MSG is a safer choice than salt!
Back in 1968, a letter to the editor by Dr. Kwok discussed a strange syndrome of numbness around the head, shoulder and arms as well as palpitations and weakness that occurred whenever he ate at a Chinese restaurant. He mentioned that it might be due to the high MSG content of the food [Kwok R N N Engl J Med 1968;278:796]. Other anecdotal reports soon followed with claims of a burning or tingling often associated with this syndrome. The symptoms, while disturbing, were always short-lived, rarely lasting more than 2-3 hours. A 1995 FASEB report of independent scientists found MSG safe. They noted that a small percentage of people (perhaps .02%) react when large amounts (>3 grams) are consumed at one time on an empty stomach particularly in a liquid such as a broth. They also suggested that a small percentage of severe asthmatics might also suffer bronchospasm when exposed to large amounts of MSG although this requires more research as some suspect this could be due to the co-ingestion of sulfites.
Despite the relative safety of MSG used in moderation there have been a growing number of anecdotal reports blaming MSG for causing or aggravating a wide variety of medical conditions such as HTN, Alzheimers disease, migraines and other headaches, neurological problems, asthma, anaphylactic shock, psychiatric disorders, etc. Despite these anecdotal reports, double-blind testing of individuals who claim to react to MSG in a variety of ways has failed to confirm MSG as the provocative agent [Kenney RA Fd Chem Toxic 1986;24:351-4]. This should not be surprising because glutamic acid is a nonessential amino acid. It is not essential because the human body makes all it needs but it is an essential component of all proteins synthesized by the human body. This does not preclude the possibility that large amounts could have some adverse reaction in some people.
Many Chinese restaurants and some other restaurants now put signs in their windows proclaiming, "No MSG." This is unfortunate because when chefs don't use MSG they often compensate by adding more salt or soy sauce. However, unlike salt, MSG has little or no effect on blood pressure [Boegehold et al Hypertension 1991;(Suppl 1):158-61]. Another potential danger of publicizing all sorts of questionable claims of adverse reactions to MSG is that some people who are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke may dismiss their symptoms as a temporary reaction to MSG and delay proper medical treatment. In both cases, the likely result of the on going food terrorist campaign against MSG is more death and disability from cardiovascular disease.
By Dr. James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN.
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world-famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. After a decade in food service for Hyatt Hotels, Judy launched Food and Health Communications to focus on flavor and health. She graduated with Summa Cum Laude distinction from Johnson and Wales University with a BS in Culinary Art, holds a master’s degree in Food Business from the Culinary Institute of America, 2 art certificates from UC Berkeley Extension, and runs a food photography studio where her love is creating fun recipes.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science and Dietary Guidelines to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.