Let’s Talk Food: Monosodium glutamate and other myths

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) was discovered by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese chemist, in 1907 by extracting it from seaweed and calling it “ajinomoto,” which means “tasty base.” The flavors of the food with MSG explode on your tongue to make dishes taste even better.

But MSG became very unpopular in the late 1960s when the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter from a doctor complaining about radiating pain in his arms, weakness and heart palpitation after eating at Chinese restaurants. Readers responded with similar complaints and the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” scared everyone away from eating at Chinese restaurants.


Suddenly, Chinese restaurants started to put handmade signs out saying “No MSG.”

We are now looking at MSG and the nocebo effect, which happens when a suggestion is made and then there is a reaction to it.

Kentucky Fried Chicken’s secret ingredient is MSG and products such as Doritos have MSG as a listed ingredients, and none of these items have been shunned or labeled with a “symptom.”

Those with elevated levels of blood pressure might feel radiating pain in the arms, weakness and heart palpitations after eating food laced with MSG because the body does not register the sodium intake of the salt from the glutamic acid of MSG.

MSG contains about 12% sodium, or two-thirds less than contained in table salt. So if you use MSG, you should reduce the amount of salt to compensate.

Dark chocolate for losing weight

In 2015, John Bahannon, a science journalist, wanted to see how easily bad nutrition science gets disseminated in the mainstream media. He and his partner in crime, a German television reporter, recruited 16 people for a study on dieting.

What they found was those who followed a low-carb diet and also ate a 1.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate daily lost weight faster than the control group that was dieting alone. But the study was flawed, with too few subjects, measuring too many factors, “making it likelier that some random factor would appear to have statistical significance.”

The publication that the study was printed in was a pay-for-play publication that never checked the study for accuracy.

Gary Schwitzer, the publisher of Health News Review, says, “We have examples of journalists reporting on a study that was never done. We have news releases from medical journals, academic institutions and industry that mislead journalists, who then mislead the public.

“To be clear, there is good research suggesting benefits from eating chocolate — but Bohannon’s study isn’t it.”

Spinach and iron

We grew up watching Popeye eat a can of spinach and then having his muscles pop out so much that he could protect Olive Oyl from bad people.

As good a source of iron as spinach is, there are some downsides to it, including that spinach might inhibit iron absorption.

“Simply put, spinach should not at all be the first food choice of those suffering from iron deficiency,” says Ole Bjorn Rekdal, a researcher who analyzed how the spinach myth was spread.

In 1870, a German chemist, Erich von Wolf, was researching the nutritional benefits of spinach and accidently printed the decimal point in the iron content in the wrong spot, increasing 3.5 grams of iron to 35 grams.

“Popeye became so popular with children in the 1930s that sales of spinach spiked dramatically across the US,” says Michael Aushenker, a Popeye-enthusiast and editor of “The Argonaut” wrote in 2014. There was an increase of 33% in U.S. spinach consumption.

In order to develop muscles like Popeye after he has eaten spinach, you might need to lift some weights!

Do carbohydrates make you fat?

Dr. Atkins dietary principles and the low-carbohydrate paleo philosophy all make carbohydrates the bad guy.

So this is what happens in reality. You eat a baked potato with 30 grams of carbohydrates, your body breaks it down into glucose, which goes into the blood. The insulin will help move glucose into cells for use as fuel, signaling the cells to stop burning fatty acids because glucose is available instead. Once the glucose from the food has been used, the body will then return to using store fuel.

Think about cultures where they depend on large amounts of carbohydrates yet they are generally fit, lean and healthy.

So instead of blaming that poor bowl of rice or plate of pasta, maybe we should look at yo-yo dieting, chronic stress, any medication we are on, chronic insufficient sleep, inflammation or the total caloric intake per day.

Foodie bites

Thank you, M. Seeley! The recipe for the yellow cake last week calls for 2 1/2 CUPS of cake flour and 1 3/4 CUPS of sugar.

Non-food item

Wearing a cloth mask is great, but you need to machine wash it in hot water after each use. Do not use the same mask for several days.


Hand-washing your mask can double your risk of being infected with pathogens, according to researchers at the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney in Australia.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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