Presentation at Eating into the Future Conference Adelaide SA 1999.
What are the additives and natural chemicals considered suspect in Australia, UK, USA, and Canadian research? Artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, some added natural colours, as well as naturally occurring salicylates, amines and monosodium glutamate. Many researchers exclude perfumes. Here I want to share some findings about added colours and flavours from over 20 years of practice in this area. The detail is presented in my thesis and in my book “Are you food sensitive?” I developed what I call the “diet detective approach”. Families excluded all suspect foods to give a baseline diet on which most symptoms resolved. Then I found single foods which they trialed. These foods were allowed except for one ingredient.
You can see from the following that both added natural and artificial colours and flavours are among suspect items.
Premium natural jelly (a mild product) is often tolerated by age 7, but needs 50% dilution in under 5’s; natural flavoured unpreserved lemonade is often not tolerated in under 5 year olds, or in those with eczema. Natural vanilla icecream was not tolerated in 25% of my research group; natural flavoured uncoloured soft drinks (flavour strength equals usual soft drinks) need dilution before they are tolerated.
Natural flavoured lollies were mild flavoured when first released. Tolerance is decreasing as the flavour is increasing. Natural strong smoke flavours in ham and bacon are suspect. Mild flavoured ham and bacon from major supermarkets are better tolerated than speciality smoked bacon. Bacon bone which absorbs more flavours was noted as suspect in the early 1980’s.
Low dose artificial flavour in caramels, white marshmallows or coconut macaroons are usually tolerated in over 5 year olds. Artificial vanillin in icecream is as well tolerated as natural vanilla icecream. The amount of artificial flavour in fruit juice drinks is poorly tolerated, as are white milk bottle lollies which contain no colour or preservative. Some families have reported that Pepsi cola produces much less reaction than Coca cola. Coca cola is the “real thing” for producing reactions! Artifically flavoured and coloured chewable antibiotics cause reactions, as does Panadol paediatric syrup. Flavours are usually added in ten time the dose of colour in foods, but they are 15 times the dose of colour in paediatric syrups.
Where Natural colour is added but not visible, such as in natural Icecream cones, it is usually tolerated. Where the amount is visible, as in margarines it does cause reactions over time.
Where artificial colour is added but not visible, such as in home brand sponge cakes, it causes reactions. The dose of artificial colour in the capsules for some medicines appear tolerated in over 10 year olds. Added colour in finger or face paint or playdough when it is visible on the skin after use, is often reported causing reactions in the high users, who are often preschoolers. Bakers yellow artificial colour in products such as croissants cause reactions. .
Benzoate in canned natural Schweppes lemonade causes reactions. Sulphites in dried pears are not often reported as a problem in those with ADD, eczema or migraine. However one third of the research group reported reactions to sulphite in natural lemon cordial. Other workers do report reactions to sulphites in asthma and hay fever. Nitrates in home cooked pickled pork and corned beef are low risk. Half of the research sample reacted to bacon and ham. (Smoke flavours and production of amines in aged products contributed to reactions.) Propionates in breads were a problem to 30%. MSG in Soy Sauce was reported a problem in 65%. The lower amine chicken noodle soup is better tolerated. Foods which contain sorbates, gallates and nisin, in the doses currently used, are not reported as causing reactions.
It is important to remember the two old adages: “There are no poisonous substances, only poisonous doses”, and “One man’s meat is another man”s poison“. The first is important as stresses the issue of dose. The second is important as it acknowledges that additives that are no problem to most people may be “poison” to some individuals. It is also important as it accepts that a small dose that may be no problem to most people may be a problem to some susceptible individuals.
Natural chemicals, especially those in spice, fruit and aged foods, also cause reactions. The examples quoted here are documented to show the various additives which cause reactions.
Ask Food Industry and Government for “Full Ingredient Labelling”.
How can the Food Industry respond?
There is a history of reasonable cooperation between the food industry, health professionals and food sensitive consumers in Australia. With new consideration of food law the existing level of trust is at an important crossroad.
I recommend the following issues be considered:
- If the law allows you to provide less information and you do provide less, the trust that consumers currently have will be decreased.
- Ingredient lists are there to allow people to decide if they can use a food. This is more important to food sensitive consumers than price or packaging. Use it as a marketing tool.
- Let consumers know what your food contains. Otherwise you leave it to their imagination.
- I recommend the use of the term “Full Ingredient Labelling” irrespective of the law.
- “Full ingredient labelling” must include carry-over ingredients.
- If the food contains more numbers and consumers know that it is because the company is giving them complete information, they will appreciate a longer list.
- Flavour is an additive that matters. Give it a “Descriptor”. This advises the consumer about the dose eg. “mild” or “natural”, and the type eg. “spice flavour” or “caramel flavour”.
- At present “flavour” is not seen as of the same concern as colours and preservatives with their additive code numbers. This is the new change. It is seen as the ingredient the food industry can hide behind. Most people think it hides MSG.
- Answer ingredient questions. There is no need to be defensive. Provide more details, not less!
- Caution over genetic engineering is necessary to ensure the additive controversy is not repeated.
- Food sensitive and food aware consumers are a growing market.
How can Government ensure it is enabling a new safe food supply?
The public health issue has been solved. Additives do not need to be banned. They do not cause hyperactivity in all children. However, that does not mean governments have no further obligation in providing a safe food supply.
I recommend the following issues be considered:-
- Do not dilute the law until there is evidence that it is safe to do so. Although more is known than when the initial law was introduced, there is still much to learn.
- At present the law about ingredient labelling is recognised by the consumers.
- If the food law is diluted it gives the impression that “Big Business” has more sway than the safety of consumers.
- I am concerned that in consideration of food law the definition of “unsafe” has to mean someone may die e.g. of anaphylactic shock. This is not enough. If something is life affecting it is reasonable for Governments to have a responsibility to be concerned about issues of “safety” in this “life affecting” sense.
- Feingold may have overstated the position by saying additives were toxic to all children. However, that is no reason to presume the position can be understated now, when we know that there is a susceptible group.
I believe it is worth keeping the needs of food sensitive consumers in perspective. What I, and others who work with food sensitive people, ask is not unreasonable. We are not asking for additives to be banned. We are not asking for warning labels. We are asking for full ingredient labelling, that is all.