One of the top restaurants surrounding the University of Cincinnati is Keystone's Mac Shack, which specializes in serving made to order mac-and-cheese. The Elbow Macaroni is boiled in front of you, the ingredients are made fresh and once the mac and cheese comes out of the cheese melter, and the end product is really something from a dream. The mac-and-cheese is critically acclaimed to be among the best available anywhere, but I recently discovered the dark truth about this delicious food, and it's quite the tragedy.
The past three times I've had Mac Shack I've gotten a deep and severe headache, prompting me to look into one of the key ingredients in mac and cheese, leading me to a chemical compound that sounds a lot more familiar that it seems: Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG. MSG is not scientifically linked to headaches or any of the associated symptoms, however MSG symptom complex or Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, has been linked to adverse effects after consuming MSG.
So if MSG has the potential of being harmful, why do food companies use it anyway?
Food Technologists consider MSG a salivation enhancer and flavor potentiator because of its ability to modulate other human taste perceptions. The Guardian reports food companies use MSG and other glutamate additives to mimic natural savory flavors in ultra-processed products such as soup mixes, ready-made sauces, savory snacks, seasoned nuts, stock cubes and instant noodles.
So how do people with sensitivity to MSG respond to the the modern food culture. The general rule of thumb to follow is that if you have a sensitivity to MSG, avoid foods where critical ingredients are highly processed or not made fresh.
However, on the same vein, CRS doesn't affect everyone; it stands to reason that the entire Chinese food eating population isn't waking up every day with an MSG induced headache. MSG has been getting a terrible rep when in reality it is no different from the naturally occurring form of its ingredients: sodium, an element present in salt; and glutamate, one of the most common amino acids that your body uses to synthesize proteins.
Knowing what's in your food, and being aware of the potential side effects of hidden ingredients already puts you two steps ahead of the game.
The adage that I and billions of others follow when it comes to food is:
Fear the food (*but eat it anyways*).