Vegemite was originally promoted as a healthy food for children. Is Vegemite good for our kids though? It is a question I am continually asked by the AFK Community. As a result, I have decided to blog about the reasons why if you want happy little ‘vegemites’ I would not feed them Vegemite!
Now before everyone starts getting irate with me…especially hubbies and partners, please remember this:
The Additive Free Kids Community is a sensitive community.
A community that for whatever reason (still yet to be determined) suffer from the use of additives and ultra processed ingredients. I will walk you through the reasons I don’t recommend Vegemite for our sensitive kids.
Let’s understand Vegemite’s origins
Did you know that Vegemite was first invented by a chemist in 1922? It was designed to use up the leftover yeast that was being dumped by breweries!
Originally it was labelled “pure vegetable extract” however, it didn’t sell very well. B vitamins were added to boost sales, which they did after a little coersion. Vegemite was given away free to shoppers to encourage them to taste it.
Now, Vegemite is in approximately 80% of household pantries across Australia . More than 22 million jars of Vegemite are manufactured every year!
What is in Vegemite?
The recipe for Vegemite is a closely guarded secret. As you would expect. However, what we do know is that it contains the following ingredients:
Yeast extract (from yeast grown on barley and wheat), salt, mineral salt (508), malt extract (from barley), colour (150c), flavours, Niacin, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Folate
Let’s take a look at the ingredients in turn and see why your kids might not be happy little vegemites consuming it.
Yeast extract is the first ingredient. This represents the largest component of Vegemite and will represent the largest part of the blog! I have mentioned to the AFK community that Yeast Extract needs to be explained fully and in detail as to the reasons why I don’t recommend consuming it.
How is yeast extract made?
Yeast extract is created by hydrolysis where the cell wall of the yeast is broken down and enzymes are used to break the protein bonds to make free amino acids. This results in a high concentration of glutamic acid (a free amino acid) being created. The savoury taste is due to glutamic acid.
Do you need to worry about glutamates?
I am sure you have heard the word glutamate before, perhaps Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)?? When you research the safety of MSG, you will see those that are pro-MSG say the following:
“MSG occurs naturally in many foods”
“People have eaten glutamate rich foods throughout history”
‘‘Glutamates are chemically indistinguishable from glutamate present in food
The overarching theme that you will hear is that glutamates are natural, they are in every day foods, therefore they are safe.
Yes glutamates are present in natural foods. Virtually every food contains glutamates. It is a major component of protein rich food like meat, eggs, milk, cheese and fish. You will also find glutamates in mushrooms, tomatoes, mushrooms etc.
However not all glutamates are the same!
Glutamates can occur naturally or they can be manufactured. There are two different types of glutamic acid:
L-glutamic acid (bound / protein bound) and
D-glutamic acid (free glutamic acid).
In real natural foods, glutamic acid is usually bound. This means that they are bound in long chains to other amino acids. D-glutamic acid is artificially and chemically produced outside of our bodies and is not bound to proteins.
What’s the difference between natural glutamates and manufactured glutamates?
When we consume the natural L-glutamic acid that is bound to proteins, our body knows how to control the amount of glutamic acid it takes from the protein. Our body is really efficient at ensuring that it doesn’t store excessive levels of glutamic acid and hence prevents toxicity.
The manufactured glutamate (usually found in packaged and processed food) D-glutamic acid is unbound from the proteins, usually by a variety of processes and refined to a white powder. The normal digestion process doesn’t happen as it isn’t bound to the protein to slow the process. This causes a sudden increase of glutamic acid and is rapidly absorbed causing toxicity.
What happens if there is too much glutamate?
Glutamates are needed by the body and are essential to normal development and function and are released by nerve cells in the brain. It is responsible for sending signals between nerve cells. Normally, it plays an important role in learning and memory.
Glutamates can be damaging though – to the nerve cells and the brain as a whole if there is too much glutamate. Too much glutamate can result in over excitement of nerve cells. This can cause cell damage and / or death. Abnormal concentrations of glutamate are associated with migraines (4), (5), (6), Huntington’s disease (7) and autism (8). I discuss other well known symptoms further below also.
