MSG and Chinese Restaurant Syndrome May not be What You think!

Many people talk about “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” or about all the sodium in MSG and how you should avoid MSG to reduce your sodium intake. The facts are that MSG can be an excellent way to flavor food And keep sodium intake down, yes you read that correctly! Let’s explore!


MSG (Monosodium glutamate) is a flavoring agent allowing you to use less salt in cooking because of its unique ability to boost flavor. The ability comes from the glutamate part of MSG. Glutamate is an amino acid found in many foods, it is the “fifth sense of taste” – umami! Umami is often referred to as the savory taste or the taste that causes us to feel that something is more enjoyable. Making the shift to MSG, as opposed to simply adding salt, really isn’t difficult and there are definite benefits to that switch.

Sodium intake

According to the Food and Drug Administration, Americans consume 3400 mg of sodium per day, versus the 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommended level of 2300 mg per day. This excess intake is one factor that impacts blood pressure leading to the focus on reducing intake. Consuming more potassium containing foods – fruits, vegetables, and dairy – and less sodium, is often the recommended plan to help manage blood pressure.  MSG contains about 12% sodium while salt is 39%. Replacing salt with MSG is one way to reduce intake and add to the flavor. 2

You may be asking if MSG contains less sodium then why are there still concerns about its use? For many, the concerns are grounded in beliefs or stories heard about the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”. If you check the research, few studies support any of the believed concerns. In fact, a good handout from the International Glutamate Information Service outlines Myths and Facts. 3

Science Says!

If you are considering trying MSG in place of salt a new study might give you the push you need. The study, supported by Ajinomoto CO., is found in the Journal of Food Science. In the study, subjects tried four different recipe that had reduced sodium content either due to using less salt or using MSG. 163 study participants tasted three versions of the same dish. The four recipes were prepared in the normal manner, then in a reduced sodium version and finally in a reduced sodium but MSG added version. The reduced in salt plus the MSG dishes received positive comments on taste, versus those that were reduced in salt alone. 4

This is just one study, and it is small in size, but it does provide a glimpse of how using MSG in place of salt can help maintain or boost flavor and reduce sodium intake. This brief infographic provides some tips on making the shift. 


About Connie Connie is a Registered Dietitian with extensive experience communicating in the food and nutrition space. Taking the science of food and nutrition and translating it to simple messages, new products, or exciting menus is her expertise. Making nutrition messages clearaccurate, and engaging aids all consumers.

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