MSG: You’re probably familiar with it as the “bad-for-you” ingredient in Chinese and processed foods, of which many brands proudly claim to be free. What you might not know is that MSG’s bad rap is undeserved.
The ingredient has been used to flavor foods for more than 100 years, according to the FDA, and there were no problems with its use until 1968, when a doctor’s letter to the New England Journal of Medicine reported of heart palpitations and numbness in the neck, back and arms after eating Chinese food.
“Although the author said that these symptoms could have stemmed from several things in his food, including sodium, alcohol from the cooking wine or MSG, the public picked up on MSG and dubbed the condition ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,’” Toby Amidor, a New York-based registered dietitian and author, told TODAY.
While fears of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome may have driven people away from MSG in the decades that followed the letter, several studies have since shown that the ingredient is safe, provides nutritional benefits and adds umami flavor to dishes. MSG may even help people reduce their sodium intake.
“MSG has two-thirds less sodium compared to table salt,” said Amidor. “So it’s a nice seasoning to use if you’re trying to cut back on sodium, especially since it can increase the depth of a dish by adding umami flavor.”
That isn’t to say that everyone can eat MSG-laden foods without issue. According to Health Canada research, MSG may cause the same symptoms indicated above in a small proportion of highly sensitive people. For those with sensitivity, it’s best to stay away from MSG.
But, for the rest of us? There’s no need to be concerned.
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