No meal of Chinese food would be complete without egg rolls, crab rangoon, General Tso’s chicken, beef and broccoli, the ubiquitous fortune cookie… and of course that vaguely ill feeling that follows. Maybe you just ate to much, or you could be suffering from Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Headache, rapid heart rate, flushing – what is it about Chinese food that causes these unpleasant feelings? A recent small study examined whether these symptoms could be attributed to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer commonly used in Chinese food.
14 study participants consumed a high-MSG drink, a low-MSG drink and a placebo at different times and subsequent symptoms were recorded. After consuming the high-MSG drink participants reported feeling significantly more tired, had more stomach aches and facial/head pain compared to when they drank the low-MSG drink or placebo. The high-MSG drink was also associated with higher blood pressure.
Although this study is small, and the body of research on the subject is inconclusive, it points to the risks of consuming MSG for people with high blood pressure, chronic headaches, or those who are particularly sensitive to MSG. Besides Chinese food, MSG can be found in packaged foods like salad dressing, stock or broth, sauces, and seasonings so be sure to check ingredient labels. And if you just can’t resist that Chinese take out, ask for “no MSG” and choose simple steamed items – you can add your own seasoning at home.