February 18, 2011 at 6:00 am
I’ve mentioned here before that for the past year or so, we have been dealing with a lot of food restrictions.
These were in addition to the ones we already had in place in our family.
There are some foods (or rather chemicals in food) that we try to avoid almost completely, with the exception of a very occasional piece of cake at a friend’s birthday party or something along that line.
As a rule, in our family we avoid things like food dyes, artificial sweeteners, preservatives like BHA, BHT and TBHQ and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Our feeling here is that these chemicals don’t add anything good to our diets, and can sometimes do harm, expecially in sensitive individuals.
During the past year of avoiding more foods in order to rule out some allergies, we have started reading labels even more closely. And once in a while I will notice something I don’t recognize even in an otherwise pretty healthy sounding packaged food.
Lately, I have seen a few things at the grocer that include yeast extract in the ingredient list. So I decided to ask about it at our local health food store and got a surprising response:
“I think it’s like MSG,” the woman said.
I came home to do some research, and learned that the woman was sort of right. Sort of.
Yeast extract is a flavor enhancer that can be used in place of MSG. It does contain free glutamate, which means that people who are sensitive to MSG can react to yeast extract.
MSG-related complaints often include symptoms like migraine headaches, hyperactivity and skin rashes, as well as a host of other issues.
According to the Truth in Labeling Campaign, free glutamate can be found in a lot of unexpected places, including “healthy” versions of convenience foods that contain ingredients like yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein or protein isolates.
This was enough to make me question ever buying a product with one of these ingredients listed on the label. But my goal as we continue to live more organically is to NOT FREAK OUT, and instead, try to learn all I can and make the best choices possible from there.
So searching for the whole story about yeast extract and other similar additives actually led me to Whole Food’s official blog, Whole Story:
“Autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed proteins, among other ingredients, are completely natural ingredients that happen to be have substantial amounts of glutamates, but nowhere near the concentration found in MSG,” the blog states.
It goes on to say that, “while a small subset of people may be sensitive to even these small levels of glutamate,” they are clearly marked in the ingredient list.
I would point out that that’s true, but it remains the responsibility of the consumer to be familiar with all the various names for glutamates.
So there you go. Is yeast extract the same as MSG? No.
Does that mean that it is safe to eat?
As my 7-year-old son would say: “Cricket … cricket …”
Like with so many things I learn about on this organic path, I feel like this is something I want to look into further so I can make the best choice for my family.
Luckily, we very rarely encounter these ingredients in our everyday diet, anyway, but I still think it is beneficial to do some further research.
I am by no means an expert on the topic, so if you have insight or experience with this, it would be great to hear about it in the comments.