Cooks and connoisseurs to nod when I hear that the glutamate in food is not good. He probably even harmful to health. Some scepticism is indeed warranted.

One who makes a soup from a bag, ravioli from a tin or takes a handful of cereal, in most cases with these products consume monosodium glutamate. Glutamate is used as additive in various products to make them taste more appealing. But this substance, decades a matter of controversy. Obesity, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes are some diseases which are discussed in the context of glutamate. By law, any? Or is it excessive anxiety? And why do foods with the addition of glutamate is much tastier? Here are answers to basic questions.

What is glutamate?

Glutamate is an additive used in food products as a flavor enhancer. While glutamate is not an artificial product ever invented. Glutamate occur in nature, is the salt of glutamic acid, one of amino acids. In the vegetable protein contains up to 20% glutamic acid, animal protein — eggs, milk or meat — up to 40%. That is, each contains the protein the product contains, and glutamic acid.

many in eggs, fish, soy, yeast, tomatoes and cheese. For instance, Roquefort cheese contains 1280 mg, cheese — 1200 mg, and soy sauce — 1090 mg per 100 grams. That’s when fermentation of food, in addition to many other substances, is released and glutamate. Salt occurs even when cooking sauerkraut or beer, albeit in small amounts.

Paul Breslin, a specialist in the study of tastes at Rutgers University in new jeRSI, suggests that people began to prefer food that contains glutamate, when there were dishes that use fermented foods with a long shelf life.

Glutamic acid affects the taste buds on the human tongue and causes the so-called sensation “umami” taste, which is perceived as savory or meat and are described as strong, earthy, or elegant. In 1908 the Japanese chemist Ikeda Kikunae put forward the idea of the fifth taste “umami”, trying to figure out the source of spicy flavor of the broth of kombu Dashi. He discovered that glutamate is not only to be successfully sold then meat extract, Justus Liebig, but in this traditional Japanese soup made from seaweed. Both were “umami”, which in Japanese means “pleasant taste”. Only with the opening of the receptor “minds” in the language about 20 years ago the theory icady that “umami” — a separate flavor, was proved conclusively.

what foods are glutamate?

Manufacturers of fast food products for more than 100 years of use glutamate as a flavor enhancer. Salt is produced mainly from molasses with the help of genetically modified bacteria. Consumers recognize these substances under the designations with the letter “E” from E620 to E625. As a flavor enhancer glutamate used in instant foods, soups, sauces, meat, fish and canned vegetables and potato chips, condiments, and salt substitutes.

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Glutamic acid and its salts are permitted in almost all categories of products with a maximum content of 10 g of additives in 1 kg. the Most well-known glutamate — a sodium salt of glutamic acid is monosodium glutamate (E621).

what is it?

the Body itself produces glutamate about 50 g per day. It is contained in muscles, brain, kidneys and liver. This endogenous glutamate — in contrast to exogenous glutamate, which enters the human body with food. In chemical composition they are identical.

inhabitants of Central Europe receives an average of 0.3 to 0.5 g of glutamate per day from fast food, and Asian — as much as 1.5 g. of the foods of natural origin, the Europeans get 1 year free and 20 grams associated with proteins of glutamate. Only free glutamate has a fragrant taste.

In the body, glutamate is degraded only in the small intestine and helps to deliver energy to its cells or involved in the construction of important molecules in the intestine. Only a small part is in the blood. Glutamate is important not only for the gustatory cells on the tongue. In the intestine, and sperm also discovered the receptor “minds”.

The endogenous glutamate also many functions. For example, this is the most common neurotransmitter in the Central nervous system. It allows you to transmit signals between cells and in particular contributes to memory. Too much glutamate in the brain, however, may result frommirani its cells. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis, is associated with increased concentration of glutamate in the brain.

Harmful, especially for children?

in 1968 has any skepticism about this Supplement, after the American doctor Robert Ho man Kwok published in the New England journal of Medicine article “Chinese restaurant Syndrome”. He wrote about himself: after a visit to the Chinese restaurant he was haunted numbness, weakness and palpitations. Fellow doctors diagnosed him with an Allergy to soy sauce. He said that the house also uses during cooking the soy sauce and it transports well.

it Soon became clear that the cause of sickness was added to the dish glutamate. There was a scientific article about the dangers for glutamate. Public pressure became so great that these substances are banned add the mixture to newborns.

