Food Intolerance

Food intolerance (if susceptible) can result in a wide range of symptoms. The symptoms vary from person to person, both in type and intensity.

What may I be intolerant to?

This varies from person to person and can include natural food chemicals and/or food additives. For example:

Natural food chemicals:

  • Salicylates: Found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices, tea, jam, honey, coffee, tea, beer and wine
  • Amines: A by-products of protein breakdown. These are found in aged meat and cheese, ripe fruits and vegetables (eg. bananas, tomato, avocado, juice), chocolate and fermented products
  • Glutamates: A building block of protein. They are found in cheese, tomato, mushrooms, stocks, sauces, yeast and meat extracts, monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Additives:

  • Artificial colours: These are added to a wide variety of foods including sauces, mint jelly, jellies, savoury snacks, buns, biscuits, cake, lollies and ice cream and are represented by ‘numbers’ on food labels e.g. 102, 107, 110, 122-129
  • Natural colours: These can be used to add colour cereals, snack foods and dairy foods eg. annatto and cochineal
  • Preservatives: These are added to preserve many foods including certain cheeses, dried fruits, fruit juices, berries, crustaceans, wine, cured meats and bread e.g. sorbates, benzoates, paba, sulphites, nitrates, nitrites and propionates
  • Antioxidants: These are added to preserve cereal deserts, chewing gum, dried vegetables, nuts, grains, meats, certain baked goods and cosmetics and are represented by ‘numbers’ on food labels e.g. 310-312, 319, 320
  • Food enhancers: Found naturally in strong flavoured foods (eg. strong cheeses, sauces, vegemite) and are added to enhance the flavour of bland foods eg. MSG and hydrolysed vegetable protein

Food chemicals and food additives are found in many healthy foods. The food chemicals can also be found in medications, toiletries, personal care products and household chemicals. Most people with a food intolerance are sensitive to one or more substances.

If I am found to be intolerant to a natural food chemical, do I have to totally avoid the food?

The amount of a natural food chemical you can eat before experiencing a symptom depends on your ‘threshold’. Eating a small amount of chemical rich foods may cause no symptoms. However, eating a larger amount can exceed your dose threshold and provoke a reaction. Eating small amounts of a natural food chemical regularly can also cause a gradual build-up, with symptoms developing after a few days. For example, one day you eat a small amount of chocolate and are okay. However, over the next two days you eat chocolate, cheese, banana, juice, tomato, and orange and experience a reaction. This is because all the foods consumed are high in the natural food chemical, amines.

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Note: Symptoms of food intolerance can overlap with Coeliac disease or allergy, but food intolerance is more common. Symptoms of food intolerance may also be caused by other medical conditions, so before doing a restrictive diet, you should see your doctor.

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How is food intolerance Diagnosed?

Unfortunately, there is no reliable skin or blood test available to diagnose a food chemical intolerance. You need to do the RPAH Allergy Unit Elimination Diet, supervised by an accredited Dietitian or Allergist with a good understanding of the diet. Initially the Elimination Diet is quite strict, but once your level of tolerances have been worked out through a series of food challenges it can usually be liberalised. You may be able to tolerate moderate levels of food chemicals, or even higher levels of all or some of the food chemicals.

Here are some resources to help you find out more

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