What are the food 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. So we know that it was that ingredient that caused the reaction.
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. Over years the results of what families reported as causing reactions is presented as the Diet Detective Method of diet investigation in the book “Are You Food Sensitive?”
Carl Rood says
A prescription sequestrant like colestid or cholestyramine resin taken before ingesting offending food additives prevents their metabolism and the symptoms. This drug combines with stomach contents and other chemicals or drugs taken within the next 4 hours. I have seen it used for drug overdoses.
Dear Carl, It will be great when someone finds a medicine that helps some aspect of the absorption or metabolism of additives and suspect food chemicals. Cholestyramine does prevent the re-absorption of bile acids with a cholesterol base made by the liver and passed into the digestive tract. So this medicine is used for those who need to lower their serum cholesterol. It has the side effect of “stiffening of your bowel motions”. I heard about it as it is now used to help people with IBS whose bowel motions are very loose.
General advice given with cholestyramine prescription suggests that other medication be taken at least an hour before, or 4-6 hours after, because, in the same way the medication may become attached onto the resin and pass out in the stools instead of being absorbed into the body. Whether it combines with the compounds in artificial colour, flavour or most preservatives, or the similar shaped suspect natural chemicals is unknown.
Clinically patients, who have indeed got some gut benefit, have not reported any improvement to their tolerance of additive, salicylates, amines or MSG, or any further decrease in symptoms that have decreased on the low chemical diet. These suspect chemicals are small molecular compounds. It appears that insufficient enzymes present in the gut, liver and kidney are important in their breakdown, so it is that aspect of their biochemistry that we hope new knowledge happens. Like you I am ever watchful for advances in medicine in the hope of helping food sensitive people. Joan
I have gastrointestinal symptoms after I eat at certain restaurants. Sometimes they occur in a few hours and sometimes it is the next morning. There is one restaurant that is a real problem. It is my daughter with autism’s favorite and we eat there once a week. I’ve tried all different menu items, but still can’t figure it out. I’m thinking it may be the bacon. Is that very common? I can eat bacon other places. I’m concerned because I’m going to travel to Europe and we’ll be eating out the whole time. Any suggestions? Thanks so much.
It is frustrating when you have reactions after eating out. Other food sensitive people report the same. Whether it is after a few hours or next morning is probably dependent on how much of a suspect food: one that causes your reaction, that you eat, and whether you are more sensitive to some food than to another. There are so many suspect chemicals in restaurant food. They can be additive colour, flavour, preservatives, salicylates, amines [including tyramines which you can read about in the Articles on amines on this site], or MSG.
Since it is a favourite restaurant that reactions happen it is important for family harmony in the long run to find just what you react to. It may be the bacon that is the problem. Bacon contains the nitrates that make it pink, the smoking which can be of many different types, added flavours, and, importantly, natural compounds that develop with aging. These compounds depend on how long it has been aged for.
You are right to wonder what to do before travelling. To minimize spoiling your holiday it would be worth using the information I have learned from other food sensitive patients. I have used clinical research to help people investigate their own diet using the book Are You Food Sensitive? This book gives you the steps in running a baseline diet and food trials to clarify just what is upsetting your stomach. There is an “Easy Diet” level of strictness if you want minimal change. As well you would feel more secure about many foods if you obtain Tolerating Troublesome Foods with information on over 300 foods. Both are available from this site. Since everyone is different in just what they tolerate the books are useful as they contain many hints on understanding the whole process, why reactions can vary and tricks for tolerating foods you really like. Note the new low prices for the books as from March 2014. I wish you “comfortable” travelling! Joan Breakey
You haven’t gone much into salicylates.. I’m interested in knowing the worst foods to cause a salicylate reaction.
Dear Mel, Salicylates are important suspect food chemicals to consider among those which cause reactions. In Australia they are always considered in any low chemical elimination diet. I do consider salicylates and strong flavours as much as amines in the reader-friendly book Are You Food Sensitive?
This blog-site is special as it has become the place where unusual reactions to amines, particularly tyramines, are acknowledged as really happening to people. I am happy to support this, and would happy for those who are sensitive to other chemicals to share reactions too. Some people are sensitive only to one amine, such as tyramine, most are sensitive to tyramine and other amines at the same time. The overall group of food chemicals that are usually suspect include additive colours, flavours and most preservatives, amines, salicylates, strong food flavours, and the glutamates, especially MSG. Remember that artificial colour and flavour are similar in chemical structure to salicylates so need to be considered wherever salicylates are suspect. The tricky part is that often those sensitive to one suspect chemical are sensitive to some of the others. There is a big overlap between salicylates and amines. What is even more tricky is that the actual foods that are tolerated in food sensitive people do not correlate well with the amounts of salicylate carefully analysed in Australian foods by Dr Anne Swain in 1980. Nor did the salicylate analysis reflect what other researchers in other parts of the world find. However all researchers agree that herbs and spices are high in salicylate.
What is the good news from all of this thinking? It is that we do know what foods people are more likely to react to, even if we are not sure of exactly what chemical in the food they are reacting to. I have been adjusting the baseline diet for over 35 years now and am now sure that the chemicals that make up the strong flavours in food are the best guide to the likelihood of adverse reactions [whereas the analysed salicylate level of cucumber was high, and the level in apples was very low]. Salicylate is certainly one of the contributing chemicals to the overall strong flavours that food sensitive people report reactions to, but it is not the only one.
Because salicylate content of food does not fit neatly into tables there is a need for a book to explain how complex the whole idea of adverse reactions to food are in a user-friendly way. This is why I wrote what thousands of my patients reported in my new book Tolerating Troublesome Foods. It outlines the foods that most often cause reactions and gives the risk-of-a-reaction rating to over 300 foods. Mel, you can note that those most likely to cause reactions are up at a risk-rating of 7, 8, or 9, and see those you are likely to tolerate down at risk rating below 5 or 6.
As well it outlines many other interesting ideas about why tolerance varies, and is so individual. See https://foodintolerancepro.com/tolerating-troublesome-foods/
You can see information on the book and comments and free download of Chapter 1 and how to obtain the ebook for immediate download.
I wish you well in reducing the suspect chemicals and testing individual foods to get to your own best diet. Joan Breakey.