Exactly what is MSG? It’s a substance used to flavor food that’s made of two compounds found in nature, sodium and glutamic acid—which is also known as glutamate. MSG is most notably found in Chinese food. Glutamic acid is an amino acid and amino acids are the building blocks of protein. It’s already present in many foods and also found in our bodies. In fact, it’s estimated that people consume about 13 grams of glutamate daily. It’s in mushrooms, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, meat and even asparagus. If food has MSG in it, you also get another half gram a day. Manufacturers make MSG by fermenting sugar cane, corn or tapioca.
MSG has been considered harmful for a while.
There’s a long list of symptoms attributed to consuming MSG. It all started back in 1968, even though it’s been used as a flavoring for over 100 years. A doctor wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine that said he had heart palpitations and numbness in his arms, back and neck after eating Chinese food. While the author of the letter said that it could have been MSG, the alcohol in cooking wine or the sodium, the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome got its start because the public blamed it on MSG.
What is the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome?
The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, also known as the MSG symptom complex, include a number of adverse reactions. Headache, numbness, burning or tingling in the face or neck, flushing, sweating, chest pain, nausea, heart palpitations, facial pressure and weakness are all included in the adverse reactions.
Recent reviews indicate there’s inadequate evidence that MSG is harmful.
In fact, many of the research that’s been used to check the safety of MSG use amounts that far exceed the amount of MSG that people normally eat, even on a day filled with food with MSG. The new research doesn’t discount people who might have these symptoms, because like every type of food or ingredient, it affects everyone differently and small number may be sensitive. However, it also states that no matter how scary the symptoms may be, they normally don’t last more than an hour or two.
- MSG doesn’t actually have much flavor, but when used on certain types of food enhances a meaty taste. That’s why it’s used in many processed foods, like hot dogs, chips, salad dressing and instant noodles.
- MSG isn’t just in packaged foods but found in restaurant food and take out. It’s often used in pasta with meat sauce and stir-fries to enhance the flavor. The FDA classifies it as “generally safe,” but requires the amount is listed on labels.
- One positive aspect of MSG is that it’s so flavorful, if you add it, you may not have to add salt. Using MSG instead of salt can cut sodium consumption by two-thirds.
- If you have a reaction to MSG, follow it up to see if you’re MSG sensitive. Just like milk products make lactose intolerant people sick, people who are sensitive to MSG may experience symptoms, but it doesn’t make it dangerous to the general public.
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