IF you have a headache after eating Chinese food, it may be the flavor enhancer known as MSG (monosodium glutamate). MSG, the salt of glutamic acid, occurs naturally in sugar beets, soybeans and seaweed. It is used to bring out the flavors of meats, condiments, pickles, soups, candy and baked goods. Reactions to it vary – symptoms include chest pains, headache and even numbness. Baby food manufacturers stopped using it several years ago when tests indicated that brain damage could result in chickens, rats, rabbits, and monkeys when fed this ingredient.

The Allergy Information Association says that it often hears of similar allergic reactions after people eat foods processed with another flavor enhancer, hydrolized vegetable (plant) protein.

The association warns sufferers to be careful and read labels or ask at the restaurant if either of these ingredients has been used.

Another villain is tartrazine, a coal tar derivative, widely used as a coloring agent in gelatin desserts, soft drinks, ice cream, sherbet, spaghetti and some drugs. People who are allergic to aspirin usually suffer reactions to tartrazine. In Canada, processed food labels must state if flavors are natural or artificial, but not colors.

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