Order from any number of Chinese takeout restaurants these days, and you might notice that many menus boast “NO ADDED MSG.” The label can also be found in supermarket aisles on snack foods or on packaged seasonings.
The labels are meant to ease consumers’ worries, because MSG, which is used as a flavor enhancer, has for decades been popularly linked to various health problems, such as headaches and allergic reactions. It's even been considered a factor in infantile obesity.
“I see people all the time who are absolutely convinced that their allergic reactions are caused by MSG—it causes this, it causes that,” says allergist and immunologist Katharine Woessner of the Scripps Clinic Medical Group, who conducted a study on MSG's effects. But, she says, “I think there’s a great misunderstanding.”
Indeed, most scientists today agree that the notion that MSG causes sickness in humans is unfounded.
“It’s ridiculous,” says Ken Lee, a professor and the director of food innovation at The Ohio State University. “It’s wacko, it’s weird; it’s not true that MSG has any kind of toxic or causative role in food allergies.”
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