Food additives and chemicals

If you have never been to a talk on food additives by Sue Dengate, I highly recommend that you do!  Sue is the author of Fed Up, and the Failsafe Cookbook, and promotes independent science-based information about food intolerance.

I first attended this talk out of curiosity years ago, and I was blown away by the facts.  On reflection, I decided to try out some of her theories, I wondered if her claims were correct.  My husband and I didn’t think we had an issue, we thought our son was just a normal boy with normal emotions and so on, given that he was 5.  Then I took out the additives.

But it only affects a few kids…

Sue’s research has repeatedly shown that at least 60% of children are affected by food additives and chemicals.  Studies conducted in schools had some teachers report a 90% improvement in behaviour.  Another interesting thing to note is that research indicates that children who can’t control their behaviour by the age of 7 are known to have an educational disadvantage.  Sue discussed some cases where learning disabled children, once they tried Sue’s recommendations, were no longer classed as learning disabled, and were able to function normally in a classroom environment without assistance.

But the government wouldn’t allow bad stuff in our food

Well you’d think so, but the problem is that the food industry in Australia is very vocal and powerful, and unfortunately the government appears to be unduly influenced by this.  There is also a lovely little concept called the 5% labelling loophole.  This loophole means that if an ingredient weighs less than 5% of the total weight of the finished product, additives to this ingredient, or even this ingredient, do not need to be declared, unless they are one of the main allergens, such as peanuts, shellfish, soy and egg.

Yes, this is legal.  Until 2002, the loophole was 10%, and FSANZ was looking at removing it altogether, but the food industry won that battle over the voice of the consumer.  I guess at least it is 50% better, but still….

But I’d know if my child was affected

Again, research would say different.  I thought this too.  The research indicates that people generally do not make a correlation between food and behaviour, food and illness, or food and any effects unless they see the result within 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, the connection is not made.  What usually happens in 30 minutes?  An allergic response, and for those of us who have allergies, or children with allergies, especially anaphylaxis, you know what I mean.  An allergy, quite simply, is a quick reaction (generally) to the proteins in a food, and it involves the immune system, and is often unrelated to the dose, meaning any exposure will create the allergic reaction.

Food intolerance, however, IS relative to the dose, and with one exception, does not invoke an immune response.  It may take up to 4 days to see the effects of food intolerance.  This is why people often report that their child has good and bad days, or they have good and bad days.  This works under the premise of the Allostatic Load Model.  If you imagine a bucket, and you fill that bucket with, say, preservatives, you’ll be able to fill it with a certain amount without an issue.  However, once the bucket is full, it spills over, (this model also applies to stress) and you’ve reached the limit of what you can take.

So what you will see is that you can eat a certain thing a certain amount of times without an issue, and then all of a sudden, you don’t feel well, or there’s an emotional outburst, or a tantrum, or whatever that individual’s reaction is.  But it couldn’t be the food, because you ate it 5 times in a row before that without a problem.  See why it’s hard to pinpoint intolerances?  It’s hard for people to correlate food and issues when it seems to come and go without an obvious cause.

OK, but my kid misbehaves on too much sugar

While I wholeheartedly agree that too much sugar is no good for you, and processed sugar is completely unnecessary, sugar is less likely than additives to be the primary cause of behavioural issues.  It may well be in the case of learning difficulty, but not so much in behavioural issues.  The issue here is that a reaction that you see in relation to sugar is most likely to be a side effect of salicylate intolerance, but more on that later.

So what am I looking out for?

There are 3 main culprits – artificial colours, preservatives, and flavour enhancers, and also synthetic antioxidants.  You will see these food additives listed on ingredients as numbers or names.  People are wising up to the numbers of food additives now, so the manufacturers sometimes list the names instead.

A great example of this is Cottee’s Cordial.  They used to list the preservative in this as Preservative (223).  But people discovered this preservative is linked to behavioural issues, asthma, headaches, IBS, and rashes to name a few, and it’s pretty easy to remember a 3 digit number, and so they stopped buying the product.

