A “Spice” to Avoid – and Three Your Heart Will Love
When you mention MSG, many people think of Chinese food. So you might be surprised to know that MSG isn’t from China. In fact, it isn’t a traditional part of any cuisine – Chinese or otherwise.
But monosodium glutamate (MSG) and its close cousins – glutamates – are in thousands of the foods you eat. In a moment, I’ll explain why I avoid glutamates. But first, let me explain how MSG became so popular.
MSG was first isolated in Japan in 1908. It was cheap to make and gave even bland foods better flavor. When it was marketed to housewives, sales took off. MSG offered them convenience, savings and a way to make their meals tastier.
Ikeda Kikunae, the man who discovered MSG, called its flavor “umami.” Roughly translated, umami means “deliciousness.” And that’s MSG’s secret. Umami makes almost anything taste better.
But that entire flavor comes with a price.
You’ve probably heard of “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” Foods made with MSG give many people headaches. Others experience numbness, tight muscles or general weakness. And these complaints have been verified in scientific studies.[i]
But MSG has other effects, too. Some studies show it can raise blood pressure.[ii] And it may lead to greater hunger[iii]… and packing on extra pounds. In one Chinese study, women with the highest MSG intake were twice as likely to be overweight.[iv]
So MSG isn’t such a great way to enhance the flavors after all.
Unfortunately, the same qualities that attracted Japanese housewives, also drew restaurants and food packagers to MSG. Today, most fast-food chains use MSG or other glutamates. And so do most makers of packaged foods.
But you won’t find “MSG” printed on many labels. That’s because MSG is just one form of glutamate. You’ll find glutamates in hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extract or protein isolate. And those are just some of the ways glutamates sneak into your food.
MSG is popular because it’s cheap, easy to use and can be added to practically anything. But I find its health effects disturbing. I prefer to flavor my food with healthy alternatives.
Here are three of my favorites:
· Garlic. Not only does garlic add a wonderful flavor to foods, it’s a health powerhouse. It’s packed with antioxidants. It promotes lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And it supports DNA and immune system health.[v]
· Curry Spice. Turmeric, one of the main spices in curries, may support lung and heart health. Studies also suggest it may help relieve joint pain and other discomfort due to inflammation.[vi]
· Hot Peppers. Hot peppers of all kinds contain a compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin promotes the release of nitric oxide (NO).[vii] Your body uses NO to increase blood flow, which also lowers blood pressure. Capsaicin also supports lower blood sugar levels[viii] and may help curb your appetite.[ix]
Natural herbs and spices make it easy to enjoy great-tasting food. And they can help boost your health at the same time. These are three of my favorites, but I encourage you to experiment. Many other herbs and spices have healthful properties.
Which is something I can’t say for MSG.
Dr Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
Best Life Herbals
1 Yang WH, et al. The monosodium glutamate symptom complex: assessment in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1997 Jun;99(6 Pt 1):757-62.
2 Baad-Hansen L, et al. Effect of systemic monosodium glutamate (MSG) on headache and pericranial muscle sensitivity. Cephalalgia. 2009 Apr 28. [Epub ahead of print].
3 Rogers PJ and Blundell JE. Determinants and Consequences of Eating and Drinking Umami and appetite: Effects of monosodium glutamate on hunger and food intake in human subjects. Physiology & Behavior
Volume 48, Issue 6, December 1990, Pages 801-804.
4 He K, et al. Association of monosodium glutamate intake with overweight in Chinese adults: the INTERMAP Study. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Aug;16(8):1875-80. Epub 2008 May 22.
5 Butt MS, et al. Garlic: nature’s protection against physiological threats. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009 Jun;49(6):538-51.
6 Goel A, et al. Curcumin as “Curecumin”: from kitchen to clinic. Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Feb 15;75(4):787-809. Epub 2007 Aug 19.
7 Sessa WC. A new way to lower blood pressure: pass the chili peppers please! Cell Metab. 2010 Aug 4;12(2):109-10.
8 Ahuja KD, et al. Effects of chili consumption on postprandial glucose, insulin, and energy metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jul;84(1):63-9.