In This Episode
Food is life. But just like lives, some foods are valued more than others — some are told they don’t belong. So what happens when the entire medical establishment becomes a part of that exclusion? That’s exactly what happened to MSG, a flavor enhancer common in many Asian cuisines. Abdul reflects on racism through food and the ways that health can be weaponized against certain kinds of foods. Then he sits down with Yasmin Tayag, staff writer at The Atlantic, to talk about how recent studies may be flipping the script on MSG.
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Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Americans were more likely to skip out on needed health care because of costs in 2022 than in the two years before. Resident physicians ended a three day strike after winning key concessions from Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. The surgeon general issues an advisory over social media and teen mental health. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. [music break] I’m Egyptian-American. But when it comes to my preferences in food, I’m decidedly less Egyptian and more American. My favorite foods; pizza, burgers, fried chicken and of course, my all time favorite ice cream. Preferably something with chocolate and peanut butter. I know, I know. But you’re a doctor Abdul. Yeah yeah, a doctor with taste buds. Here’s the thing about my food preferences. I don’t know if they’re only about what I think tastes good or if they’re also about some inborn shame I’ve got lodged over my experience as a kid. Let me tell you a story. You all know what hummus is? Not huh-mus. Hom-mus. And please miss me with the chocolate and sun dried tomatoes. There is one hummus flavor. Anyway, Hummus has a less well known cousin that never quite made it mainstream. It’s called ful. It’s basically the same stuff, but ful tastes better. It’s more flavorful across the board. But here’s the problem where hummus is that pale off white color and smooth. Ful is brown and lumpy, where hummus is all but odorless, ful smells like garlic and beans. And one Sunday when I was nine or ten, my family had had it for brunch. And as we were cleaning up, my mom said, you should take this for lunch. No, I snapped back a bit too quickly. She sensed my unease and gave me a scolding about how I had to be proud of my heritage and our delicious food, etc., etc. She meant well, but my mom, she grew up Jackie Johnson. Me, Abdulrahman Mohamed El-Sayed. I knew exactly where this was going, but she was the mom. So even though I said I was happy to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or anything else for that matter, it didn’t end up being in my lunch bag the next day. To add insult to injury, we were living in Miami at the time and our lockers were outside in the hot Miami sun. By lunchtime, what had started as a tidy sandwich of ful wrapped in pita, ended up in ful melted into the corner of an unsuspecting plastic bag. I waited until all the other kids had started eating, hoping their food would mask the smell. But as soon as I pulled the thing out, that garlicky smell began wafting, prompting kids to look horrifically in my direction. Abdul’s got a turd sandwich, yelled one kid from across the room, Battleship sunk. I stuffed my ful back into my lunch bag and melted like my ful into the back of the lunchroom chair. I wish I could tell you that that incident didn’t affect my self-perception or my perception of the foods my people eat, But I remember it way too vividly to say that honestly. And that really sucks because ful is delicious and so are all the other foods that folks from all over the world bring to our palatte that so many others have teased and made fun of. Of all the discrimination at the [?] of my faith or ethnicity or name, I’ve experienced, targeting my food well, it’s had a lasting impact. Because to say bluntly, you eat it. When somebody calls something, you’re literally putting in your mouth disgusting, they’re insulting something fundamental about you. So what happens when it’s not just Frankie in your third grade class, but a whole medical establishment that’s calling into question something about your ethnic cuisine? That brings us to today’s episode. We’re talking about MSG, a seasoning associated with Asian cuisine, and the way that MSG and Asian food with it was vilified. It started with a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine from a doctor who reported a set of nondescript symptoms after he had a meal at a Chinese restaurant. Among a number of possible causes for his malaise, he named MSG. Soon thereafter though, the notion that MSG could make you sick snowballed. MSG simply stands for monosodium glutamate, a derivative of glutamic acid, the simplest of the essential amino acids, the basic building blocks of all the proteins in your body. It’s also uniquely capable of activating one of our fundamental taste sensations. See our tongues taste four essential flavors. Sweet, sour, salty and umami. Sweet, sour, and salty are all self-explanatory. That last one, Umami, that’s that rich, satisfying flavor of meat or mushrooms. And what causes it? Glutamate. The notion that monosodium glutamate should be harmful makes no sense on its face. And there’s never been a definitive study linking MSG to any of the symptoms that the doctors identified. But that hasn’t stopped the American public from all but accepting the notion that MSG, a staple of several Asian cuisines, was harmful for you. And let’s face it, it’s hard to escape the fact that targeting MSG also happens to target Asian cuisine, essentializing it as other, if not harmful. But today, chefs are beginning to push back, proudly incorporating MSG into their meals. And the tide may be turning on its health implications, too. In fact, in a society that eats way, way too much salt, which has obvious clear health implications around hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke, a salt alternative with way less sodium could be, well, really beneficial, especially if it tickles another part of the tongue. Back in comes MSG. I recently learned much of this from a great article in The Atlantic, written by our guest today, Yasmin Tayag. And so I invited her on the show to talk about the history and future of MSG. Here’s my conversation with Yasmin.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Can you introduce yourself for the tape?
