Marmite: Is It Good for You?

Marmite is the quintessential “love it or hate it” food. It’s a thick paste made from the yeast byproduct left over from beer brewing. Even connoisseurs of the substance find its flavor difficult to describe. Terms like savory, bready, salty, and soy sauce-like are all commonly used.

Marmite was discovered by accident when a German scientist realized that leftover brewer’s yeast could be concentrated and eaten. Despite its German origins, Marmite quickly became popular in English-speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. The first Marmite plant was established in 1902 in Burton on Trent in The United Kingdom. In the nearly 120 years since the food was invented, it’s become a veritable cultural icon in Britain.

People who enjoy Marmite eat it with almost anything — spread on toast, in sandwiches, and even incorporated into stews and sauces. Because so many people eat so much of it, there’s been quite a bit of research into the health benefits and risks of Marmite.

Nutrition Information

A 100 gram serving of marmite contains:

  • Calories: 8
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0.8 grams
  • Fiber: less than 1 gram

Marmite is also a good source of several vitamins and minerals, including:

Marmite is famously salty. As a result, it should come as no surprise that a 5-gram serving delivers a remarkable 166 mg of sodium, or around 7% of your daily recommended value.

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Potential Health Benefits of Marmite

Marmite is full of vitamin B12. Research has linked vitamin B12 deficiency. The symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency, include:

  • Pale yellow tinge to skin
  • Sore, red tongue
  • Mouth ulcers (sores)
  • Paraesthesia (pins and needles)
  • Disturbed vision
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Change in behaviour and thinking
  • Decline in mental abilities including memory and judgement
  • Changes in mobility (walking and moving around)

Eating marmite regularly could help you avoid a vitamin B12 deficiency, and allow you to access the following health benefits:

Brain Health

The vitamin B12 in Marmite boosts something called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in your brain. This substance helps regulate excitability in the neurons in your brain, and initial studies have shown it may help with the symptoms of anxiety, ADHD, and Tourette’s, though more research is needed. Deficiencies in GABA have been linked to epilepsy.

Heart Health

The antioxidant, benfotiamine, may be associated with improved survival rates following a heart attack in people with diabetes. A mice-based study found that diabetic mice given benfotiamine had better overall outcomes following a heart attack than mice who were not provided the antioxidant. However, further studies are needed to understand the effects on humans.

Potential Risks of Marmite

It turns out, besides its taste being extremely polarizing, there aren't many known Marmite health risks. The biggest concern would likely come from its high sodium content.

Hypernatremia (Sodium Poisoning)

Just five grams of marmite is approximately 7% of a person’s recommended daily dose of sodium, which means that eating too much Marmite may lead to hypernatremia, or sodium poisoning. Most healthy adults cannot keep down enough salt to poison themselves, so this problem is rare. However, people with conditions such as dementia are more vulnerable due to a lack of awareness of what they’re consuming. 

Sodium poisoning can cause water to rush from your cells and into your blood. This can destroy blood vessels and cause pressure to build-up in the brain, sometimes with fatal consequences.

Allergic Reaction

A study found that Marmite can cause an allergic reaction in some individuals — especially with young children. In one case a 15 month old child had mild swelling of their lips and eyes tissue lasted for 60 minutes. When the child was exposed to Marmite a second, they experienced swelling of the eyes and lips as well as trouble breathing. Contact your doctor if you experience an allergic reaction to Marmite.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 08, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

British Medical Journal: “An allergy to marmite?”

Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology: “Benfotiamine improves functional recovery of the infarcted heart via activation of pro-survival G6PD/Akt signaling pathway and modulation of neurohormonal response.”

Marmite: “Nutrition Information.”

National Health Services: “Symptoms Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anemia.”

Poison Control: “Sodium: Too Much of a Good Thing.”

Stewart, G., Russel, I., Anstruther, A. Handbook of Brewing Third Edition, CRC Press.

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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