It can bring on uncomfortable and even long-term side effects. There is an ongoing debate about it being a myth, but once you know the side effects it is easier to identify them after consumption.
MSG in its natural state is a naturally according amino acid. However it is industrially processed and hydrolysed when manufactured for consumption, thus turning it into a neurotoxin. This means that MSG tricks the brain, not the tongue, into believing the food is tastier.
On its own, MSG itself does not have a good taste, but combined with other foods it enhances those flavours.
It is used in often in processed foods, fast foods, flavourings, meats, canned foods, powdered stocks, sauces, dips, dressing the powder packs with dried noodles and even comes with green mango that you buy from the fruit vendor here in Thailand.
So what’s wrong with tastier you ask? Well, when it’s used to mask bad taste in meats that are getting old, for instance. Also the flavours of food alone should be enough to excite our taste buds.
For the occasions when I have inadvertently eaten food with a lot of MSG, specifically when I forget to request no MSG, I suffer headache, fogginess, insomnia, thirstiness and heart palpitations followed by exhaustion.
It is only at their onset do I then remember that I ate something, and in the case of a restaurant, forgot to mention the magic words, no MSG, (in Thai: mai sai pong-chu-rote).
The substance is found in the majority of Thai kitchens (look for the clear bag with red print and larger shiny flakes, also available at every 7-11).
Ask a Thai cook why they use it and they say the food will not taste good with out it. Quite disconcerting considering natural Thai herbs and spices, without the neurotoxic enhancement are pretty spectacular on their own.
Very often items that do not list MSG on their list of ingredients still have it (manufacturers are clever and deceiving that way). Other names to look out for on ingredient labels are natural flavouring, artificial flavouring, seasoning and spices – just to name a few other names for MSG.
Long term studies are being conducted to the effects on the body, and one, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in a March 2011 study in China, found a direct link between consuming MSG and obesity in adults.
Living in Phuket, however, it is very hard to completely avoid MSG. Reducing your intake though is a good start to feeling better.
Sylvie Yaffe is the founder of Good Karma Online Health Food Store and consults about vegan raw cuisine and health food, as well as writing a regular column for The Phuket News. For more information, visit healthfoodthailand.com