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What Does “No MSG” Mean? “No Mistake, Safe & Good”

no msg no more

Over 50 years since the fear of monosodium glutamate (MSG) started, consumers still fear finding MSG in their food and are still perplexed about whether it’s OK or a food additive they should avoid.

How Did MSG-Phobia Start?

Over 50 years ago, a physician, Dr. Kwok, wrote a simple letter to the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, noting he’d experienced symptoms, including feelings of weakness, rapid pulse, and more, after eating at a Chinese restaurant. He’d suggested several possibilities for his symptoms: soy sauce, rice wine, added salt, and MSG in the restaurant’s food. It was the MSG speculation that went viral. His symptoms became known as Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” (CRS), the phenomenon gained world-wide attention, and MSG was demonized.

no msg phobiaOf course, once there was a name and a blame, consumers started claiming left and right that they had CRS from eating at a Chinese restaurant.

Operators of Chinese restaurants feared their customers would stay away. Customers did at first, so restaurants changed their cooking to remove all MSG, and many declared “No MSG” on their menus and on store signs. Manufacturers had to change their formulations to omit MSG, and replicating the original sauces’ exact flavor was difficult.

The Chinese community, however, was perplexed. They, and many other communities, including South Americans, Southeast Asians, and more, had been using MSG in cooking soon after it was developed in the early 20th century. Why had virtually no one reported symptoms like those of Dr. Kwok in all the prior decades of its use?

What Did the Research Say?

Nothing. Oh, there was plenty of investigative research for the 50 years after Dr. Kwok’s letter. All of it turned up a whole lot of nothing. Even double-blind, placebo-controlled studies (where neither the test subjects nor the investigator knows who is getting the MSG or the placebo) turned up nothing significant. Here are some possible reasons why the research found MSG harmless:

  • MSG is only two components: sodium and glutamate.
  • Sodium is present in some amount in nearly all the foods we eat, even if it’s not added to foods.
  • Glutamate is an amino acid – one of the “building blocks” of protein.
  • Glutamate is present in virtually every protein food we eat – whether animal or plant-based. It’s in meat, fish and dairy foods, but also beans, nuts, and even many vegetables.
  • Our bodies even make glutamate! Indeed, glutamate is the most common amino acid in the gut, where so much of our immune system is located, because glutamate is involved in our immune systems.

high in glutamateAs I mentioned, glutamate is present in virtually every protein food we eat. Foods high in glutamate include:

  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Parmesan cheese (absolutely loaded with glutamate!)

If you’ve enjoyed Italian foods, like tomato-based pasta sauces and soups, pizza with mushrooms, or eggplant parmigiana, you’ve been eating dishes that are full of glutamate, yet without any symptoms of “CRS”.

But What about the “S” in “MSG”?

That’s sodium, and yes, most people already eat too much sodium. But MSG can help you REDUCE your total sodium intake, and still ENHANCE the taste of your food. Here’s how:

  • Gram for gram, MSG has 62% LESS sodium than regular salt.
  • MSG intensifies the flavor of food, so you are able to enhance taste with less sodium.

msg lower in sodiumMSG doesn’t replace the value salt brings to foods, but mixing salt with MSG in a 1:1 ratio and making this your standard cooking salt, would reduce added sodium by 28%.

Heard of “UMAMI”?

It’s described as the “5th taste”, along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Chefs know umami, and they aim for it in their dishes. Umami brings an intense savoriness that makes food taste better and more flavorful.

Surprise: umami is glutamate. The same glutamate in MSG.

Bottom Line:

  • You can’t avoid glutamate. Your body makes about 50 grams of it daily in your gut – far more than you’d ever eat from food in a day.
  • 50 years of research has consistently shown MSG is safe, and MSG’s safety has been confirmed by health authorities and government agencies worldwide.
  • Using MSG to replace 50% of your added salt when you cook is one tool for actually reducing your total sodium intake – and making your foods taste even better.
  • Glutamate = umami. Chefs love it. Instead of “No MSG,” they’ve educated themselves so that they “Know MSG“. You can, too!

I like a “win-win”, and MSG is one of them. And yes, I keep a jar of MSG/salt in a 1:1 ratio in my kitchen. And I use it when I cook. The more you know about MSG, the more comfortable you’ll be. Learn all you can, because it’s a great tool for making great-tasting food with less added sodium.

So, what does “No MSG” mean? “No Mistake, Safe & Good”!

Dr. Keith Ayoob is an internationally known nutritionist and an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, where he has maintained a clinical practice for more than 20 years. Keith also is Director of the Nutrition Clinic at the Rose F. Kennedy Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Einstein. He has appeared on many national news programs and is a highly sought after speaker for his practical, consumer-friendly advice on a variety of timely nutrition issues. Keith contributes expert opinion pieces to and Read more about his background on the About page. Note: MSGdish bloggers are compensated for their time in writing for MSGdish, but their statements and opinions are their own. They have pledged to blog with integrity, asserting that the trust of their readers and their peers is vitally important to them.

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