Chinese-Restaurant Syndrome

Has MSG gotten a bad rap?

I’ve personally never had a problem with it. I used to keep it on hand, in fact, though I haven’t used it in decades.

[Update a few minutes later, after reading the whole thing]:

As Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth professor who has researched how to influence attitudes about vaccines, pointed out to me in an email, it’s hard for people to change their minds about personal health issues because it contradicts what they have perceived to experience in the past. “People who felt bad after eating Chinese food in the past may have blamed MSG … and thus resist information they encounter later about its actual effects,” he said. This may be the result of the availability heuristic, where people make judgments using the easiest information available, rather than looking for alternative explanations.

This could also explain peoples’ resistance to accepting new ideas about nutrition, when (e.g.) they’ve been told for decades to avoid fat.

[Update a while later]

Related: Half the people who think they have food allergies are wrong.

I’m pretty confident in my allergy to tree nuts. Even if no one tells me, I can tell when I’ve had them.

5 thoughts on “Chinese-Restaurant Syndrome”

  1. I remember hearing the warnings about MSG years ago but the side effects claimed for it now seem to go way beyond what I remember from back then — I think I had concern it might aggravate my asthma.

    Even so, I don’t know that I went to any great effort to avoid it even then, and I haven’t had asthma symptoms significant enough to medicate in years anyway.

    As for the symptoms I just read about, exposure to MSG seems more likely to correlate negatively, if at all, with my experiencing any one or another of them.

  2. FWIW, I’ve always thought the whole MSG thing pretty much paralleled salt. The underlying issue is the sodim content (which we’re discovering isn’t the issue we’ve been led to believe–imagine that).

  3. This is an issue that has hit me hard, personally.

    Very few Chinese or Thai restaurants in the US use MSG these days, thanks to all the hype and fear-mongering. Instead, they more often use fish sauce, oyster sauce, etc.

    I’ve never had any problem with MSG. I am, however, badly allergic to seafood. So, what this MSG hype means for me personally is I can almost never eat Thai or Chinese food (both of which I love) in US restaurants.

  4. Chinese food probably causes ailments such as rapid heartbeat, headaches, and all those others because it is full of carbs and sodium. (Well, that is to say the American version of Chinese food, which is to actual Chinese cuisine as Grauman’s Theater is to Chinese theaters, but that’s not important right now.) As for me, all it does is cause my taste buds to inflame. Not all of them, but whenever I eat anything with MSG I can see one or two of my taste buds have popped up from the surface of my tongue. And it’s just painful enough to be really annoying. So I avoid it wherever possible and I never use it for cooking. Besides, food should have flavors, not flavorings.

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