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What Is Glutamate? Everything You Need to Know

What Is Glutamate?
Everything You Need to Know
By Barbara Ross

TP 201910 Nutrition 08One of the most commonly heard, although widely confused terms in the world of nutrition and health is glutamate. A more familiar version of the same would probably be Monosodium Glutamate or MSG. Controversies suggest that MSG is addictive and harmful to human health in the long run. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says otherwise.

 

Since glutamate is something that we all consume pretty much on a daily basis, it is the best to clear the air and examine the truth behind all speculations.

 

So here鈥檚 the low down on everything you need to know about glutamate.

 

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TP 201910 Nutrition 05What is glutamate?

 

Glutamate is essentially an amino acid that is found in all protein-rich foods. To be more specific it is the salt of the amino acid glutamic acid. As we all know, amino acids are like the building blocks of proteins and glutamate particularly is one of the most abundant components in proteins. For the same reason, it is naturally found in all protein-rich foods, such as milk, mushrooms, fish, meat, cheese and some vegetables.

 

Interestingly, glutamate in its natural form is also produced by the human body and it plays an important role in the metabolism and brain functioning, where it acts as a neurotransmitter.

 

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TP 201910 Nutrition 02What does glutamate do?

 

Glutamate performs several important functions in the human body. It is a natural flavour enhancer and is also a neurotransmitter. It is particularly rich in foods, such as tomatoes and mushrooms and it helps regulate metabolism.

 

Being a neurotransmitter, glutamate is very important for normal brain function. In technical terms, it is an excitatory neurotransmitter, which means that it triggers a high chance for a nerve cell to initiate an action and also plays a vital role in memory and learning ability, as well.

 

The main function of glutamate as a neurotransmitter is to transmit information important for brain development and functioning. It should ideally be present in the right amounts in the right concentrations on the right brain parts for proper functioning.

 

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TP 201910 Nutrition 03Glutamate consumption

 

As mentioned before, glutamate is naturally abundantly found in foods that are high in protein, such as meat, eggs, milk, cheese and some vegetables.

 

It is also commonly consumed in the form of MSG or Monosodium Glutamate, which is a flavouring agent often added to food to simply enhance the taste.

TP 201910 Nutrition 09Monosodium glutamate and glutamate

 

MSG is nothing, but the sodium salt of glutamate. Its components include water, sodium and glutamate. Just like natural glutamate found in foods, MSG helps enhance the natural best flavours in foods and is said to bring out a fifth taste known as 鈥渦mami鈥 in Japanese. This particular taste is often described as salty and savoury, which makes regular food a lot tastier and appealing.

 

MSG is made by extracting natural glutamate from protein-rich foods like seaweed. Nowadays, starch, corn sugar etc. are also used for extraction. A natural fermentation process is then followed to produce the consumable flavouring agent.

 

Hence, MSG is nothing, but a more concentrated and independently consumable version of natural glutamate. Both types are tolerated the same way by the human body; no differentiation is made between the two in any way.

 

It should be noted that glutamate by itself doesn鈥檛 necessarily improve the taste of badly cooked food or bad food in general. It simply compliments the best flavours in good food.

 

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TP 201910 Nutrition 04Is MSG safe for consumption?

 

As opposed to a lot of controversies, MSG is technically not identified as an allergen or a harmful ingredient of any sort. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not found any evidence that supports the probability of any long-term health issues from consuming MSG.

 

However, just like how some people may be sensitive to certain food types or ingredients like peanuts, MSG may also be prone to rare sensitivities.

 

Other than that, MSG is completely safe for consumption and is in fact widely used in a number of packaged food items like potato chips.

 

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