Chew on This

Flavor enhancer MSG is safe. Only avoid using if it makes you feel ill

The first time I heard the phrase “Chinese restaurant syndrome” I wasn’t yet a registered dietitian. I didn’t think much about it, I didn’t have symptoms and certainly didn’t avoid Chinese food.

Sheah Rarback

This topic reentered my consciousness at the recent conference of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. I stopped by the Ajimoto booth to taste three chicken broth samples. One had no salt (bland), the second was salted (salty) and the third had an MSG/salt combination (the best). Not only was the taste improved, there was less sodium in the third sample. A quarter teaspoon of salt has 575 mg. of sodium and a quarter teaspoon of monosodium glutamate (MSG) has 125 mg of sodium. Umami, a savory pleasant flavor derived from glutamate, is why the third sample was most flavorful.

I researched the source of MSG negativity. In the 1960s the New England Journal of Medicine published a doctor’s letter describing a reaction he had after eating Chinese food. That was followed by a study published in Science describing an experiment where mice were injected with MSG and had neurological problems. Who injects food additives? To call this evidence weak is a compliment.

I continued my literature search and found only positive articles. An article in Neuropsychopharmacoloy this year reported on a small study with woman that showed MSG intake enhanced an area of cognitive function that helps support healthy eating behaviors. Another 2018 study suggested that ingestion of MSG has a positive effect on cognitive function in people with dementia. MSG is a safe cooking ingredient. If you think it causes a problem for you, then don’t use it. I say these same words to people who tell me they have problems with milk, wine or whatever.

I am not suggesting you start using MSG for health benefits. I am strongly recommending it for enhanced flavor with sodium reduction. Bring on the umami. For more info

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.