Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) is a food additive used to enhance flavor, particularly in savory Asian dishes. While researchers remain split on whether MSG is one more factor contributing to obesity, a study from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (one of the universities connected to the North Carolina Research Campus) suggests there may indeed be a link.

The study published in Obesity examined MSG intake over 4 days among 368 Chinese women and 384 men, ages 40-59. MSG intake was then assessed against the subjects’ weight as measured by the Body Mass Index (BMI). Even when numerous variables (e.g., exercise, calorie intake) were controlled, the trend analysis found that those who consumed the most MSG were 70% more likely to be overweight (with a BMI of 25 or greater).

Why might this be? Some researchers believe that the glutamate molecule blocks an area of the brain which regulates the secretion of leptin, thus potentially messing with satiety signals. While this theory remains controversial, there’s no doubt that keeping food as real as possible — fruit, veggies, beans, nuts and lean protein in their least processed form — will maximize nutrition and minimize calories. Also, keep in mind that MSG is a type of salt — which in excess may raise hypertensive risk. Indeed, the American Dietetic Association suggests that reducing salt intake by a mere 15% could save 9 million lives a year.

Published January 1, 2012