Yasmin Tayag: Sure. This is Yasmin Tayag, staff writer at The Atlantic.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yasmin, thank you so much for taking the time today. Can you take us back in history to the moment when MSG first gets its bad rap?
Yasmin Tayag: So MSG had been around since you know at least the early 1900s um it was discovered in Japan um and then, you know, recognized pretty quickly as a flavor enhancer um across the world. And then in 1968, we see this letter come out in the New England Journal of Medicine. And this letter is from a Chinese-American doctor who, you know, describes some symptoms he had after eating Chinese food. He’s like, yeah, some heart palpitations, you know, like headache. Pretty general things. And he conjectures that maybe it has something to do with something in the food. Maybe it’s the cooking wine. Or maybe it’s the MSG. Um he doesn’t really come to a firm conclusion in his letter, but he just puts it out there. And then after that, we see a lot of other doctors and researchers just kind of glomming onto this idea. And then a bunch of studies come out saying like, oh, it’s totally MSG causing these these symptoms. It’s totally, you know, the ingredient that we find in Chinese food. And it very quickly becomes associated strictly with Chinese food.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow. So so first, I want I want listeners to understand that The New England Journal is not as much a journal as it is the in effect the paper of record for uh doctors. And for this uh one doctor to have A.) To to to send the letter about a set of symptoms, nondescript symptoms that he experienced after having a meal to the New England Journal is is is somewhat questionable. And then to have the New England Journal publish it. You know, looking back at that now, you kind of wonder how that would have passed any sort of peer review. And it’s not to say that, you know, letters are peer reviewed to the same degree as studies are. But that is to say that when something appears in the New England Journal, it’s given a gleam of acceptance by the medical establishment that then validates even the most conjectural hypotheses in ways that allow them to take off. And [laugh] like I’ve I’ve sometimes left uh many meals feeling kind of weird. [laugh] Right? And it may have been what I ate in the meal. It may have been that I enjoyed the food and I ate too much of the meal. It may have been that I had a hard conversation with somebody over the meal. It could have been a lot of things. Um. But for that to then in effect be deduced to a single ingredient that is associated with a particular ethnic cuisine, then sort of you start to see where bias and uh and frank racism start to pick up a story. Right. And then you start getting this this association. So what is MSG?
