Can MSG Make You Fat?
Remember MSG -- that ubiquitous flavor-enhancer that gives Kung Pao chicken its punch? Well, new research suggests that it may be playing a role in the obesity epidemic. And not just because Americans are ordering too much Chinese take-out.
Although some people have bad reactions to MSG--monosodium glutamate--it's generally considered safe. But the additive shows up in a lot foods beyond what's in those little white cartons from your local order-out joint. And some animal studies have suggested that MSG may promote weight gain.
So an international team of researchers decided to try to gather some evidence from people. They studied 750 middle-aged peasants in three rural villages in China, where most people prepare their own food at home, making it possible to tease out any possible effects of MSG. It's the first study to examine MSG and weight in humans.
When the researchers compared those who used the most MSG to those whose who used none they found the heavy MSG users were nearly three times as likely as the non-users to be overweight. That's after the researchers took into account differences in physical activity and total caloric intake.
Ka He, an assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, led the research published in this month's issue of the journal Obesity. He says it remains unclear how MSG might promote weight gain. But animal studies suggest that MSG might affect the hormones leptin and adipsin, which help regulate weight. Even though the new study involved only Chinese, He says there's no reason to think MSG would affect other ethnicities any differently.
He cautions that more research is needed to establish whether there really is a cause-and-effect relationship between MSG and weight, but notes that the amount of MSG being used around the world has been increasing.
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