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Recently I read an article about MSG (monosodium glutamate). It claimed that MSG causes weight gain based on a study done by university of Carolina. Is this true?
This is a great question.
There have been animal models showing that MSG has an effect on the hormones that influence weight gain (Phys & Beh 95;2008:135-144). A group of researchers at North Carolina did indeed look at whether such changes might be linked to weight gain in humans (Obesity 2008; 16(8):1875-1880).
They looked at 752 middle aged Chinese because they are regular users of MSG, adding it during cooking. This was a random sample from rural villages who prepared their meals at home and did not use many processed foods. 82% of the group used MSG regularly.
They did find that there was an association with higher BMI in those consuming the highest amounts of MSG. They set the cutoff for being overweight at a BMI of 23 because of both smaller body frames and higher body fat percentage in Asian cultures. The average BMI of the MSG non-users was 22.3 while 30% of those eating the most was over 25.
This is a pretty well designed study that does indicate a role for MSG in weight gain and is very concerning.
Thanks for writing,
Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS