of overweight was significantly higher in MSG users than in non-users," He said. "We saw this risk even when we controlled for physical activity, total calorie intake and other possible explanations for the difference in body mass. The positive associations between MSG intake and overweight were consistent with data from animal studies."

My guess is that those animal studies were controlled interventional studies. Anyone know?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 August 16 08:21 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies

Anonymous said at August 17, 2008 8:31 PM:

Could just be that MSG makes food taste good.

Everyone thinks I'm such a good cook, but the real reason everyone loves everything I make is because I dump MSG in.

Bob Badour said at August 19, 2008 5:47 PM:


A nit to pick: MSG is not a spice. It has no flavor of its own, and it has no chemical effect on the food. It is a drug. It alters perception to cause cravings for accompanying flavors.

The result that it increases weight gain is a "No shit Sherlocke" result. It's a drug that causes food cravings. Of course, it causes weight gain.

Dr. Joe said at August 21, 2008 7:00 AM:

This study is an example of sensationalistic bad science. Seems that the authors had a bias against MSG from the start that they wanted to validate through selective analysis of data.

Anonymous said at August 30, 2008 10:30 PM:

MSG does so have a flavor of its own. Some people can't taste it so they just say it doesn't have a flavor at all, still others pick up on that and use it to promote this dumbass "They're putting chemicals in our food!" conspiracy.

The flavor is somewhere between soy sauce and beef.

Then again, since glutamates (umami) are a factor in the flavors of both soy sauce and beef, then possibly it's a flavor sensation that people who don't have it can't even grasp.w

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