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Monday, Sep 16, 2019

BJP legislator says momos cause cancer, experts say ‘definitely not’

Though it is believed that MSG causes sluggishness, headaches, nausea, rashes or excessive sweating, studies have failed to establish any negative health impact associated with MSG, let alone cancer

health Updated: Jun 09, 2017 10:48 IST
Anonna Dutt
Anonna Dutt
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A plate of momos sold at Momo Central in Navi Mumbai.
A plate of momos sold at Momo Central in Navi Mumbai.(HT File Photo)

Lawyer and BJP legislator of Jammu and Kashmir Ramesh Arora wants to ban momos because he thinks they cause life-threatening diseases, including cancer.

On June 4, he convened a seminar devoted to warning people about the dangers of eating momos. Government health officials participated in the meeting.

Outlawing momos, however, would accomplish little.

The substance at the root of Arora’s claims, monosodium glutamate (MSG), also known as the brand name Ajinomoto, is frequently used in the preparation of dishes with East Asian flavouring such as noodles, fried rice, chilly paneer, and chilly chicken.

The flavour enhancer is also naturally found in vegetables such as potato, tomato, and mushroom, as well as several fruits and wheat and dairy products. It is added into a variety of grocery items.

MSG came to the limelight in 2015 when samples of Nestle’s Maggi were found to include the flavour enhancer despite Nestle’s claims to the contrary. Maggi was also shown to have higher than permissible quantities of lead.

India does not stipulate a maximum limit of MSG in food. The Food and Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) requires that it should be used in accordance with a general set of “good manufacturing practices” and only in certain types of food.

To help people make an informed choice about what they eat, the FSSAI also says that food items that do contain MSG must announce its presence on their packaging.

What is MSG?
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a flavour enhancer
  • It is commonly found in Chinese food, soy sauce, parmesan cheese, potato chips, and frozen foods
  • It also occurs naturally in items such as potatoes, tomatoes, milk, mushrooms, and wheat
  • Though consumption in large quantities may cause headaches, numbness, chest pain and sweating, and eventually lead to elevated blood pressure, it is still basically safe

Can it really cause cancer?

It is popularly believed that MSG causes sluggishness, headaches, nausea, increased thirst, skin rashes or excessive sweating. Scientific studies around the world, however, have failed to establish any negative health impact associated with MSG, let alone cancer. The Food and Drug Administration, the premier regulatory body of its kind in the United States, categorises MSG as “generally recognized as safe”.

“If consumed in higher quantities or regularly, it is also known to have caused palpitations and chest pain in some people,” said Ritika Samaddar, chief dietician at Max Super Speciality Hospital. “It is an approved flavour enhancer; even the US allows its use. We just suggest that as a precaution, pregnant women and infants not consume it.”

“It definitely does not cause cancer,” she adds.

First Published: Jun 09, 2017 10:47 IST