Malaysia, MSG, Marcia and me



When we first came to live in Malaysia we often ate at hawker centres.  We thought, “Why would we bother cooking at home much, when we can eat easily and cheaply here?”  We cooked at home when we didn’t feel like going out, or we wanted to eat what wasn’t available at hawker centres.

After a while, though, we came to the realisation that perhaps this wasn’t such a wise lifestyle.  The hygiene is not that great, even though it’s never made us sick.  We heard they tend to use cheap, perhaps recycled, oil, for cooking. And so on. But one of the big things is that you will find monosodium glutamate (MSG) in much of the food.  This is because it is an easy way to add flavour, and probably because this is included in many spice mixes that are used.

Of course, there is natural MSG, as found in many foods, such as tomatoes.  Being natural it is not going to do the damage that the artificial MSG does. So from now on I will just consider the unnatural chemical version.

You can check online to see the damage that some say MSG does to your body.  Some people feel the effects immediately, and for others it takes longer.  Mrs Tropical Expat can taste MSG, and also immediately suffers bad effects.  As for me, I cannot usually taste it, and I don’t seem to suffer anything.

MSG is found in many packaged products, too, so one must always check the labels.  It can be hidden in other chemical compounds too, so not actually labelled by name as MSG.  e.g. Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein , Hydrolyzed Protein, Hydrolyzed Plant Protein, Plant Protein Extract, Sodium Caseinate, Calcium Caseinate, Yeast Extract, Textured Protein…

I buy very few packaged products, but even buying a packet of peanuts I have to check, as some have MSG.

For years I have heard and read about the deleterious effects of MSG. Personally I have not done so much study on this topic, and I intend to do more.  As always when I research, I will try to read opposing views, try to follow references, and try to challenge my current view to see if it still holds true after this process.  This site I just found seems to oppose my views on these chemical substances, so I will read it in detail and check the references.

The first thing I remember learning at university was how much “researchers” lie, with made up results, research designed to give skewed results, references to non-existent studies or ones that show something different to what they claim; and also manipulate statistics to give the desired “result”. I just read a book on a different topic by a mainstream university professor, tried to follow those references for what the author claimed was proof, to end up with made up, non-existent, and totally unprovable, uncheckable and untraceable references. “Recently released Russian archives” was the footnote “proving” one of her statements. For others I had to check books, some of which I could find online. But the references didn’t exist. Then, of course, there is the question of conflict of interest.  Much research is done by the very companies that produced a chemical at great expense.  Are their testing staff unbiased?

Marcia Angell, a Senior Lecturer in Social Medicine 
at Harvard Medical School and former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine – one of the most prestigious medicals journals – wrote, ” It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.”

Anyway, for years I have tried to eat and live healthily, avoiding unnatural substances as much as possible, including fast food, aspartame, MSG and so on.  And in retirement I take no medication at all, or even headache tablets if I get a very rare headache.  So, eating and living reasonably healthily seems to have kept me healthy.  I do know, as mentioned above, that my wife suffers if she ingests this substance.

But what I wonder about is how people in Malaysia are affected, seeing as quite a few people in this country eat out a lot – some people for almost every meal – and thus are ingesting MSG on a very frequent and regular basis.

Finally, here is one site on alternatives.




  1. I just stumbled across this site: and found myself in agreement with everything I read there.

    They have a page about MSG: I’m still undecided about the stuff.

    I suffer from a really dry mouth some time after eating MSG and can’t pick it while I’m eating. In the worst case, the dry mouth will even prevent me from sleeping. I always get the feeling after eating a really tasty pizza, where MSG isn’t added, but contributed by the tomato paste and cheese.

    Good thing I really like Indian food: they have no need to add MSG, as the spices contribute so much flavour.

    1. Hi Rod.

      As the site says, “That being said, MSG is generally found in processed, low-quality foods, stuff that you shouldn’t be eating much of anyway.”

      I feel that if a substance is part of a food – MSG in tomatoes, for example, then it is bioavailable and in the right form to be beneficial, or at least not harmful for us. Otherwise it is probably best avoided.

      That’s a good point about Indian food.

  2. A quick check – Indian food here has lots of MSG. Also, a friend reported that after eating Indian at Batu Ferringi’s main hawker centre he had a very dry throat and headache – every time.

  3. I came across this while browsing and I remembered these comments:


    Studies of aspartame in the peer reviewed medical literature were surveyed for funding source and study outcome. Of the 166 studies felt to have relevance for questions of human safety, 74 had Nutrasweet® industry related funding and 92 were independently funded. One hundred percent of the industry funded research attested to aspartame’s safety, whereas 92% of the independently funded research identified a problem. A bibliography supplied by the Nutrasweet® Company included many studies of questionable validity and relevance, with multiple instances of the same study being cited up to 6 times. Questions are raised both about aspartame’s safety and the broader issue of the appropriateness of industry sponsorship of medical research.

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