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the So-called “glutamate intolerance” became the explanation for all possible non-specific symptoms such as headache, itching, nausea, a feeling of heaviness in the abdomen, joint pain or colic in babies. From a medical point of view, it’s inexplicable. Ian Mosby, a historian at new York University in Toronto, believes that the debate about the syndrome of the Chinese restaurant of the 1960s and 1970s years played a role and racism. Food Chinese migrants were considered “exotic, rare and extremely unusual”.

Skeptical glutamate persists today. In addition to intolerances, it is believed that the additive can cause inflammation, pain syndromes, heart problems, and diseases of the brain and liver. Although emerging suspicions refuted, today the European Agency on food security as a preventive measure is double-checking the research data. In recent times it has become clear that many people use more secure standards to 30 g per 1 kg of body weight per day, primarily due to the large number of fast food products in the diet.

in addition, some new studies have questioned the safety of glutamate. However, in a recent survey — independent, that is, not ordered the interested in promoting glutamate company scientists have come to the conclusion that these controversial studies are often of poor quality. They are based on a very small number of volunteers, often in the absence of control groups, and in some animal experiments the dose was extremely high and was introduced into the blood by injection.

the Role of glutamate in its intolerance, cancer, and obesity, as well as its impact on the brain, on the contrary, detailed and professionally researched. Do highly sensitive people after eating foods containing glutamate, might actually giperwolemicescoy. But it requires really large doses of supplements that is more than 3 g of free glutamate on an empty stomach. Doctors advise asthmatics to abandon the excessive consumption of fast food including due to the fact that the body can react to the Supplement.

However, a review of 2012 could not confirm the relationship. In two studies with only only 24 participants, no evidence was found that the reduction in the use of glutamate reduces asthma symptoms. But healthy people who use monosodium glutamate in small doses, on the contrary, more data. And no research proves that the Chinese restaurant syndrome really exists.

Glutamate in soups and similar products are constantly accused of developing brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis. In the end, there are studies proving that excessive glutamate in the brain may contribute to the development of these diseases. But here we are talking about endogenous, that is produced in the brain glutamate. Glutamate, which enters the body from outside, in the unanimous opinion of scientists, in healthy adults cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and thus to cause these diseases. However, it is unknown whether infants the blood brain barrier in meningitis or, for example, internal bleeding more passable.

Little evidence and the fact that glutamate contributes to the development of cancer. Although aware of the elevated levels of glutamate in blood and tumor tissue for prostate cancer, causing and it was suggested that this substance may play a role in the occurrence of cancer. But finally this issue has not been investigated.

Most often, researchers are studying appetite boosting effects of the flavor enhancer that is added including in animal feed. Critics come to the conclusion that glutamate can cause dependency and lead to obesity. But this concern has not yet been confirmed. Only in very high doses glutamate increases the appetite. Some work talking about the opposite effect: feeling of fullness occurs sooner, which may be associated with a pleasant taste of foods with monosodium glutamate.

May, glutamate even useful?

According to the survey of 2009, in the elderly improves appetite when they eat very fragrant soups. So that glutamate may even be useful — especially for elderly people. The taste of “umami” can counteract age-loss of appetite and related problems when weight loss increases the risk of various diseases.

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However, it is suspected that these and other studies about the positive effects of the flavor enhancer was funded by the interested companies. Really a neutral picture arises only as a result of carrying out a number of completely independent studies.

What are the alternatives?

the organic food and baby food, the use of glutamate is not allowed. As the industry has noticed that consumers tend to buy foods without a lot of additives, looking for an alternative. For example, in fast food, including their covariant, as the condiments used yeast extract, which naturally contains a large amount of glutamate. It does not require a label “E” or letter designations, but the information about its availability should be indicated on the package.

Thanks to the efforts of the defenders of consumers in the description of such products you can see the word “seasoning”: a it lie broken proteins, for example, from meat, yeast or soy that can affect the “taste and/or smell of soups, meat broths and other products.” And it often contains glutamate, which do not have to specify. So, is soy sauce seasoning, rich taste and give him glutamate.

In General, the fast food with lots of spices is not recommended to use in large numbers, because they do not feel the subtleties of taste and often mask the low quality ingredients. The German society for nutrition has long been recommends to avoid flavor enhancers, especially in the child’s diet, because they lost the understanding of taste of the diversity of natural products.

the new York times contain estimates of the solely foreign media and do not reflect the views of the editorial Board of the new York times.