The hidden poison in Chinese food

Ingy Deif, Monday 28 Mar 2011

With Chinese food on the rise all over the world, consider the risks of the industry's favourite ingredient, MSG: food expert speaks to Ahram Online

chinese food

With as much as Egyptians like food (who can argue with that?) Chinese restaurants are on the rise in Egypt, whose population finds itself limited in recreational activities outside of the pleasure of searching for a “different” restaurant. However, take account of the effects that Chinese restaurants’ favourite hidden ingredient, monosodium glutamate, may take on your well-being.

In the past decade Chinese food has become a huge trend in Egypt and not just limited to classy restaurants, but it’s also taking its place in the fast food genre in the capital and main provinces. Investors agree that in Egypt the smart money is always on a new restaurant and food chain. But those advocating the exponentially growing popularity of Chinese food are unaware that it is usually saturated it with an ingredient that can leave people with what is known as Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Ahram Online sheds more light on monosodium glutamate and the real implications of indulging in food rich in it.

"Actually, we shouldn’t confine the danger only to Chinese food," says Dr Fawzi ElShobaki, professor of nutrition at the National Research Institution, "as MSG is found in many other kinds of food like broths, soups and some kinds of meat where it is used as a kind of flavouring.”

Nevertheless, almost all Chinese restaurants douse their food with it, and although it is generally proclaimed safe, research has proven that it causes severe impairment to brain cells when consumed in very large amounts, and even in moderation it triggers some allergies and side effects for some who may be sensitive to it, including chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, headaches, migraines, burning or tingling around the mouth, stomach ache, heart palpitations and sweating or feeling flushed. It is particularly dangerous for those who lack vital vitamins, such as vitamin B6 and those who have severe asthma.

Furthermore, it is important to note that these reactions tend to be augmented when MSG is consumed in large quantities, on an empty stomach, or in a clear solution, like a bowl of soup, for instance.

A simple search on MSG will bring up the interesting story of its accidental invention. A Japanese researcher boiled a huge amount of seaweed broth until he could extract crystals of glutamic acid and later highlighted the ability of the sodium salt of glutamate to store the properties of food and enhance its flavour.

Ever since, its popularity and use have been on the rise. As previously mentioned, MSG occurs naturally in seaweed used in Chinese food, broth, ripe tomatoes, soya sauce, dried mushrooms and parmesan cheese, and sometimes it is created artificially by fermentation of corn sugar or starch.

"The real concern is that sometimes this ingredient is said to be sold individually in supermarkets and food stores," warns El Shobaki. "If such a claim is true, it could impose a real hazard to the people who would be consuming extra amounts of MSG, which is generally safe in small amounts, but could lead to real harm if taken in excess. Moreover, there should be an increase of awareness regarding such an issue, thus enabling those who are prone to such an allergy to pay extra attention when consuming this kind of food."

With Chinese food on the rise all over the world, consider the risks of the industry's favourite ingredient, MSG: food expert speaks to Ahram Online

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