top of page
  • Writer's picturefranceswalker@thefoodinto

Do you have Food Chemical Intolerance?

Updated: Apr 8

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.

JOIN THE COMMUNITY: BRAND NEW Dietitian led Facebook group: Amines, Salicylates and Glutamates: The Food Intolerance Dietitian for great information and community support.

RED FLAGS that suggest food chemical sensitivity.

Food chemical intolerance tends to run in the family


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.

Have you ever reacted to msg?


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.

If you are sensitive to msg then you may have a food chemical intolerance, and this means you may have some other natural food chemicals you react to.

Does chocolate give you a head ache or migraine?


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.

If you are sensitive to chocolate, especially dark chocolate, then you may have an amine/histamine sensitivity.

Wine contains amines called histamines as well as sulphites.


The reactions in wine are often put down to its high amine/histamine content and /or sulphites.

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.

Again, if you have a wine or alcohol sensitivity, beyond the normal effects of alcohol, then you may have a food chemical sensitivity.

Artificial food colours have been linked with behavioural changes in children.


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.

Foods extra rich in food chemicals can trigger symptoms


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

  • Chocolate (amines)

  • Slow cooked meats and some meats such as pork (amines)

  • Citrus fruits such as lemons

  • Spicy foods

  • Fermented foods such as kombucha or kefir and products including probiotics

How do you feel when you walk through the perfume department?


Do you get a headache or feel nauseous 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 in your diet.


How full is your bucket?
If your bucket is full you may react.

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.


If you have any of these red flags and have ongoing food issues then it may be worth looking into food chemical sensitivity.

If you are sensitive to one naturally occurring food chemical such as salicylates then you are likely sensitive to a few more for example sulphite or msg or naturally occurring amines/salicylates in foods.

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.

Updated 24/7/23


bottom of page