Isn’t your blood brain barrier supposed to protect your brain?
Normally your blood brain barrier protects your brain. Usually it is carefully regulated and glutamates can only enter through specific receptors. However, it is possible to have a leaky blood brain barrier (due to a number of causes) which can potentially allow too much glutamate to enter the brain. So for those people that are sensitive to glutamates it could be that they have a leaky blood brain barrier and more glutamate enters the brain than normal.
Lots of additional research is needed to understand those of us that are sensitive. There are a number of factors that could contribute to a leaky blood brain barrier. More research is needed to see whether we have a genetic disposition to glutamate sensitivity; is it due to food intolerances, dysbiosis, leaky gut…
As more additives are being consumed on a daily basis in our every day foods I expect we will start to see an increasing amount of symptoms experienced by larger numbers of the population. We know the effect additives can have on our gut (see our previous blog on this). We know our gut health is integral to our overall health.
What type of symptoms could occur?
So what are the typical symptoms you could expect to see from glutamate sensitivity:
- Heart arrhythmia
- Heart palpitations
- Neck pains
- Pins and needles in upper limbs
- Tingling and numbness
- Rashes / hives
- Obesity (see our previous blog on this)
I have personally experienced over the years: asthma, headache and nausea. Within the last 6 months I have experienced heart arrhythmia and heart palpitations.
I have been through all the medical tests, GPs, Cardiologists, Endocronologists. My heart is perfect, nothing wrong with it at all. My cardiologist was very supportive of my views that I believe my symptoms were linked to MSG ingestion. The reality is, at this stage we don’t have enough data to pinpoint our symptoms. Our government doesn’t collate this data. If you don’t track the data, there are no problems!
If you have experienced reactions to MSG or any other high glutamate ingredient I would love for you to email me with your experience at firstname.lastname@example.org It is time that we start monitoring the impacts these ingredients are having on our health and collate them so that further research can be conducted.
Is yeast extract and MSG the same thing?
I keep hearing people say all the time that YEAST EXTRACT is MSG. This is not the case. Both YEAST EXTRACT and MSG contain glutamic acid. To be labelled as MSG, it must contain at least 75% of glutamic acid.
This free (unbound) glutamic acid can avoid the MSG label if it is less than 75% glutamic acid. Hence, why we I reiterate that yeast extract is NOT MSG. Yeast extract contains glutamates as does MSG. To qualify for MSG it must be greater than 75%.
No added MSG can still mean high glutamates
Manufacturers can still use an ingredient that sound natural on their product, whilst still delivering the glutamic acid impacts that MSG does, just at lower concentration levels.
When you see a label saying “No added MSG” this will technically be correct. However, it doesn’t stop other free glutamates being in the product. This is what you need to look out for!
If you are sensitive to MSG, you may want to test your sensitivity to all free glutamate ingredients. There are a long list of ingredients that contain high glutamates – you can read that here I recommend young kids avoid these as they are particularly vulnerable and susceptible due to their developing brains and nervous systems.
Mineral salt (508)
As defined in the Food Standards Code 508 (potassium chloride) is prohibited in foods for infants. It is used as a gelling agent and sometimes as a salt substitute too. This ingredient can cause gastrointestinal and liver issues.
As you will see in the list above of ingredients that contain high amounts of free glutamates, malt extract is on this list to avoid.
This is what gives vegemite the dark brown to black colour. Its technical name is Ammonia caramel. This may be genetically modified. It is often produced from sugar beets, sugar cane or corn starch. This ingredient is prohibited in food for infants and is known to cause allergic and hypersensitive reactions and hyperactivity.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand permits an exception from labelling for flavourings. The substances (or ingredients) of the flavouring DO NOT need to be disclosed. This is due to the fact that the chemical composition can be quite complex.
Let’s take a look at an example – a strawberry milkshake flavour in Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation lists the ingredients as:
“Amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyle acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butryic acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl amyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl hetpylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylgycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2-butonone (10% solution in alcohol), a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylactophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine, carbonate, methyl napthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, nerol essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, g-undecalactone, vanillin and solvent“
So in that simple strawberry flavour it is comprised of over 49 different ingredients. Not many that look recognisable either! This wouldn’t even fit on an ingredient label! Flavours are tightly protected by manufacturers.
