KUALA LUMPUR: Retiree Boey Hon Meng would suffer from severe drowsiness within half an hour after consuming food with too much monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Boey, 73, said that as a result, he would only go to shops that do not use MSG, a seasoning commonly added in Asian cooking, canned vegetables soups and processed meat.
“I will go to bed at 7.30pm and sleep until 7am, and this tends to happen for the next two days.
“This only happens when I eat in a shop but not at home,” said Boey, who usually sleeps at 11pm and wakes up at 5am.
He said that he could not really tell if a certain food contains MSG, but such foods tend to be sweeter.
“I once ate Seremban siew pau and after having two buns, I felt uncomfortable. After the third one, my lungs felt compressed and I had difficulty breathing,” he said, adding that he had to see a doctor who then told him to go to a hospital for an ECG test.
The doctor gave him some medication and he felt better, said Boey, who said he also could not breathe after taking evaporated milk or coconut milk.
The United States Food and Drug Administration classifies MSG as a food ingredient that’s “generally recognised as safe”, but its use remains somewhat controversial.
For this reason, when MSG is added to food, the FDA requires that it be listed on the label.
Electronics design engineer Andrew Beer, 42, who is married to a Malaysian, said he would suffer from insomnia after consuming food containing too much MSG.
“If dinner is at 7pm and my bedtime is at 11pm, I won’t be able to sleep until 1am or 2am.
“Other times, it disturbs my sleep and I wake up in the morning like I haven’t slept at all,” he said.
Beer said he would get extra thirsty and his pulse rate would go higher, leading to insomnia.
“We don’t avoid eating out or at Chinese restaurants but we are careful of where we eat and avoid restaurants (particularly Chinese) we know that use lots of MSG,” he said.
He said that if he and his wife Joanne Tay, 38, had to accept a friend’s invite to a restaurant that served high levels of MSG in their food, they would usually go there for lunch so that it would not affect Beer’s sleep at night.
Beer said that other food that caused similar symptoms is a type of burger from a fast- food outlet.
“We suspect it’s the burger sauce in it that could have high levels of MSG.
“I’ve had other burgers from the same chain such as cheeseburger and it has no effect,” said Beer, who is based in London.
JY Lou (pic), 54, a Malaysian living in Germany, said that each time she returned to Malaysia, she would sometimes experience dry mouth when she had noodle soups or when she dined in some restaurants that serve tai chau (cooked as ordered) dishes.
“Once in a while, I get this in Europe, too. I just put up with it and drink more water. This dry-mouth feeling is uncomfortable but tolerable,” said Lou, who is a part-time Asian cooking teacher.