Yasmin Tayag: And is she is a white crystalline powder, looks kind of like salt or sugar um and chemically it is a sodium atom. That’s the monosodium. And glutamate, which is um essentially an like an amino acid that is is found in the body. And they’re joined together and it’s used as a flavor enhancer. So when you put it in food, it adds a little bit of saltiness, not as much as actual salt, because I think chemically it contains about a third of the sodium as regular salt. It adds a little bit of salty flavor. And then it also adds this flavor known as umami. Umami is um often translated as like savory or brothy or even meaty. And so when you add a pinch of MSG into a food, it brings out the other flavors um, adds a little bit of this meaty meaty flavor and also adds a hint of salt.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, it’s it’s fascinating the the science behind this. Um. So our tongues I this is a hazard of having gone to medical school. I literally remember the slide, it’s very rare that I remember slides from medical school, but I remember the slide because it had this it had this um drawing of a man making a very funny face to show me his tongue. And I don’t know why the medical anatomist drew it this way, but it’s like, uh what face would I make if I had to really show someone the back of my tongue? So it’s this drawing of this man doing this, and then it’s it’s got little pointers to different parts of the tongue, which are tongue regions that taste different tastes. And one of the interesting things I think the reason I remembered the slide is because our tongues only really taste a couple of essential tastes. We taste citrus, which is the taste of acid, right? So any sort of acid taste sour for us, and we’re pretty good at picking up that sour taste. We taste salt, we taste sugar, and then we taste umami. And uh I remember reading this and being like, which of these doesn’t belong here? I know what acid tastes like or sugar tastes like or salt tastes like, but like umami, what is that? And what’s really interesting about umami is and I’m about to say something very vegetarian and vegan unfriendly, so please forgive me everyone, [laughter] but that taste of biting into meat when you know you’re eating meat. And frankly, even if you’re a vegetarian, the minute you taste it, you’re like this this tastes like meat. It is it is umami. That’s what umami is. You can get it from mushrooms. You can get it from from a number of different things. But the thing about it is, it is the taste of the essential amino acid, glu– glutamic acid. Right? So when you have an acid, what happens is you disassociate a hydrogen proton, right? So a hydrogen with a positive charge from that acid, that’s what makes it acidic. And usually uh things with charges on them don’t sit stably in nature, so you have to give them an equal opposite charge. So if you’ve just lost a hydrogen positive charge, you then put a sodium positive charge on the glutamic acid, now known as glutamate. That gives you monosodium glutamate. And so glutamate or glutamic acid is the smallest amino acid of all of the essential amino acids. And being able to isolate it and then use it to taste your food is kind of the same thing as what we’ve done with isolating NaCl, which is table salt and using it to flavor our food. And um the fact is, is that you’re basically flavoring your food with something that tickles a part of your tongue that is a lot harder to tickle. So it’s like a an ingenious uh way to add flavor and a unique flavor to a kind of food um that, you know, we should have been lauding from the jump. Because, you know, MSG tastes good. I, I um I was at a restaurant that was very MSG forward and they just had MSG on the on the plates I like I sprinkled some on the plate and I tasted it and I was like, this is really good and I would gladly put this on my food before I put salt on my food because it was almost like I couldn’t put too much MSG. [laugh] Whereas with salt it’s like, Oh, it tastes better with salt until it tastes very much not better with salt. Right? Um. But the way that that works and the interesting thing about our brains and our evolution of our brains is that we’ve evolved to eat relatively balanced meals. So that point that you made, which is when you have a little bit of umami in a in a in a flavor profile that includes a lot of other flavors, the additive value of that umami flavor is super additive because it gives you now like the full cornucopia of flavors. And that’s why, like as you age, I don’t know if you have this experience, Yasmin, but like I used to think gushers tasted delicious. And I have a five year old now and I had a gusher and I was like, what is this? So like, first of all, it was it was like pasted into the the weird metallic container that gushers come in that like always seemed to be the shape of of what it would look like if you just squeezed it in a fist. Um. And when I finally scraped one of the gushers out, it had gushed uh and I tasted it. I was like, this is awful. And one of the things that happens as you get older, right ie your body needs a higher caloric load, is you start to appreciate more complex flavors. Right? So I sipped espresso this morning, which had you [?] given this to me when I was six, I would’ve been like, why is why is this and why are you drinking it, you crazy person? Um. But it’s an extremely complex flavor that includes a lot of these different flavors in one. And I think that’s why adult brains like it. So all that is to say that if you can add one of the hardest to get flavor profiles of the four on that um picture that I started this this this conversation with of that man making a funny face, showing me his tongue. Right. The hardest to get is that is that umami flavor. And so the idea of isolating it so that you now have sour, sweet, salty, but also umami in one flavor adds more than right, just having added a little bit more salt. So, you know, this this notion of like what MSG is, it’s funny because like, the minute you start giving people like letters for a for a uh a food, everyone’s like, oh that’s, that’s, that’s, that is a chemical. And I don’t want to add that to my food and well yeah, well you could call water H2O if you really wanted to. Right. Um. Or salt NaCl, it’s like hey can you pass some of the NaCl? People are like yo what are you talking about man? Um. So all of that is to say, you know, it’s it was sort of set up as being this uh hyper chemical, but really all it is, it’s like tickling the part of your tongue that’s hardest to tickle, that gives you the most complex flavor that is akin to, in effect, biting into meat. Um. So you wrote a really interesting piece in The Atlantic arguing that um that MSG may just be one of the most important tools to address the fact that in the average American, frankly, the average global diet, we eat a lot more of one of those other flavors. Can you talk a little bit about uh about that, that argument?