Every time you ask a manufacturer to tell you more about the flavour, they will tell you that they can’t as it is their intellectual property. In short, it is really simple, avoid any products that contain any flavours (natural or not).
Vitamins: Niacin, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Folate
Yes this product contains lots of vitamins, but these are synthetic! The are not absorbed by the body the same as vitamins from whole foods. It was interesting to read that Denmark passed legislation in 2004, prohibiting the sale of food products fortified with vitamins as a danger to health. These vitamins were added to Vegemite purely for marketing purposes.
What about other alternatives?
All the examples below have the same issue they contain ingredients that have high free glutamates and other additives. I wouldn’t be able to recommend any of these:
Vegetable protein extract (corn), maltodextrin (corn), corn thickener (1401), yeast extract, sugar, yeast, citric acid (330), caramel colour (150c), niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, folic acid, vitamin b12, water added.
Freedom Vege Spread:
Vegetable Protein Extract (Corn) (39%), Thickener (1401) (From Corn), Water, Maltodextrin (From Tapioca), Glucose, Acidity Regulator (330), Vinegar, Caramel, Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamine, Folate.
Vegetable protein extract, sugar, yeast extract, water, colour (caramel 150c), salt, cornflour (from wheat), glucose syrup (from wheat), onion, emulsifier (glycerol of monsterearte), thickener (modified corn starch), food acid (citric), vegetable gum (carrageenan), spice extract.
Yeast, sugar, salt, mineral salt (potassium chloride), colour (caramel III), corn maltodextrin, mineral (iron), vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, B12, herbs, spices
Yeast and vegetable extracts, maize starch (1401), maltodextrin, water, sugar, yeast, natural caramel colour (150a), natural colour (153), food acid (330), niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, folate
Water, bakers yeast extract, potato maltodextrin, thickener (1412) from tapioca, white vinegar, sugar, mineral salts (508, 509), hydrolysed vegetable protein, emulsifier (471), salt, colour (150d), antioxidant (3)), vegetable extract, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, vitamin b12.
Do you have another spread?
If you have another spread that doesn’t appear on this list, check to see if the ingredients are similar to the above examples or check out the list of ingredients high in glutamates.
What do I recommend?
For many many years there wasn’t an alternative that I could recommend. Nothing came close. The only one I can recommend now is:
Certified organic black sesame seeds, certified organic coconut amino sauce (fermented coconut nectar, bird eye chilli), garlic, onion, sun dried mineral rich sea salt), certified organic himalayan rock salt, certified organic apple cider vinegar (with the mother).
It is the best I have seen. If you have an extreme glutamate sensitivity, test whether you are ok with this. There may be some glutamates still present (but will be the lowest out of all the options presented) and no other additives!
Yes it is more expensive. Unfortunately you have been used to paying for a product that is a byproduct of the beer making process.
Every Mite is made from real food, using real ingredients and yes, that costs more.
The choice is yours
It is your decision whether you continue buying these vegetable extract spreads. You have the knowledge now. It is up to you to make the decision. Your health is your responsibility. I expect die hard fans will not be happy to read this blog. That is ok. You may choose that for the amount that you consume, or your children consume you are prepared to take that risk. That is your judgement and assessment to make.
I am here to provide you with the information as to why I would recommend the AFK community avoid it for their sensitive kids.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this blog. Leave me a comment below
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Frankie Bell is the Managing Director of Additive Free Kids, a food coach, mentor and is one of Australia’s leading activists against additives in foods.
Frankie is a mum to 5 boys and has personal experience working through the damaging effects of additives to resolve the multiple health issues and behavioural problems in her own children. It became Frankie’s purpose to help other families achieve the same improvements for their families.
These changes can be overwhelming, especially for time poor parents, Frankie has done all the hard work for families to ensure they have access to additive free food, anytime, anywhere. Additive Free Kids specialises in assisting families to live healthy lives free from additives. See how you can work together with Frankie here.