I love traveling and I love trying new foods, but I do not love MSG. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer commonly found in most Asian cuisines, and I’ve been dosed more than once while traveling in southeast Asia this year. I have an extreme allergy to MSG, resulting in migraines and flu-like body aches for a few days if I’m exposed to the stuff. But if you don’t have a severe allergy like me, you should still avoid MSG as it is extremely damaging to your health.
Most places in Thailand use MSG, which is frustrating, and I have had to be incredibly alert to stay away from the toxic stuff. I didn’t have a problem in India or Vietnam, but avoiding MSG was also a real issue in Indonesia and Malaysia. Consequently, over the last year I’ve become an expert at dodging MSG!
Here are my 7 tips to help you avoid MSG on your next vacation to Asia:
1. Do not trust a restaurant’s claim of being “MSG-free”.
This is the Golden Rule, folks. Just because a restaurant advertises that it is MSG-free, don’t start getting green curry happy. Trust me, I’ve been dosed a few times this way. Most times it’s not because the restaurant is purposefully trying to deceive its customers. The owner most likely genuinely believes their food is MSG-free. However, as I discussed in my article Why MSG is Toxic and How You Can Avoid It, MSG hides under many different names, and is found in many flavoring packets and sauces. The same ones which the restaurant most likely uses in their curries, soups, fried rices, etc. Yes they might not add that skull and cross bones shaker of white crystals conspicuously labeled MSG to their dishes, but they might still be using flavoring powders with a form of MSG to prepare their food.
2. If it tastes sweet and salty and the same time, be wary.
This is the ultimate sign to your taste buds that the dish you are eating has MSG.
3. Carry a picture saying”NO MSG” written in the language of the country you are in.
I have this on my iPhone and I carry it around everywhere.
4. When in doubt, avoid the sauce.
MSG is usually all in the sauce. Your picture saying “NO MSG” might work, and the cook might have the best intentions. However, there is still a chance you may get dosed, seeing as MSG is hidden under many different names. If I’m at an establishment that I don’t fully trust, I ask for my veggies to be steamed or stir- fried with no sauce (I have a picture on my phone saying no sauce in the language of the country I’m in). I also ask for no salt, because sometimes their “salt” is MSG.
5. Carry a small bottle of sea salt or Himalayan pink salt with you.
Seeing as steamed veggies can get old real quick, I carry a small bottle of natural sea salt with me to give my dish some flavor.
6. Eat at restaurants advertised as “Vegan”.
It’s not hard to find vegetarian restaurants in Asia, but I’ve found that this is not a guarantee for MSG-free food. However, I’ve found restaurants advertised as “vegan” are usually MSG free. Most times, they even advertise “No MSG” on their menu. So look up vegan restaurants on Happy Cow and support those establishments.
7.Eat at Muslim-run restaurants.
Seek out Muslim-run restaurants. These establishments do not use MSG, as it is not Halal. While in Thailand, I’ve eaten many delicious Thai meals at restaurants owned by Thai Muslims.
Good luck and happy travels!
Health Coach Jenna