Mysterious Secret InGredient: What is MSG?

MSG

Mysterious Secret InGredient: What is MSG?

We have a few notions about MSG. It’s salty. It makes an appearance in Asian cuisine. And it may not be good for us. But what exactly is it? Can we really experience side effects from eating it? And overall, could it actually cause harm so that we can never eat instant ramen and Chinese cuisine again?? HELP!

What exactly is MSG?

To explain it in a way that is not terrifyingly scientific, MSG or monosodium glutamate is a compound of glutamic acid (a non-essential amino acid) and a sodium molecule.

You can find glutamic acid naturally in foods like tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. MSG on the other hand, was manufactured by a University of Tokyo chemistry professor Kikunae Ikeda in 1908. The discovery of MSG, added to the four basic tastes of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter with a new taste called umami. Umami is used to describe a meaty and savory taste like in a juicy cheeseburger hence the popular burger chain called UMAMI Burger.

What about Side Effects? How did MSG gain a bad reputation?

Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, or MSG symptom complex is a group of conditions some people report after having a meal that includes MSG. Symptoms reported included nausea, headaches, and numbness.

However, these symptoms were not reported until 1968 after a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine became popular. Ironically, a Chinese-American man, Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok in the letter theorized that MSG was the culprit for his symptoms of numbness, general weakness, and palpitation after eating at Chinese restaurants. What adds to this interesting history is that MSG was actually quite popular prior to letter and not just in Chinese cuisine as it was heavily used in World War II to add flavor to bland soldiers’ rations.

Since 1968, studies have been done to confirm the safety of MSG as a food additive.

Harmful for my health?

The FDA has determined that MSG is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

Double blind studies have shown little correlation between MSG and negative symptoms. The amount of MSG you eat in foods is also typically a very small amount so it’s not likely to cause any problems. But pun intended, take this information with a grain of salt. Because those that are against MSG claim that MSG producers fund these studies (and skew results…), while those that are for MSG claim those that are anti-MSG are just instilling fear in the public.

TLDR

Studies indicate that MSG is generally safe for most people. There may be an occasional person who is sensitive to it. If that is the case, read labels and avoid foods with added MSG. In addition, the FDA’s designation for MSG doesn’t mean that other aspects of the ingredient, like the sodium level are not of concern. So even though MSG is safe, it does not necessarily mean no consequences can come from eating a spoonful of it everyday. But feel free to enjoy your instant ramen with MSG flavoring as a treat once in awhile!

Resources:

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20151106-is-msg-as-bad-as-its-made-out-to-be

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/its-the-umami-stupid-why-the-truth-about-msg-is-so-easy-to-swallow-180947626/

 

 

Food Trends

foodtrendv2“Gatorade? Pass. Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion? Next.”

“I’ll have the coconut water with a side of kale chips, please.”

Have you noticed the shift of popular foods that has been sweeping through magazines, organic grocery stores, and devoted foodies? Of all the trendy foods that are on the shelves, I’ll admit that it’s hard to decide which one is worth the hype. I’ve compiled a list of myths and facts for the latest food trends to help you decide.

Coconut

Myth: Coconut water is better than water during and after a workout

Fact: Coconut water has been glorified as nature’s sports drink because of the amount of electrolytes it contains. However, for most individuals consuming well-balanced meals throughout the day, water can hydrate them just as well as coconut water does. Also, coconut water contains high amounts of potassium, but after a long high intensity workout what your body really needs is sodium.

Tea

Myth: Drinking green tea will cause weight loss

Fact: Although green tea temporarily boosts metabolism slightly, it’s not enough to cause weight loss. Tea is still beneficial to the body in other ways with its ability to:

  • reduce blood pressure
  • lower cholesterol
  • decrease risk of heart attack
  • promote eye health by reducing risk of cataracts

Grains

Myth: Grains are bad for you because they contain gluten

Fact: Gluten is a protein found in the grains wheat, barley, rye and oats. Individuals with celiac disease will experience intestinal damage and discomfort when they consume gluten. However, for individuals without celiac disease, gluten is safe to eat and there’s no proven benefit of eating a gluten-free diet. Most grains are actually good for you, such as:

  • brown rice
  • wild rice
  • barley
  • oats
  • whole grain pasta and bread

Remember to look for 100% whole grain products

Sustainable and Local Products

Myth: Eating sustainable and local is too difficult

Fact: Sustainable farming results in nutritious food that supports farmers and local businesses that will help the economy.

What does it mean to eat locally?

  • Food is produced locally rather than nationally or internationally
  • Food is grown close to your home and distributed in short distances.

What is sustainable food?

Raising food that is

  • healthy for consumers and animals
  • doesn’t harm the environment
  • humane for workers

You can make easy changes by going to the Davis Farmer’s Market and purchasing products that are grown and made locally.

Asian Fusion

Myth: Chinese food is bad for you

Fact: Many people believe that Chinese food is nutritionally bad for you because of high levels of sodium and oil in the food. Although Chinese food is known for containing MSG, a salt added to enhance the flavor of food, you can ask for food without MSG! Also, ask for your food to be cooked with less oil to reduce the calories. There are many healthy options you can try, such as varieties of Asian vegetables and lean protein such as tofu, shrimp, and chicken. When you want to add Asian flavor to your dishes at home, try using ginger, garlic, green onion, or low sodium soy sauce, all of which add flavor without calories.

Alternate forms of protein

Myth: I need to eat meat to get enough protein in my diet

Fact: There are plenty of vegetarian or vegan sources of protein, such as nuts, grains, tofu, beans, eggs, and dairy products (low fat yogurt and milk)

It’s important to consume foods with amino acids that your body can’t make. These foods are considered “complete protein” sources. Combinations of vegetable foods creating complete proteins include:

  • corn and beans
  • brown rice and split peas
  • avocado, sprouts & almond butter on whole wheat bread
  • tofu

Smaller portion sizes

Myth: The Freshmen 15 happens to everyone

Fact: Weight gain can be easily avoided by being aware of the portion size you’re eating inside the dining commons. Try to grab one plate at a time and enjoy the food while you’re eating it. Here are some other tips for controlling portion size:

  • use smaller bowls, plates, and cups
  • when you eat out only eat half or split the meal with a friend

What are the correct portion sizes?

  • a teaspoon of margarine is the size of one dice
  • three ounces of meat is the size of a deck of cards
  • one cup of pasta is the size of a baseball
  • an ounce and a half of cheese is the size of four stacked dice
  • one-half cup of fresh fruit is the size of a tennis ball