'No MSG' signs have been embedded into American culture for decades due to the myth that MSG is harmful to your health. That myth, however, has been found to be a deeply anti-Asian narrative and Asian-American activists have been working hard to debunk this myth.
So is MSG really bad for you?
Let's get started with what MSG is. MSG stands for monosodium glutamate, which is an amino acid that can be found in everyday foods like tomatoes and cheese. If you are eating anything tomato based, the chances are, you are already consuming MSG.
Manufacturers eventually found a way to extract the MSG from plants through fermentation (similar to how cheese and wine are made) creating a seasoning that adds delicious umami flavor to your favorite dishes.
While MSG has been consumed throughout history, in 1968, a man wrote in to the New England Journal of Medicine, complaining about numbness after eating at Chinese Restaurants.
A 1969 scientific paper identified MSG as "the cause of the Chinese restaurant syndrome," and warned that it caused "burning sensations, facial pressure, and chest pain."
The story caught on and the claimed effects of MSG became known as "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome." Despite numerous scientific studies done to disprove the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome claims, the damage was already done to the Asian American culinary industry.
So that means MSG is harmful right?
Many regulatory bodies and scientific groups have answered this definitively: No. The addition of MSG in foods is "generally recognized as safe," says the FDA site.
A joint study by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization "failed to confirm an involvement of MSG in 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome'," and noted that the syndrome itself was based on "anecdotal" evidence rather than any scientific fact.
It is going to take continued effort to undo the damage and narrative that MSG is severely unhealthy. Asian cuisine is both beautiful and delectable, and if someone wants to put a dash of MSG in their dish to make it pop... serve us up another plate.
Please note that the team at Sarap Now are not health professionals. Before introducing MSG or making changes to your diet, please talk to your doctor.
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