Do you have Food Chemical Intolerance?
Updated: Jun 4
Do you get symptoms that you think may be related to what you eat but can't pinpoint the problem foods? Do you eat a similar diet every day but some days have symptoms and other days are fine? Do you react to additives in foods or meals such as msg? You may have an underlying sensitivity to food chemicals and food additives.
It can be tricky to pick up on a food chemical sensitivity but there are a few clues or red flags that indicate that a food chemical sensitivity may be worth exploring.
RED FLAGS that suggest food chemical sensitivity.
THE GENETIC LINK
Sensitivity to salicylates, amines, glutamates and food additives tend to run in families. What you and other people in your family (siblings, parents, grand parents and even cousins) react to can give an indication if you are sensitive to food chemicals.
THE MSG/GLUTAMATE EFFECT
Have you or anyone in your family reacted to additives such as msg or spicy foods when eating out?
Glutamates occur naturally in some foods and are known for the great taste they impart.
They are also added to foods to boost flavour and thus are known as flavour enhancers. Monosodium glutamate (msg or 621) is the most well known flavour enhancer but there are more that can also cause issues such as magnesium glutamate (625) and ethyl martial (637).
Unfortunately, foods rich in glutamate have been shown to trigger unpleasant symptoms such as heart palpitations, skin rashes or flushing, gut pains and headaches in some sensitive people.
Chocolate really should have its own food category! Not only can the amines in chocolate cause havoc for those sensitive souls, but many chocolates like Cadburys have 'flavour' as an ingredient that can cause a lot of grief in food sensitive people.
WINE & HISTAMINE
The reactions in wine are often put down to its high amine content. There are many different types of histamines in wine with up to 30 types being described in some wines, but also sulphites are added which is another food preservative which can cause issues.
Histamine is only one of the many amines found in foods that can trigger symptoms in amine sensitive people.
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
More often than not it is the extravaganza of artificial colours in the kid's party foods rather than the sugar that causes that post party bouncing off the walls and over excitability. If your child reacts in this way then other food chemicals in the diet that may be precipitating symptoms.
SPECIFIC PROBLEM FOODS
Some foods are routinely reported as being a problem in people with food chemical sensitivity. This is because they tend to be concentrated in high enough doses to trigger a reaction on their own.
Foods rich in salicylates + amines + glutamates that are often reported to cause issues:
Tomatoes or tomato paste or tomato based sauces
Fruit smoothies and fruit juices
Too much fruit
Slow cooked meats and some meats such as pork (amines)
Citrus fruits such as lemons
Fermented foods such as kombucha or kefir and products including probiotics
FRAGRANCES & PERFUMES
Do you get a headache when you are sprayed with perfume or somebody in your vicinity is wearing a very pungent fragrance?
You are reacting to the chemicals including salicylates in the perfume and may also react to salicylates and other food chemicals in your diet.
HARD TO PINPOINT THE PROBLEM FOODS
Do you eat a food one day and be ok but another day seem to react?
This is very characteristic of food chemical intolerance and you will find you only react to a food if there is a personally significant build up of that type chemical in your body.
As you will not react every time you have a food it can be nigh impossible to track any link between what you are eating and your symptoms.
This contrasts with allergies where a food eaten is linked with a reaction that is immediate or in a few hours and occurs every time that food type is eaten
The build up of food chemicals in your body is often referred to how 'full your bucket' is which is a very useful way of understanding the build up nature of food chemicals:
If your 'bucket is full' then you have a high level of food chemicals circulating in your body so it does not take much to trigger a reaction.
If your 'bucket is empty' then the same food may not trigger a reaction as the amount of chemicals circulating in your body is well under your individual trigger level.
Looking for links with what you eat and your reactions is elusive. Only a very big dose, such as having a reaction to msg when eating out can provide an obvious link, only because the dose is high enough to provoke a reaction.
BABIES AND FOOD CHEMICALS
It is not uncommon to see mothers with food issues also having babies that seem to be reacting to foods components passed through the breast milk.
While protein in dairy and soy are often the main triggers for breast-fed babies' symptoms, salicylates, amines, glutamates and food additives can also cause issues for some sensitive babies.
The same red flags as discussed above provide clues that this may be worth investigating to settle
A family history of reactions to food chemicals - for example you may have experienced reactions to colours in food as a child yourself, or noticed you still react to spicy foods when you eat out or can't drink wine without suffering more than you should
Certain foods such as chocolate or fruit juices or smoothies really seem to set of reactions
Reactions seem to be linked with food but there is absolutely no pattern available with reactions occurring some days and not others despite similar foods being eaten
Another clue is if your baby seems to react to liquid baby pain relief. This can be tricky to separate symptoms from the issues requiring pain relief in the first place, however some mothers do notice definite reactions after liquid baby medication is taken.
Reactions to baby liquid medication is due to colours added, preservatives but mostly it is the added FLAVOURS that cause noticeable distress/symptoms in some babies. Think of the cherry flavoured syrups- the flavour is used to mask the bitterness of the medication but unfortunately can reek havoc in a sensitive baby.
Alternatives may be sought via a compounding chemist (eg flavour free and colour free baby Panadol). If you notice your baby seems to react to baby medication such as baby Panadol then this is a strong indicator that food chemicals may be worth exploring.
TO THE POINT
If you have any of these red flags and have ongoing food issues then it may be worth looking into food chemical sensitivity.
Reducing salicylates + amines + glutamates + some food additives in your diet can be done at different levels of restriction depending on your preferences.
If you suspect food chemical sensitivity for your self, your child or your breast fed baby then a change in your diet that reduces the salicylates, amines, glutamates and food additives (Royal Prince Alfred Elimination Diet = RPAH elimination diet) can help diagnose and manage symptoms.