Yasmin Tayag: Yeah. You know, I got into this whole idea because I, you know, I had been seeing MSG, people are taking back MSG you know there are companies that are saying, like, we’re putting MSG in our food proudly. And I’m you know, I’m here for it. Um. But I was wondering, I was like, is is this okay for us? Like is there any health benefit to it? And then in the literature, I started seeing this idea that MSG might act as a salt replacement and could be used to um essentially let us reduce salt in our food and still restore its like palatability to still make it tasty. And um and there’s a there’s quite a bit of research out there already showing that, yes, sure enough, in certain foods you can reduce the amount of sodium, add a little bit of MSG, and when people taste it, they’re still satisfied, they’re like, okay, that’s still pretty good. And so, um in effect, they are eating a reduced salt food. And they’re still happy about it.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I mean, that that makes perfect sense to me. So just for context, folks, salt is if you had to cut out one thing very quickly to make the biggest impact on your health. Uh. Salt is probably that thing. And we we have adjusted to a salt norm in our society that is just way higher than what is recommended. And then you add that to the fact that our serving sizes have gotten bigger and bigger and we need, uh you know, linear increase in salt to keep that food salty. And you start to realize that we just have way too much salt. And of course, you know, among the population, particularly folks with um with hypertension to begin with. And unfortunately, given the other trends, a lot of folks have undiagnosed hypertension in our society. Having salt is is is not a great thing. And, you know, just to dig into the science on this, um your your body will keep your blood balanced in terms of the amount of stuff that is dissolved in it. And when you have to dissolve enough salt, what that means is you need enough water. So if because you have so much salt and you have to keep the amount of stuff dissolved in it at a certain level, you’re going to need more water to dissolve that much salt. And so you end up holding more, um in fact more volume in the same size, and now you’re pushing a lot more volume. And that’s what leads to the high, high blood pressure. And then it does all kinds of other things. But like that’s the sort of the basic physics of it. And um and so, you know, if you could find something that gave people the the the salt feel right when you um when you had some fries, for example, you know, nobody wants less salty fries like fries are nothing but a vehicle for salt and and fat. Right. Like you just take a potato and figure out how you could put as much salt and fat into it. That’s that’s a French fry um or a potato chips. Same idea. Um. But if you could figure out a way to reduce the sodium burden, right? Which, you know, as you talked about, MSG has a third as much sodium, you know, which is the the functional player in um in salt. Then uh then you could do some real good. Um. Just a Pro-tip for folks. If you ever put MSG in ketchup, it’s phenomenal. It’s like it’s like a game changer. And it’s because people don’t realize this, ketchup is actually extremely salty. It’s one of the saltiest. You don’t think about ketchup as salty, but if you didn’t salt your ketchup, it would the experience would be extremely, extremely sweet and extremely acid. And you sort of think about what I just shared about the super additive um value of uh flavors that tickle all the parts of your tongue. If you think about ketchup, right. The one thing it’s missing is umami. So if you if you put some MSG in some ketchup, it doesn’t matter what you’re dipping into it. It is it is phenomenal. Right? Because it’s it’s it’s sour, salty, sweet and now umami. So, like, umami ketchup. That’s that’s if you came for nothing else. Right. The structural racism about MSG, a general understanding of of of your your tongue architecture leave with the umami ketchup tip. Anyway um so uh so this is a this is a proposition that’s being made what’s I’m I’m almost certain that old habits die hard just having uh spent a lot of my life adjacent to the medical establishment. What’s the pushback on this?
Yasmin Tayag: Well, you know, for one thing, people are still pretty skeptical of MSG. I think those that old stereotype still lingers. It’s not as like overtly tied to Chinese food. It’s not as overtly racist as it used to be. But in some cases it can’t be, um you know, but I think it’s just become part of part of the way that food is marketed, that MSG is kind of bad. And so, you know, even me, you know, I live in New York. My closest grocery is a Whole Foods. If I try to find a packet of MSG there, I can’t find it. I go on the Whole Foods website. We don’t sell things with MSG in it. Same with Trader Joe’s.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Hmm.
