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Are the chemicals in your food making you sick?

The Australian Women's Weekly logo The Australian Women's Weekly 12/10/2017 Now To Love

Food chemicals are found in many different types of foods. A chemical sensitivity is considered to be an intolerance, not an allergy, as it does not cause an allergic reaction.

Rather, it’s triggered by the natural and artificial chemicals found in some foods, which in sensitive people irritate the nerve endings at different locations in the body. This creates the symptoms associated with a food chemical sensitivity.

We all have different tolerance levels for food chemicals. Some people can consume these with no problems. Others are born with a genetic predisposition or can develop them following an environmental change or a medical condition.

Women are more susceptible as adults, due to the hormonal changes they experience. In a sensitive person, these chemicals tend to build up in the system until a threshold is reached, beyond which they begin to cause symptoms.

Food chemicals are found in a variety of different foods, many of which you may not even think of as being in the same category. The treatment for chemical food intolerances is to eliminate the entire food category, to allow time for the chemical levels in the body to decrease.

Food chemicals are often found in unprocessed foods as well as packaged and processed food. They create the flavours and aromas in food that make them so enticing to us. In fact, most often the tastier you find a food, the higher the food chemical level.

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Symptoms of food chemical sensitivity

Common gut symptoms are:

● reflux

● nausea

● vomiting

● bloating and gut distension

● excessive wind

● bowel discomfort

● diarrhoea

● constipation

Non-gut symptoms can include:

● skin irritations such as hives and eczema

● behaviour changes

● migraines and headaches

Food chemicals that cause sensitivity

Natural food chemicals that can cause sensitivity include:

Salicylates: These are produced by plants as a natural pesticide to ward off diseases and insects. The riper a fruit is, the higher its salicylate content. Salicylates are found in fruit, some vegetables, tea, honey, spices, plant flavour additives in processed foods, such as citrus and mint flavours, as well as beer and wine. They can also be found in fragrances in home and personal hygiene products, some medications, such as aspirin, and pesticides used in farming.

Clearly, many of these foods are not only healthy, but an essential part of a healthy diet, so it’s important not to eliminate them, particularly vegetables, entirely. If you plan to follow a strict low-salicylate diet, even for a few weeks, you will need the guidance of a qualified dietitian so you can be sure you’ll get the most accurate results, but also meet your nutritional needs.

Amines: These are formed from the breakdown of proteins and the fermentation of foods, so the more aged a protein food, the higher its amine content. There are many different types of amine, such as the histamines found in wine. Higher levels of amines are also found in cheese, chocolate, Vegemite, tinned and cured meat and fish, and some fruits and vegetables.

An enzyme called amine oxidase is responsible for breaking these amines down, but if there’s a problem with the functioning of this enzyme, then amines can build up in the system, causing a reaction. Some antidepressant medications called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) block an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which breaks down an amine in cheese called tyramine. Build-up of tyramine can cause headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, skin rashes and bowel changes.

Reactions to amines can occur within hours and the severity of the reaction depends on the individual’s sensitivity and how much of the food or drink they have consumed. Amine sensitivity can largely be managed by eliminating or eating only small quantities of high-amine foods.

Glutamates: These are found naturally in protein foods and enhance their flavour. They are also found in vegetables, such as tomatoes, corn, broccoli and mushrooms, and are added to processed foods, such as stock cubes, sauces and soups in the form of monosodium glutamate (MSG). Glutamate intolerance can be managed in the same way as an amine intolerance.

A food chemical sensitivity need not affect you for life. It’s possible to build up your tolerance levels slowly and follow a reasonably unrestricted diet with an emphasis on fresh, unprocessed foods

Food additives to look out for

Foods low in sensitivity-provoking chemicals

If you have a food chemical sensitivity, you’ll no doubt like to bear in mind the foods listed in this table, which naturally contain minimal amounts of the main culprits in food chemical sensitivities:

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Pears (peeled).


Iceberg lettuce, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, swedes, green or string beans, celery, leeks.


Rice, white potato (peeled), bread (additive-free), wraps or flatbreads (additive-free), pasta.

Fats and oils

Canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil.

Protein foods

Fresh organic red meat, fresh fish and other seafood, fresh organic poultry, fresh organic eggs, plain fresh milk, pure butter, mild fresh white cheese (additive-free; for example, mascarpone, cottage cheese, cream cheese, quark), some plain yoghurts, and lentils.

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This is an edited extract from The Mystery Gut by Professor Kerryn Phelps with Dr Claudia Lee and Jaime Rose Chambers, published by Macmillan.

We reveal which food chemicals and additives you need to be aware of.: Are the chemicals in your food making you sick? © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Are the chemicals in your food making you sick?

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