Travel Tips: How to Avoid MSG in Asia

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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 ItMSG 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.

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“NO MSG” in Thai

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. Halaal

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

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Why MSG Is Toxic And How You Can Avoid It

Monosodium_glutamate_crystals Monosodium Glutamate. Most likely when you hear the word you probably think Chinese food, right? But ladies and gentlemen, MSG is found everywhere, including many items you find on the shelves of your neighborhood grocery store. MSG is found in many canned foods, soups, and processed meats. Companies throw MSG in to enhance their flavor, but at what cost?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies MSG as generally safe, although people sensitive to MSG suffer from extreme adverse reactions (me being one of them) such as migraines, heart palpitations, body aches, mental confusion, and even mood swings. If I get dosed with MSG, I get a migraine that lasts for days, so I am very cautious about avoiding the stuff.

These days, however, it’s getting more difficult to avoid being poisoned, because MSG hides in more than 40 other FDA-approved ingredients! It seems food companies are aware of the bad rap MSG gets, and instead of getting rid of it, they have gotten extremely sneaky with the food labels. What’s aggravating and extremely dishonest is the fact that if the company doesn’t add the ingredient called “monosodium glutamate” they are still allowed to claim “No MSG Added” on their label.

Disgusting, right?

So for those people like me who get blinding migraines and flu-like symptoms from MSG, we are left with no protection from the FDA. Instead, we are forced to put on our detective hats every time we purchase something at the food store.

Here are some of the names MSG is known by, so you can recognize it on food labels when next shopping:

  • Glutamic acid
  • Monopotassium Glutamate
  • Glutamate
  • Yeast Extract
  • Autolyzed Yeast
  • Yeast Food
  • Yeast Nutrient
  • Hydrolyzed Protein
  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Soy Protein Concentrate
  • Whey Protein Isolate
  • Autolyzed Plant Protein
  • Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
  • Textured Protein

But hold up, Health Coach Jenna. I’m not sensitive or allergic to MSG. Why should I bother cutting it out?

The effects of MSG are accumulative. So just because you don’t experience any adverse side effects now, doesn’t mean you won’t later. According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, in his book Exitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, sensitivity to MSG builds up in our bodies until we reach what he called our “threshold of sensitivity”. MSG intake causes brain damage, leads to nervous disorders, and causes rapid hormone fluctuations. In a scientific study, scientists found that mice injected with MSG become rapidly obese, inactive, and have other hormonal issues (2). More importantly, if you are pregnant or nursing, you should be even more cautious about MSG intake, because infants and children are four times more sensitive to MSG than adults (1).

The main points I hope you take away from this article:

1. Just because the label says “MSG Free” doesn’t mean it is.

2. MSG is damaging to your health, and even more so to infants and children.

3. The other names for MSG. You can find a downloadable list of all the MSG- containing ingredients at Food Renegade. Just click HERE and scroll down to the orange box at the bottom of the page.

And remember folks, if you stick to real, whole foods, it’s much easier to avoid these toxic chemicals! Also, remember the basic guideline of five ingredients or less. And chances are, if you can’t pronounce the ingredient, it probably isn’t the best thing for you.

Proud to be MSG Free,

Health Coach Jenna HealtherNotions_Logo_Stacked   Sources:

1). BLAYLOCK, RUSSELL L. EXCITOTOXINS: THE TASTE THAT KILLS. SANTA FE, NM: HEALTH, 1998. PRINT.

2. LORDEN, J.F., AND A. CLAUDE. “BEHAVIORAL AND ENDOCRINOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF SINGLE INJECTIONS OF MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE IN THE MOUSE”. NEUROBEHAVIORAL TOXICOLOGY AND TERATOLOGY 8.5 (1986): 509-19. PRINT.