Yasmin Tayag: Um. And, you know, I think part of it is that this this perception lingers that it is it is bad for you. Um. And I think also, you know. I relate it to what you were saying earlier about people being scared of ingredients that are just like letters, like MSG, NaCl. Um. I think people are wary when they see monosodium you know L-glutamate or MSG in an ingredient list. And so it’s interesting you see it coming out on ingredient lists under different names now, like flavor enhancer. Um. And, you know, it’s still in food, it’s not like it’s not allowed to be in our food. Um. But companies, manufacturers are having to find different ways of putting it in because they’re you know, they’re worried that people would get scared off.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, I’m I’m trying to imagine uh going shopping for MSG at a Whole Foods. Like not only would you probably not find it, but you’d get you’d get some very concerned Whole Foods worker who fits the stereotype of a Whole Foods worker trying to explain to you why that’s not good for you.
Yasmin Tayag: Yes. [laughing] I’m I’ve been scared to ask.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It it would just be such a interesting [laugh] just such an interesting social experiment.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: We’ll be back with more with Yasmin Tayag after this break. [music break]
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, we’ve been sort of circling around this, but let’s just hit the nail on the head. One of my general hypotheses on um individual racism, right? We talk about structural racism on this pod in general, in society a lot or not enough. But but you hear more about it in the notion that uh that the racism that is the most damaging is the racism that’s embedded in the structures of our society. But there is still individual racism. And um one of the ways that it shows up increasingly is that, you know, I think folks have gotten the message that frank racism is um is deeply inappropriate. But it’s not that a lot of the racism, you know, even in spaces that shun any form of racism, has gone away. It’s just transmogrified into this, you know, paternalistic uh version of oh those people need to be guided. Right. Let me just let me just guide them. And this this whole saga about MSG. It’s impossible to fully interpret without thinking through the essentialization of certain kinds of cuisine uh and then certain kinds of people who eat certain kinds of food. Never mind the fact that like a lot of the Chinese food that is served in American Chinese restaurants is geared toward folks who are not Chinese. Right. But and this is the sort of the um yeah, the sort of version of many kinds of ethnic cuisines in the United States that are then geared toward a non-ethnic palatte. Right um. I was whenever I uh take um friends who are not Middle Eastern out to Middle Eastern food, they’re always like I want the authentic stuff. I’m like, got it, got it, get it. Um uh. But um and another protip if your shawarma has uh lettuce in it. Go find another shawarma. Just just so you know. Um uh. Anyway, all of that is to say, um how does the the essentialization of Chinese uh food and then, you know, the way that that’s sort of been puffed out into, you know, broader Asian cuisine, how does that a essentialization play out in the story of MSG? And I think how are, how are people pushing back on that?
Yasmin Tayag: Yeah, you know, I think uh if you go back again to the very beginning of the story, there was already this even before that letter came out in the New England Journal of Medicine, there was already the simmering um skepticism as to light of a word, just a simmering suspicion about Chinese people and their what they what they eat, what they do, how they cook. And so when the letter came out, it I, the way that historians put it, is that it gave many people a chance to voice their, um it gave them a peg to to put all their suspicions on. It’s like, oh, we were right. There is something weird about what these people are doing. And this persisted you know. Um. And uh fast forward to today something that I am really, really happy to see are these companies that are proudly taking back MSG and they’re largely Asian owned companies. There’s one in particular called Omsom. They make um sort of prepackaged seasonings and sauces for um Asian and Southeast Asian foods. So, you know, like a larb or in the Philippines they have like a sea [?] um, like a very salty, citrusy meat dish. They have a seasoning for that. And they very proudly put on their um on their labeling, we use MSG and there’s nothing wrong with it. And it is so delicious. And they’re, you know, essentially using this uh they’re using MSG as a way to educate the public about what has happened, how we came to be so racist about it and why that’s wrong. Um. And uh and yeah, it’s really encouraging to see.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. And I think that the owning of it and the, you know, overt engagement with it is is absolutely critical. And I also think that, you know, this plays to a number of stereotypes about um Eastern cultures, which is, you know, you can imagine, like the food is so good, there has to be something wrong with it. [laugh] Like ah here it is. It’s the MSG. It’s not fair it’s cheating. Right? So like, well, no, we just also spice our food so there’s that.
