What Is An MSG Allergy?

This article was originally written by Grant Segall RPh

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What are Chow Mein, Orange Sesame Chicken, Moo Goo Gai Pan, Sweet and Sour Pork, and Beef and Broccoli? They are all savory Chinese foods that we love. The culinary tradition of the Chinese people expands thousands of years, along with other Asian foods such as Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, and Korean.
In all Oriental cuisine, the rich sauces make each dish stand out from other types of food, complementing and enhancing the ingredients. In addition, Oriental food is loaded with fresh vegetables and fresh meats, making this a healthy choice. The only downfall to Asian food is that for many people, an MSG allergy makes eating it impossible.
MSG is the acronym for Monosodium Glutamate, which is a type of food additive that is used in Asian cooking to enhance the flavor. Although most often used in Chinese food, it is used throughout most other Asian cultures. For people with an MSG allergy, the symptoms could range from mild to serious. Typically, if a person has sensitivity to MSG, when eaten in large quantities, a feeling of flushing and warmth would be felt, followed by a headache, facial pressure, and on occasion, a sense of chest pressure. Other symptoms associated with an MSG allergy include gastrointestinal problems, skin rash, difficulty breathing, circulation, and even neurological function.
The good news is that very few people have an MSG allergy. The thing to remember is that unlike your normal allergens such as dust, pet dander, grass and ragweed, perfume, and so on, MSG is not actually an allergen. Instead of this being an MSG allergy, the triggered reaction is more like a problem with intolerance.
Keep in mind that for people with an MGS allergy, the consumption of alcohol would increase the effect. In addition, studies show that exercise before eating food with MSG or after can also exaggerate the effects. While the reactions of an MGS allergy are generally the same, the level of severity varies from one person to another. In most cases, the onset of symptoms would be noticed within the first 48 hours. Sometimes, a person will begin to feel overly tired and then experience any of the other symptoms.
The problem is that for Asian foods, the use of MSG is growing. Because so many of the foods consist of rich sauces and gravies, MSG is a staple. Therefore, if you have an MSG allergy and plan to dine out, you will need to advise the server that your food cannot include MSG. In most cases, restaurants are very accommodating. However, if you decide to cook Asian food, when shopping for various foods, read the label carefully.
Even though some packaged foods state right on the label that MSG is not added it could be. In addition, the current labeling laws do not require MSG even be listed on the package. That means the actual term “MSG” or “Monosodium Glutamate” is only required to be listed by the Food and Drug Administration if the ingredient is a 99% pure combination of sodium and glutamic acid. For the individual with an MSG allergy, this makes shopping for non-MSG foods extremely challenging.
Your best bet if you have an MSG allergy is to find an Oriental restaurant that will work with you, ensuring your food will not contain this additive. In addition, they could recommend an Oriental specialty food store and specific foods that do not contain MSG. If you suspect you have an MSG allergy, talk to your doctor to see if anything else can be done.