Some samples of noodles in India showed elevated levels of lead, and the presence of monosodium glutamate although they were labeled as “no added MSG.”
Elevated levels of lead are a safety concern because lead above the permissible amount induces toxic effects, while the presence of MSG is a labeling matter because the product indicates “no added MSG.” These two issues are completely separate even though many media reports have not made the distinction clear.
MSG, that is one type of glutamate, is an abundant and naturally occurring ingredient in many foods such as cheeses and tomatoes. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Chemical Society, the glutamate in MSG is chemically indistinguishable from glutamate present in food. Thus, there are no chemical tests that can differentiate the source of glutamate because all glutamates are equal. Our bodies ultimately metabolize both sources of glutamate in the same way.
Many regulators and experts around the world including the U.S. FDA and the joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) have concluded based on extensive studies that the addition of MSG in foods as seasoning is safe for the general population. According to these data, JECFA assessed that it was not necessary to specify for MSG an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), the estimated amount of a food additive that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without appreciable health risk. The safety of MSG has been also supported by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). FASEB concluded after a comprehensive review of monosodium glutamate scientific literature that there is no difference between the naturally occurring free glutamate found in mushrooms, cheese and tomatoes and the manufactured free glutamate found in MSG, hydrolyzed proteins and soy sauce.
For more information:
- Nestle June 6, 2015 press release
- Q&A about MSG by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Glutamate as a natural part of foods
- Also of interest is this article in the Hindustan Times: “Taking down the momo monster, one myth at a time“