Yasmin Tayag: Yeah.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: But. [laughter]
Yasmin Tayag: We season.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, exactly. Uh. It turns out salt and pepper are not spices they’re just they’re you know. [laughter] If you have to post spice your food it’s not spiced well sorry. [laughter] Um, but there are, there are narratives like this that are sewn about eastern cultures all the time. Right. And it’s, it’s not just from a food standpoint. It is the, you know, the trope of um of Asian women follows a certain a very similar kind of narrative. Uh. And these tropes have done like tremendous damage around the capacity for people to be and do to be seen as equals and uh to be taken um seriously. And it’s also done real damage to our own society. I mean, think about how much, think about how much better a lot of foods could have been if people were like, ah, MSG. This is a really, this is a really good uh seasoning. And I kind of just like alongside my salt and pepper shaker, maybe I should have a MSG shaker. But we all miss out. And most of all, um this does, these tropes, whether it’s about food, it’s about certain groups of people and their behavior. It’s about how you objectify folk. Uh. They do profound damage um and most of all to the people who suffer on the other end of them, whose um whose own efforts to to be and do in society uh are are kept down because of that alternative narrative and the way that they’re fit in. Um. I want to sort of stepping back like, you know, obviously we’re talking about MSG. It is a singular example. Um. And I, I really appreciated the way that you talked about the ways that it could be used um positively. As you think about where this goes. Um. How does it look to actually start to um to encourage the possible public health benefit of MSG? You know, even as I say that, you know, it’s one of those things where you’re so conditioned to assume that that this is a bad thing that you’re like the public health benefit of MSG? What is that? So what does it look like to actually make that possible? Um. And are there folks taking steps toward that end?
Yasmin Tayag: You know, I’ll say now I feel very positively about it, but I think it is going to be a hard sell. There’s a lot we have to get past a lot of obstacles. Um. I think one of the ways in which um we can begin to get people on board is is for chefs um to adopt it in in their cooking. And we’re starting to see that in a few restaurants. You know, here in New York, there is um a really hot um restaurant called Bonnie’s that serves Chinese food, and they make, like, an MSG martini.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Mmm.
Yasmin Tayag: And I think when, you know, when chefs openly embrace and they say like look, we are professionals in the food industry and we think this is a fine thing to use in your cooking that sort of trickles down. You know, hopefully that um that leads to just like or acceptance. You know, if it if it creates some buzz around it, that’s that’s okay, too. You know, I think that’s one way of um sort of lowering the barrier or maybe removing old obstacles um in the way of embracing an ingredient. But I also think part of it is um you know showing people how to use it. It’s been shunned from American kitchens for so long that I think if you gave someone like a shaker full of MSG, they’d be like, what do I do? Even I, you know, I’m Filipino. It is you know, MSG is used a lot in cooking in the Philippines, but I don’t really know how to use it that much because I grew up here. Um. But one of the sensory scientists I spoke to said uh just a pinch start with a pinch, add it to your steamed vegetables. Add it to um you know, if you’re trying to reduce salt in your diet, if you’re actively trying to do that, uh the tip is to buy the low salt version of the food. Say it’s a processed food, get the low salt version, it’ll taste bad, but then add a pinch of MSG. See where it goes from there. See how much it takes to make it palatable. And so, you know, essentially it comes down to like experimentation and then comfort with this new ingredient in your home. Um but in the end, that’s all it is, right? That is just a an unfamiliar ingredient like any other. And it’ll take some practice. Um. And and of course you know, the continued education about the history of MSG is going to be really important. I have been following the sort of um I’ve I in my mind, I think of it, I’ve been following the exoneration of MSG in the past few years, seeing, you know, the stories about the history come out, seeing people talk about why it’s bad. But I’m always surprised to to find out how many people still don’t know that. Even my own parents, you know, when I’ll tell them, hey, you know, MSG is actually okay for you, my dad will be like, no, it makes me uh nauseous and it gives me headaches. And I’m like, does it though? Or did you just eat too much? You know, did you just eat too much food? Um. And uh as more people get to know this, I’m hopeful that it will um it’ll encourage them to rethink or at least be open to the idea that it might be something that is different than what they always thought.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So if anyone out there is thinking about making like a 2023 remake of Mary Poppins, I’m just imagining instead of like a spoo– spoonful of sugar, it’s like it’s just a pinch of MSG. [laughter] Helps your saltless food go down. [laughter] Uh. Uh. Yasmin, thank you so much for uh taking the time. Um. Yasmin Tayag is a staff writer for The Atlantic. Uh. She recently wrote about uh MSG, MSG is finally getting its revenge. And um let me tell you that it’s revenge will um be umami flavored. And uh we appreciate you taking the time to uh to join us today to talk to us about uh the fall and then the rise of MSG. And um and y’all remember just MS– a little bit a, a pinch of MSG in the ketchup changes everything. Uh. Yasmin, thank you so much for taking the time today.
