What is MSG monosodium glutamate?

When you get a new type of Chinese takeout for dinner, you might notice a common taste between that and the different Chinese takeout you had last time, even if you got a different dish. This is no coincidence, as you probably taste a compound called monosodium glutamate. Monosodium glutamate, more commonly called MSG, can be found in many foods as a flavor enhancer commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups, and processed meats. Chinese food is a classic example, but it can also be found in sausage, salty chips, lunchmeats, Asian-inspired sauces, and chicken products. It has been deemed safe by the FDA, but many people experience negative symptoms when they eat too much. In fact, some people are allergic to it and experience more serious symptoms such as chest pain and swelling. Many people are skeptical about how safe the compound really is since it can have some negative side effects not usually associated with food. While you might feel fine consuming MSG in your daily life, you’ll probably wonder if it’s safe during your pregnancy.

MSG is generally considered "safe"

The Food and Drug Administration or FDA states that MSG is "generally recognized as safe" The FDA has received reports of people complaining of headaches, dizziness, and nausea after eating foods that contain it but the FDA says that scientists have not been able to consistently trigger reactions. Although these side effects aren't made worse by pregnancy, they can be especially unpleasant when you are already dealing with other pregnancy side effects. For that reason, although it is supposedly considered safe for pregnant women by the FDA, it is best to avoid foods with MSG if you've had an adverse reaction.

Is MSG safe in pregnancy?

We could not find reliable studies showing negative side effects on fetal development associated with the consumption of MSG.  That does not necessarily mean that MSG is safe, there are just no studies we found showing it's safe. However, if you have migraines during your pregnancy, you should consider cutting back on MSG. Along with nitrates and aspartame, MSG has been associated with increased migraines in pregnant women. Additionally, you should be careful not to gain excess weight during your pregnancy. Foods with a lot of MSG tend to be unhealthy, so if you’re consuming a lot of MSG, it’s not likely you are following a healthy pregnancy diet. 

If you’ve never had a negative reaction to MSG in your life, there is no guarantee you won’t be more affected by it during gestation. Many changes occur in your body when you’re pregnant, so you could be especially sensitive. Even if you don’t feel directly affected by it, consider cutting back if you’re getting a lot of migraines. As far as fetal development goes, MSG has been tested and shows no negative side effects. As long as you watch your weight, you can continue to eat your favorite junk food during your pregnancy without worrying about what might be in the ingredients. Your hungry belly will appreciate some hearty Lo Mein, and your partner will appreciate the lack of dishes at the end of the meal.

Recommendations: Stay away if you can

Depending on whom you ask, MSG is either perfectly safe or a dangerous neurotoxin, with the truth probably closer to being safe. It is safe in moderate amounts, but like many other safe ingredients, large doses may cause harm. You should avoid MSG, especially if you believe that you have adverse reactions. Keep in mind that MSG is generally found in processed, low-quality foods — which you should avoid or limit anyway, and if you already eat a balanced diet with plenty of healthy foods then you shouldn’t have to worry about high MSG intake.