I would rather not banish Doritos from my diet.
March 12, 2008 2:21 PM   Subscribe

A food additive that causes sinus problems?

I was talking to someone last week who mentioned that she had heard of a food additive that can cause sinus problems and headaches. She said it was mostly found in "things that started as a mix" -- think Rice-a-roni, mac and cheese, even powdered drinks and snacks like Doritos. She said it was used as an anti-caking agent, and was often hidden in the "artificial flavors" category in ingredient lists.

This may or may not be true, but I would like to see if there's ANY research or articles at all on this. The problem is that I can't remember what the additive is.

I know is it is NOT MSG, and I thought she said maltodextrin but that doesn't seem to be right. I've spent hours googling this with no luck. And I can't ask her again, she was my supervisor on a random temp job and even she was kind of working as a temp.

Does anyone know what this mysterious and pain-inducing food additive could be? To repeat, it's not MSG, although that would indeed be the obvious culprit.
posted by ruby.aftermath to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Nitrates and Nitrites?
posted by nzero at 2:32 PM on March 12, 2008

(you'll have to search the first page for nitrate to find the relevant portion)
posted by nzero at 2:33 PM on March 12, 2008

After posting my comment and reading your post again (I missed "anti-caking agent" the first time through), perhaps you're referring to talc? It is known to cause respiratory problems, although I don't see anything about headache.
posted by nzero at 2:36 PM on March 12, 2008

I should mention that I'm also willing to learn that any or all of this is completely in made up/urban legend/pseudo-science territory. Chronic sinus headaches DO bring the crazy.

But I did recently have a week-long sinus headache coinciding with a junk food binge consisting mostly of the kinds of foods that would be affected. I'm curious as to whether my self-medicating with comfort food was actually exacerbating (or even causing!) the problem.

nzero: I came across nitrates and nitrites, too, but those are found mostly in meat, correct? Those were not what I was hearing about. This is some additive in powdered flavor mixes that can apparently cause headaches.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 2:47 PM on March 12, 2008

My girlfriend gets a stuffy nose every time she drinks light beer. This happens almost immediately.
posted by nitsuj at 2:49 PM on March 12, 2008

posted by peep at 2:51 PM on March 12, 2008

BTW, I've never heard anything about headaches/sinus problems. I just know that cellulose can be used as an anti-caking agent.
posted by peep at 2:56 PM on March 12, 2008

i think you might be referring to maltitol
posted by paradroid at 3:10 PM on March 12, 2008

I think MSG might actually be the culprit, particularly since she mentioned maltodextrin. According to this, maltodextrin is one of the substances that often contain or create MSG in processing. It appears as though some foods are labeled as having no MSG (because they doesn't contain MSG as an additive) even if that food might contain MSG as a result of processing.

So while your food may have "No MSG" on the label, you might still end up with an MSG headache if your food has maltodextrin, hydrolized protein, or other natural ingredients that can produce MSG (technically glutamic acid, or glutamate, if I understand correctly).
posted by stefanie at 3:31 PM on March 12, 2008

Are you sure it's a sinus headache and not a migraine? MSG is a powerful migraine trigger, though your coworker seems to have been talking about something different.
posted by happyturtle at 4:38 PM on March 12, 2008

Hmm. I do know that some people have a sensitivity to sulphur dioxide, a commonly used food preservative; it can present as a respiratory irritation.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:13 PM on March 12, 2008

You know, happyturtle, I'm really not sure my problems aren't migraines. I've never had a serious discussion about them with a doctor who took me seriously. Every time I've mentioned them they quickly diagnose "sinus issues" and give me some horrid nose spray whose side effects are worse than the headaches (uh, like Flonase, which just gives me a DIFFERENT KIND of headache. Awesome.)

Anyway, I've come across most of the additives mentioned while I was looking into this, and I'm leaning towards the conclusion that it might have been something like stefanie describes above and misunderstood by being filtered through a couple of people who didn't know what they were talking about (me included). Back to the neti pot!
posted by ruby.aftermath at 6:24 PM on March 12, 2008

My wife gets immediate runny nose from sulfites used to preserve wine. Number 202 in Australia.
posted by bystander at 5:27 AM on March 14, 2008

Have you had your blood pressure checked? If you have hypertension, the salt in the various things you mention could be giving you a headache.
posted by nzero at 7:46 AM on March 14, 2008

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