What’s in your STOCK CUBE?
They’re a storecupboard staple used frequently in home cooking. But are there always hidden nasties, and should you be making your own? Resident dietitian Orla Walsh takes a closer look
STOCK is often used to add flavour, colour and taste to meals during the cooking process. This flavoured liquid preparation forms the basis of many dishes, particularly soups and sauces. Stock cubes are readily used within home cooking. Are they a healthy option? It’s important to note that each brand differs quite a lot. One of the main ingredients to stock cubes is salt. It often contains herbs and spices as well as some dried vegetables. However, there may be other ingredients added to the stock cube that you may be trying to reduce in your diet — including sugar, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and palm oil.
One cup of soup has the same amount of salt as two cups of seawater. Why? Due to the stock. They may be handy, but their main ingredient is often salt. Each 100ml of stock contains about 1 gram of salt. Considering the aim is to keep salt to about 6 grams per day, this can really add up.
Salt is needed in very small amounts in the body. It’s needed for healthy water balance, blood pressure, muscles and nerves. However, too much salt can result in fluid retention and high blood pressure.
Having high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and other heart issues. For instance, if everyone in Ireland reduced their salt intake by half a teaspoon, approximately 900 deaths each year from stroke and heart attack would be prevented. MSG Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is composed of sodium and glutamate. There are five basic tastes: bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and savoury. The savoury taste is also called umami. MSG is thought to enhance this flavour.
Some people associate MSG with eating too much and weight gain. Most studies on MSG’s effects on food intake have been short-term trials, lasting less than 24 hours and typically less than 12. The vast majority of shortterm trials showed no difference in the number of calories eaten between high MSG meals and meals without MSG.
A few long-term studies and observational studies have been conducted, with mixed results. Some studies linked MSG to weight gain, while others did not. Although it is unlikely to have a clinically meaningful effect on body weight, it would be more reassuring for people if MSG was never associated in any of the studies with increased intake of food.
Other concerns over MSG are to do with headaches. This is a difficult thing to test in research as MSG has a bad reputation, so people can bring their previously held opinions into the research setting and it’s difficult to hide the fact that they’re eating MSG, as it has a unique taste.
Generally speaking, MSG doesn’t appear to increase the incidence of headaches. However, some people strongly feel that they are sensitive to MSG. In people who are sensitive to MSG,