Most health-conscious consumers are aware of their food choices, especially when they opt to buy, cook, and eat monosodium glutamate (MSG)-free products. The food additive, popularly used in Chinese food, and found in canned vegetables and processed meats, has been given an undeserved reputation for causing “Chinese Food Syndrome”: headaches, nausea, and heart palpitations, among other symptoms. While consumers and companies alike have decided to go MSG-free, scientists at the American Chemical Society’s Reactions (ACS) YouTube page debunk this food myth and say MSG is perfectly safe for consumption.  

“Glutamate is found in tons of common foods that are rich in protein — meat, dairy products, and vegetables all have glutamate,” say the scientists in the YouTube video, “Is MSG Bad for You?” The flavor enhancement we taste in MSG foods comes from the amino acid, l-glutamate. Glutamate occurs naturally within our bodies as we process and metabolize food, making it a very abundant and very common part of our diet. The monosodium part in MSG is so we can easily sprinkle it on a dish.

Since the body makes this compound, it only makes sense to wonder where the 50-year-old myth originated from. According to the ACS, Robert Ho Man Kwok experienced “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” a term coined in a letter to The New England Journal of Medicine. He experienced these symptoms after eating large amounts of Chinese food, which made his colleagues decide that MSG must be the culprit.

Fifty years later, human studies have failed to produce significant symptoms, including in those who claim to suffer. In an infographic by Compound Interest, it shows most criticisms of MSG contain anecdotal accounts, without scientific evidence to back them up. Therefore, scientists have concluded mild symptoms may occur in some individuals, but only if they consume large amounts of MSG on an empty stomach.

A rule of thumb: Take MSG criticisms with a grain of salt and consume responsibly.