6 tips for label reading on the RPAH/FAILSAFE Elimination Diet
Updated: Jun 4
Reading labels on the FAILSAFE or RPAH elimination diet is very tricky. Trying to spot words that mean salicylates, amines or glutamates and of course some food additives.
To recap: RPAH stands for Royal Prince Alfred Hospital elimination diet that eliminates significant food and environmental sources of salicylates, amines, glutamates and problematic food additives. The FAILSAFE diet refers to the strict level of this diet.
Increase your skills in label reading with these six tips.
Note: that if you are also avoiding allergens such as dairy, wheat/gluten, soy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, seafood, sesame seeds or lupins, then by law these need to be declared on the allergen statement somewhere on the label. Usually under the ingredient list.
1: Avoid ingredients that are high in chemicals
Watch out for words that mean any foods that are listed in the RPAH Elimination Diet handbook (latest version 2011) like tomato, lemon, juice, herbs, spices, meat, chicken, seeds, meat extracts, chilli, pepper. soy sauce, peppermint, coconut, honey, cocoa. Check out the handbook for the rest.
The following salicylates/amine/glutamate ingredients can often be missed:
Vinegar (found in many breads these days as a preservative instead of propionates)
Seeds (as in seeded or grainy bread). The only acceptable seed is poppy seed.
Raw sugar: so many get tricked by this!
Cocoa: so many get tricked by this as well. If it contains cocoa or cacao or chocolate: it contains amines
MAIZE FLOUR (although maize starch is ok)
CORN FLOUR (corn starch is ok, although corn starch is sometimes very annoyingly called cornflour!!!!)
Fruit flavour, fruit juice, fruit
Herbs & spices, dehydrated vegetables, onion powder
Pepper (found in many otherwise plain crackers)
Other foods that you know are high in food chemicals such as soy sauce, mushrooms, spinach, tomato, tomato
2: Avoid certain food additives
Not all additives have to be avoided, only certain ones. Some, like like additive number 500 just mean simple items such as sodium bicarbonate so is fine as part of the RPAH/ FAILSAFE elimination diet.
Watch out for:
Artificial colours: 102, 104, 110, 132-3, 151, 155, 122-124, 127, 129, 142-3
Natural colour: annatto: 160b (anatto). NOTE: 160(a) is fine.
There are many natural colours that are generally well tolerated such as 100 (curcumins), 160a (carotenes), 162 (Beet Red) and 171 (titanium dioxide) to name a few.
Flavour enhancers: 620-625, 627, 631, 635-7, 640-641
Preservatives: Sorbates (200-203, Benzoates (210-213, 216, 218, PABA), Sulphites (220-225, 228). Nitrates (249-252), Propionates (280-283)
Artificial antioxidants: 310-312, 319-321.
There are some natural antioxidants that are generally well accepted such as 300 (ascorbic acid), or 307-309 (the tocopherols).
Sometimes the problematic food additives may be listed by name instead of number so look out for words above such as sorbate.
Note that the gluten free crumpets above are not suitable as they contain a preservative: potassium sorbate. Not listed by number, only by name.
Maize starch is acceptable
The allergy advice shows clearly there is egg for those who need to avoid egg
Preservative (Potassium Sorbate) listed at the end: means that the product is unsuitable
3: If vegetable oil is listed need to find out what type of oil it is
Sometimes oil may be plainly listed as just 'vegetable oil'. It is important to know what type of vegetable oil it is.
Vegetable oils could mean low chemical oils such as rice bran oil, sunflower oil, Canola oil (= cotton seed oil), rapeseed oil or palm oil which are acceptable.
Vegetable oils could also olive oil or coconut oil which are high in salicylates and amines and are not acceptable.
The company often needs to be contacted to see what type of oil it is.
Also if the oil is cold pressed or expeller pressed means not as refined so may contain salicylates. So cold pressed oils best avoided (unless rice bran oil which did not have salicylates to begin with).
4: Check if the fat is less than 5g per 100g (see nutritional panel)
Check the nutritional panel. If the oil or fat is less than 5g/ml per 100g then there may be unlisted antioxidants.
There is a 5% labelling loophole that means if an ingredient is less than 5% of the food/drink item then the ingredients of that ingredient does not have to be stated (unless it is an allergen for example dairy or soy). This applies to all ingredients of ingredients but is more relevant for foods that contain less than 5% oil as that oil carries a real risk of containing artificial antioxidants to stop the fat going rancid or off.
If there is less that 5g of fat then there is the real risk of unlisted artificial antioxidants. Again, the company needs to be contacted to check on this.
5: FLAVOUR listed as an ingredient
If the flavour really hits you- avoid it like the plague! Big flavour = big glutamates!
The ingredients of FLAVOUR do not have to be listed (trade secret) although any additives or allergens do need to be listed.
If the food is a vanilla type of food then the flavour may just be vanilla (often commercial rather than natural) which is failsafe although the vanilla flavouring may be too strong for some.
However, flavour could also harbour salicylates, amines and glutamates. Most savoury foods such as flavoured chips and savoury biscuits need to be avoided anyhow as contain flavour enhancers.
6: Watch out for TRICKY words
Tricky words are words that mean an ingredient may look ok but actually have some food additives, salicylates, amines or glutamates.
For example 'cultured dextrose". Dextrose itself is acceptable but when the dextrose can be used as a culture to produce a substance that is very similar to propionate (an artificial preservative). So cultured dextrose is to be avoided, and cultured other things like cultured rice also best avoided.
Yeast extract is also to be avoided as an ingredient as is high in salicylates, amines and glutamates. Meat extract is very high in amines and glutamates (both listed in the RPAH elimination handbook, 2011). Easy words to overlook, especially as 'yeast' as a word is acceptable on the diet, only to be avoided if you think you personally have issues with it.
TVP (textured vegetable protein) or HVP (hydrolysed vegetable protein) also need to be avoided as high in natural glutamates. Other hydrolysed proteins may also be problematic.
Organic sugar or cold pressed /organic oil indicate less processed and likely contain significant levels of salicylates (in the case of sugar) as well as amines (in the case of oils). An exception is rice bran oil which is not an issue if cold pressed as did not have any appreciable salicylates to begin with.
Take Home Message
When reading labels remember to:
Check for any words that you know are high in salicylates such as citrus, lemon, tomato, herbs & spices, fruit flavour
Check for certain food additives by number or class name (eg preservative) or name (eg sorbate)
If oil is just listed as vegetable oil, need to know what type of oil it is
Check fat content : if less than 5g per 100g then real risk of unlisted artificial antioxidants
Be very wary of the ingredient "flavour'
Check for sneaky ingredients such as cultured dextrose
HOW TO CHECK OUT IF A FOOD IS OK
Ring the company
Checking if the food is already termed a failsafe product through the Fedup website or the associated Facebook groups. A failsafe food means it has been already checked.
Ask your Dietitian: a specialist Dietitian in Food Intolerances may have already checked it out or will chase it up for you.
Never get complacent- as ingredients change without notice, so always double check- even an old favourite.
Over time, one can get quite expert at identifying unsafe ingredient words such as tomato, herbs, spices, pepper, onion and learn to question ingredients such as 'vegetable oil" and check the fat content per 100g to check if less than 5g or not (thus risk of unlisted antioxidants), and check for any food additives by name or number.
1. Local Coles supermarket
2. RPAH elimination diet handbook: with food and shopping guide. Anne Swain, Velencia Soutter, Robert Loblay, 2011 (revised edition).