Yasmin Tayag: Thank you too. [music break]
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: As usual here’s what I’m watching right now. Turns out more money, less problems. 28% of American adults admitted to skipping out on health care because of the costs in 2022. That’s up from 23% in 2020, according to a survey from the Federal Reserve. The most common form of skipped care was dental care, followed by prescription drugs. What’s the difference? Cash money. Even if you’re uninsured in this country, out-of-pocket costs make getting health care a financial drag. And in a year where inflation took a bite out of folk’s paychecks, 35% said that their financial situation is worse this year. But it’s also that with the pandemic, Congress did some extraordinary things, like putting money in people’s wallets to tide them over. It meant that in 2020, despite the pandemic, the proportion of folks who skipped out on health care hit a ten year low. What an indictment, though, right? Think about it. It took a whole damn pandemic to get folks the health care they needed. Another thing the pandemic did was devastate health care workers. Burnout is at an all time high. Few health care workers were hit harder than resident physicians. The trainees who do most of the heavy lifting in hospitals around the country. And the hardest hit were residents at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, the epicenter of the first COVID wave in the U.S.. Those residents had had enough, citing the fact that first year residents were making $7,000 less than their counterparts across the East River in Manhattan. They decided to strike. But doctor strikes are extremely rare given the mission critical work they do. But after three days, they won key concessions from their employer. This is part of a growing trend of physician organizing, which I think is the most important antidote to the consolidation we’re seeing across the health care system. Resident physician unions have won recognition in some of America’s biggest and most storied hospitals, including Mass General and UPenn. We’ll be talking more about it in an upcoming episode. Stay tuned. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a 19 page surgeon general’s advisory regarding the consequences of social media for teen mental health. A survey from Pew Research found that nearly a third of teens aged 13 to 17 report using social media, quote, “almost constantly.” The report details the positives and negatives of social media for young people, including the ways that social media, particularly in early adolescence, increases risk of social isolation, depression, anxiety and suicidality. The report concludes that, quote, “We do not yet have enough evidence to determine if social media is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents,” and it issues recommendations for policymakers, parents, teens, researchers and social media companies themselves. In particular, the report calls for data privacy measures, age based regulations and more transparency. I have to say I wholeheartedly agree with this. In fact, I wish it went further. See, Surgeon General’s advisories don’t hold any hard power. Instead, their power is in moving a conversation, as previous warnings have done over smoking in the sixties. HIV in the eighties or obesity in the 2000s. But this is a critical step forward toward engaging with the skyrocketing rates of teen mental illness. As with the last story, we’re going to be talking a lot more about this in a couple of episodes. That’s it for today. On your way out, don’t forget to rate and review. It really goes a long way. Also, if you love the show and want to rep us, do drop by the Crooked store for some America Dissected merch. [music break] America Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Our associate producers are Tara Terpstra and Emma Illick-Frank. Vasilis Fotopoulos mixes and masters the show. Production support from Ari Schwartz. Our theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Leo Duran, Sarah Geismer, Michael Martinez and me. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening. [music break] This show is for general information and entertainment purposes only. It’s not intended to provide specific health care or medical advice and should not be construed as providing health care or medical advice. Please consult your physician with any questions related to your own health. The views expressed in this podcast reflect those of the host and his guests and do not necessarily represent the view and opinion of Wayne County, Michigan, or its Department of Health, Human and Veterans Services.