Wednesday, October 28, 2009

American MSG meet Asian MSG

This is MSG.

The one on the left was bought in the United States. The one on the right was bought in Singapore.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding this food additive and I'll be honest and say that I never really paid that much attention...

Until I moved to Asia.

Ever since we moved to Singapore, I get frequent headaches that seem to come out of nowhere. It's not because I don't drink enough water and it's not because I'm outside in the heat. I get them while typing at my desk in my air conditioned office while drinking a liter of water. I also get them while riding on the MRT in the middle of the day. I could not find a common link to solve the headache puzzle.

After months of this, someone told me that it's probably all of the MSG I'm eating in the food over here.


Like every paranoid American, I hopped on the Internet to Google it.

There, I found this website called It's full of information about what it is, why it's used, what it does to your body and what it could potentially do. It was enough to make me uneasy.

Here's some snippets:

  • MSG tricks your tongue into making you think a certain food is high in protein and thus nutritious. It is not a "meat tenderizer". It is not a "preservative". The food industry is trying to confuse the issue by focusing on the "fifth" taste sense they call umami. Free glutamic acid is detected by the taste buds as a simple way to signal the presence of protein in a food, just as there are fat receptors to detect fats and receptors that sense carbohydrate or sweet flavors. The purpose is to help us discern real food from inedible matter. It changes your perception of not simply taste but the nutritious qualities of what you put into your mouth. However, and here is the main problem with free glutamic acid - It is the very same neurotransmitter that your brain and many organs including your ears, eyes, nervous system and pancreas in your body use to initiate certain processes in your body.
  • MSG stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. So many diets these days are concerned about the Glycemic Index of foods and yet none of them address the fact that MSG and free glutamic acid stimulate the pancreas to release insulin when there doesn't even have to be carbohydrates in the food for that insulin to act on. The food industry has found their own "anti-appetite suppressant". It's a convenient way to keep consumers coming back for more. The blood sugar drops because of the insulin flood. And you are hungry an hour later. Sound familiar?
Um yeah. Everytime I eat Chinese food, I want a friggin' Big Mac like an hour later. I always thought it was the rice that did it.

But seriously, food shouldn't make you feel that way. Food is supposed to be filling. It's supposed to satisfy hunger, not antagonize it!

So after all this research is when I decided to search our cabinets and found the container of Accent. I had no idea that it was straight MSG. That makes me feel really good about all of those dinners of canned green beans that we douse in chemicals.

Aaron and I didn't stop the search there though. We rummaged through our entire pantry. You know what we found?


Every bottle of Ranch dressing. Every package of Jalapeno Ranch Chips. Every granule of Parmesan cheese. Every Dorito chip. Every container of Lawry's Seasoning Salt.

It was one of the saddest and most guilt-ridden days of my life.

That is when it dawned on me.

I've been eating these MSG laced foods my ENTIRE life. Nothing bad has happened to me yet (that I know of). How can they prove that MSG is the thing making my head hurt?

I lived on Doritos and Ranch dressing for the entirety of high school. I don't ever remember getting a head ache. (A stomach ache and huge love handles is what I should've had. Yet, those gems did finally arrive later.)

So I think I'm over it. I do still think that they put a lot more MSG in Chinese-style foods and I am going to make a conscious effort to not to eat those as much. But really, it'd be near impossible to avoid it all the time.

Plus, I really like Ranch dressing too much to let it go.



You and I have the same symptoms whenever we have too much MSG. I am aware of the presence of MSG in most foods, but you can find them in higher concentrations in Maggi Instant Noodles. So whenever I have Maggi Instant Noodles, I say goodbye to a night of sound sleep.

AcidFlask said...

Ah, you've finally heard the "MSG is evil" myth.

I don't know who runs, but there is absolutely no known medical evidence for MSG causing any medical problems. In fact, there are quite a few convincing double blind studies that show that people who claim to be allergic cannot tell the difference when fed MSG and a placebo.

The reason is simple: the G in MSG is glutamate, a natural amino acid found in many protein-containing foods. An organism allergic to a naturally occurring food would live a very, _very_ tragic experience.

It's far more likely that you're consuming more fat than you can digest. Singaporean food tends to be quite oily.

AcidFlask said...

I forgot to mention that salt is another culprit.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Singaporean, living in States now. I used to have headache whenever I went under the sun (even a short journey from office to canteen and back to office). It was worse during dry season around Feb-Apr.

I have never had headache during cool season over here, except during hot, hot summer.

Use an umbrella and drink lotsa water.

Try it out if it helps. Jen