Do you notice a pattern of sleepiness after eating Chinese food several times in a row? Many people who enjoy eating Chines food but feel sleepy after desperately desire what to do to remain active after consuming their favorite Chinese delicacies. Fortunately, you can understand why you really feel sleepy and what you can do about it.
So, does Chinese food make you sleepy? The answer to this is no. Chinese food in general does not make you sleepy. Just as some people claim to feel sleepy after eating Chinese foods, there are those who complain of sleeplessness or grogginess.
Some people report feeling sleepy or sleepless after eating Chinese food that a term was coined for the feeling; Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.
With these diverse reactions, it is obvious there may be another factor at play that makes it hasty to categorize Chinese food in general as sleep-inducing.
However, what is common to all these complaints is that the people involved either ate too much of the foods or the food has a high Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) content.
What Is Chinese Restaurant Syndrome?
Chinese restaurant syndrome, now outdated, was coined in the 1960s to define a group of symptoms that people observed after eating food from a Chinese restaurant. It is currently called the MSG symptom complex. The symptoms often include sleepiness, sleeplessness, headache, skin flushing, and sweating.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive, is generally blamed for these symptoms. However, there’s minimal scientific evidence that depicts any link between MSG and these symptoms in humans.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared MSG safe. Moreover, most people who eat foods containing MSG do not experience any problems. However, a few people have short-lived, adverse reactions to the MSG food additive.
Is the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome Real?
Most of the people who feel sleepy after eating Chines food overindulge at Chinese buffets, usually mixing foods that are cheap, difficult-to-digest, and fried in heavy oil. It, therefore, stands that the so-called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is likely to be a reaction to the consumption of excessive salt while overeating heavy, but inexpensive Chinese food.
The same people that complain they’re sleepy after eating cheap Chinese food rarely ever claim the same feeling after eating lunch meats or popular-brand soups which often also contain MSG. they also rarely claim the same sensitivity to MSG when eating other glutamates. Glutamate occurs naturally in living cells and helps to provide a unique taste to tomatoes, eggs, and even sharp cheese. In fact, most American food companies low-key added MSG to their menu offerings, from soups to salad dressings.
In an Australian study where 71 volunteers who were sure of their sensitivity to MSG were given a mix of actual MSG tablets and placebos, those who got the real MSG didn’t report any ill effects. But those who received the placebo tablets reported the same symptoms that they felt after eating Chinese food.
MSG actually helps to increase appetite since it enhances the taste of foods and influences the body’s natural appetite-suppression system. Studies tend to favor the theory that feeling sleepy because of Chinese food is more likely due to overeating heavy foods than for any other reason.
Is MSG Safe?
The discussion over MSG’s safety has been ongoing for decades, which makes it one of the most researched food additives in history. For some reason, although over 60% of the Asian population purposefully consume MSG daily, its use in the West is strongly disapproved. Westerners would readily pay more to avoid MSG, even for their pets.
There have been extensive studies on the effects of MSG since 1959 which culminated in the FDA, United Nations, World Health Organization, and European Union, all listing MSG as a safe food ingredient. Another study by the European Union stated that MSG was also safe for both pregnant women and infants.
A collaborative of Chinese and American researchers in 2008 linked MSG with obesity. However, another Chinese study in 2010 debunked the find. The study later suggested that the enhanced flavors MSG gives foods tempt them to overeat (again), and the thirst that MSG causes is usually quenched with beer or sugary drinks which leads to weight gain. After all, Japan, which is the leading per-capita consumer of MSG, boasts of the world’s longest life expectancy AND the world’s lowest obesity rates!
Symptoms of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome?
Some people experience symptoms immediately after eating while it may take a few hours for others. Symptoms last from a few hours to a few days. Here are the most common symptoms:
- Skin flushing
- Numbness in the throat
- Numbness in the mouth
If the sleepiness is caused by allergic reactions, it may lead to severe and life-threatening symptoms among some people. Although this is a less common occurrence:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Rapid heartbeat
- Swelling in the face
- Swelling in the throat
Enjoy Your Favorite Chinese Dishes without Feeling Sleepy
Many people have heard others say that Chinese food makes them sleepy. What you may not know is that the sleepiness may have nothing to do with Chinese food AT ALL. Here are the reasons some people report feeling sleepy after eating Chinese foods and what they can do about it:
It’s also cold and flu season – It’s normal to feel sleepy when you’re fighting off a bug – even if it’s a mild one.
What to do: This kind of sleep is necessary to fully recover.
You’ve not been sleeping well – When you enjoy a good meal after nights of poor sleep, your body would cave in.
What to do: Give in. your body needs the rest for maximum functionality
Chinese Meal Choice – You may experience some side effects like drowsiness, numbness, and tingling if you consume more than 3 grams of MSG at a time. An a typical serving of food contains only about 0.5 mg of MSG
What to do: Eat less of noodles and rice and more of vegetables. Also, eat normal rations of well-prepared Chinese food
Allergy or Sensitivity – You can feel drowsy because of allergens which may lead to spikes in metabolite levels or inflammatory reactions.
What to do: Consult your allergist
Underlying Health Conditions – People who have asthma or some other health conditions may be sensitive to the food additive.
What to do: Request for MSG-free food at the restaurant.
Nocebo Effect – You’re feeling sleepy because you anticipate it. There’s no scientific evidence linking Chinese food with sleepiness. And the food additives in Chinese foods are also used in other meals that don’t make you feel sleepy
What to do: Acknowledge the scientifically backed fact that MSG is safe. If you don’t have any specific pointer to why Chinese food is making you drowsy, then a change of mind will result in a change of reality.
Satisfaction – It is normal to feel drowsy just because you are thoroughly satisfied with your meal.
What to do: Eat more of such meals. Life is meant to be enjoyed.
If Chinese Food Is Not Making Me Sleepy, What Is?
Many people self-diagnose themselves to be sensitive to MSG when that is not likely to be the case since they consume MSG in many other foods without any symptoms.
Do Chinese Restaurants Serve MSG-Free Food?
The West has a negative bias towards MSG. while a lot of their fears are unfounded, it is better to err on the side of caution by providing an MSG-free menu for interested customers.