Sensitivity to monosodium glutamate (“MSG”) was virtually unheard of before it was given a name back in the 70’s. “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” so named for two reasons: 1) A 1968 letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine described the writer’s symptoms that occurred about 20 minutes after eating food from a Chinese restaurant. 2) MSG was known to be commonly used in prepared Chinese food.
If you think you’re uniquely sensitive to MSG or glutamate, two facts should be cleared up:
Cyanocobalamin, sodium ascorbate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, oh, my! These seem like scary chemical names that probably sound more like disinfectants. Actually, you’d die without them. They’re vitamins; B12, v, and B6, to be specific. Other nasty-sounding ones are nicotinic acid and di-hydroxycholecalciferol, or in common language: niacin and vitamin D.
Perhaps a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but vitamins by their chemical names just sound scary.
I recently heard a health professional make some odd comments about monosodium glutamate (MSG), comments such as “we’re supposed to avoid that” and “it’s supposed to be bad for us.” I asked her if she knew what it was. She confessed, “not really.” I loved her honesty as much as I worried about her sharing myths about MSG with patients and clients.
The truth – and it’s an indisputable truth – is that you can’t avoid glutamate, the “G” in MSG. Moreover, you don’t have to and you wouldn’t even want to if you could. It’s too important for our gut health, our digestion, and our taste buds. You’d also have to stop eating all protein foods, because glutamate is the most abundant amino acid in protein. It makes up about 20% of the amino acids in most high-quality proteins, whether they occur in animals or plants.
In 32 years of clinical practice, I’ve taken dietary histories on thousands of adults and children. At some point, nearly all Americans have eaten Chinese food, either by going to a restaurant or getting take-out. If I ask them if they avoid monosodium glutamate – what they know as MSG – those that have heard of it will almost always say they avoid it. My patients who would be considered “foodies” almost universally avoid MSG in their food. Or do they? More about that later.
Sensitivity to MSG, commonly known as “Chinese restaurant syndrome” started not with any evidence, but with an article written by a physician in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968.
“Oh, we always make sure to ask for no MSG when we eat Chinese food.” “I never allow my kids to eat anything with MSG.” “We’d never eat at any restaurant that uses MSG.” “It’s horrendous that MSG is even allowed to be used in food that could be given to kids.”
These are comments I’ve actually heard from consumers and patients. What these same consumers have actually done is let me know they are very misinformed. How? Read on.