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Dr Manny's Notes

Is MSG in restaurant food harming you?

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Once a month, I try to enjoy a high-end meal at a fancy restaurant in New York City with my family. Since it’s a treat, I usually look for a style of cooking I enjoy – which for me, is often French – and a restaurant within that genre that may have gained some popularity throughout the year.

But no matter how hard I try eat healthy and clean, I always end up sick. And I’m not talking about food poisoning or stomach issues. I wake up with symptoms of toxicity like joint pain, headache and general weakness, and many times, feeling like I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. And this doesn’t only happen to me, it also happens to my wife.

I’ve racked my brain to try and figure out what it could be, and I always come back to the same thing: Monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is a food additive that has been used for decades to enhance flavor. It’s commonly used in Chinese food, canned vegetables soups and processed meats. It’s composed mainly of glutamic acid and salt; the former having been shown to excite the brain and general nervous system, which in high doses, has been implicated in epileptic seizures.

Still, MSG is classified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a safe food ingredient, but personally, I feel the jury’s still out on that one.

There’s not a lot of research to back up the notion that MSG causes adverse reactions in those that consume it. But over the years, health officials have received thousands of anecdotal reports from people who ate foods containing the additive claiming they suffered from headaches, numbness, sweating, heart palpitations, nausea and fatigue. Those reactions, known as MSG symptom complex, are usually mild and often don’t require medical attention, but it certainly makes you wonder.

The FDA requires all manufacturers of processed foods to label whether or not they contain MSG, but restaurants are not required to disclose such information.

As a society, we keep honing in on how a lot of these exogenous chemicals might be harming our systems. They are not part of our food chain, but yet, in an effort to please our taste buds, MSG is often incorporated into our diet.

I think it’s important for restaurants to come clean and clearly display that MSG is a part of their food preparation. Because if we don’t do something about controlling this chemical exposure, we may regret it later on.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's Senior Managing Editor for Health News. Prior to this position, Alvarez was a FNC medical contributor.
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