Monosodium glutamate, known by the acronym MSG, is a savory flavor enhancer — but its reputation over the years has been rather, well, unsavory.
Many people especially avoid MSG in Chinese takeout and other foods with the belief that it can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, or even cancer. (FYI: Chinese food has gotten a bad rap. It may be the most well-known food to often contain added MSG, but it’s hardly unique — nor does it always have MSG.)
During pregnancy, you may be especially concerned about consuming MSG. But we’re here to set the record straight: For the vast majority of people, MSG is safe to consume, both during pregnancy and at other times.
Here’s what you need to know about this flavorful food compound and your 9 months of pregnancy.
Although you may associate it with a steaming platter of moo goo gai pan, MSG isn’t unique to Asian restaurant dining. It occurs naturally in a number of common, straight-from-nature foods, such as walnuts and tomatoes.
That’s because monosodium glutamate is simply a combination of sodium (salt) and the amino acid glutamate.
In addition to its natural presence in many foods, MSG is manufactured as a solo ingredient. You can find it for purchase in the United States under the brand names Ac’cent, Sazón, or Ajinomoto. (Some brands also sell MSG flavoring with generic names like “umami seasoning” or “umami powder.”)
On ingredient labels, MSG may be a bit trickier to identify. Monosodium salt, sodium glutamate, monosodium glutamate monohydrate, and “flavor enhancer E621” are a few of the alternate names for this ingredient.
For that reason, the FDA hasn’t set an upper limit for MSG intake for the general population — or for pregnancy.
However, in real-world situations, you probably won’t be eating MSG in large doses right from the bottle (no matter how extreme your pregnancy cravings get!).
In fact, when an
There’s limited research on MSG’s safety during pregnancy, specifically. Still, sticking to normal portions of foods with MSG is unlikely to present a problem during pregnancy if it’s never been an issue for you before.
Even though studies haven’t linked MSG to unpleasant side effects for the majority of people, food allergies and sensitivities are a real phenomenon. It’s possible to have an allergy or sensitivity to any food or ingredient — including monosodium glutamate.
If you’ve had adverse reactions to foods with high MSG prior to pregnancy, keep avoiding them while you’re expecting (because the last thing you need is more nausea, headaches, or fatigue right now).
Some foods high in MSG, like canned soups or salty snacks, may also be high in sodium. During pregnancy, it’s smart to keep your sodium at or under the recommended target of
(Sodium recommendations don’t change specifically for pregnancy, but your doctor may suggest different limits if you have complications, like gestational hypertension.)
MSG exists both as a natural compound in foods and as an additive. Here’s where you’ll find it.
MSG occurs naturally in:
- aged cheeses, like parmesan and cheddar
- sardines and anchovies
- cured ham
MSG may be added to:
- Chinese and other Asian dishes
- canned soups
- salty, savory snacks like chips or snack mixes
- frozen meals
- fast foods
- seasoning blends
During pregnancy, eating right-sized portions of foods with MSG isn’t likely to land you with a slew of unpleasant symptoms — and it won’t harm your growing baby, either.
You can feel free to enjoy umami-flavored veggies, nuts, broths (and, yes, even the occasional Chinese takeout) without concern.