So Cottees changed their ingredient list to sodium metabisulphite.  All the people who knew to avoid 223, those who didn’t know that sulphites are linked to the conditions mentioned, or that 223 and sodium metabisulphite are the same thing, then thought that Cottee’s had very kindly removed this nasty ingredient from their cordial, when all they did was change the name on the label.

Sadly, this preservative is not really required in the cordial, due to the sugar content of the cordial. Sugar is a natural preservative.  Coca Cola is an example of this.  Straight Coke is the only soft drink on the market (except Schweppes Lemonade in a bottle) that does not contain 211 or sodium benzoate, linked to hyperactivity, asthma and cancer.  Coke does not need this preservative due to the sugar content in the product.

There is example after example after example of the food industry doing exactly this, rather than removing the nasty problem from their food.  Why?  The answer is money.  It’s cheap to add this rubbish, and the current laws allow this to happen to our food.

Things to be aware of:

Ignore all health-related claims and any other marketing rubbish on the front of a packet.  Ignore words such as natural, fresh, healthy, no added MSG, organic, and pretty much anything else written on the front.  Read the ingredients. Even if you are aware of the ingredients in the products you buy, if you see a label or packaging change, always re-read the ingredients – this is a very clear indicator that something has changed, and you’ll usually find it in the ingredients.

In Europe, labelling laws came into effect in 2011 that stated manufacturers had to label their products with statements such as “May have an adverse effect on attention and activity in children” if the product included artificial colours.  They did so, and it appears to have had a fantastic effect.  Sue recently went to several countries in Europe, and found 2 instances of this label.  Why?  Because the manufacturers have removed the harmful ingredients.  And why did they do that?  Truth in labelling had an adverse effect on their bottom line.  Again, the answer is money.

Here’s a list of names and numbers to avoid:

Artificial Colours:

  • 102 – Tartrazine
  • 104 Quinoline
  • 110 Sunset Yellow
  • 122 Carmoisine
  • 123 Amaranth
  • 124 Ponceau
  • 127 Erythrosine
  • 129 Allura Red
  • 132 Indigotine
  • 133 Brilliant Blue
  • 142 Green S
  • 143 Fast green
  • 151 Brilliant black
  • 155 Brown HT
  • 160b Annatto (natural colour, and the only natural one known to create behavioural issues, and this one can be worse than all the artificial ones combined.  160a, however, is fine.)


  • 200-203 Sorbates
  • 210-219 Benzoates
  • 220-228 Sulphites
  • 249-252 Nitrates and Nitrites
  • 280-283 Propionates

Synthetic Antioxidants

  • 310-312 Gallates
  • 319-321 TBHQ, BHA, BHT

Flavour Enhancers

  • 620-625 MSG Monosodium Glutamate
  • 627 Disodium Guanylate
  • 631 Disodium Inosinate
  • 635 Ribonucleotides
  • Yeast Extract
  • HVP Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein, or hydrolysed any other ingredient protein

A note on MSG and 635

There are currently 129 ways for manufacturers to hide the food additive MSG (naturally occurring or not) in foods without having to label the food as containing MSG, and additionally claim that there is no added MSG in the product.  Why is there MSG in our foods?  It’s the stuff that makes food tasty.  It also causes behavioural issues, and is linked to asthma, amongst many other things.

Which brings me to 635 – ribonucleotides.  DO NOT buy any product that contains 635.  This nasty, nasty ingredient has only one purpose – to boost the effects of MSG by up to 15 times.  That’s all it does.  Even if a food claims there is no MSG, if you see 635 in the ingredients list, there is MSG in there somewhere.

The other important thing to know is that this additive is the only one known to invoke an immune response.  It has its very own unique medical condition known as Ribo Rash.  Once there has been a reaction to 635, it is very possible for you to go on and have allergic reactions, up to and including anaphylaxis, and this includes breastfed babies who are exposed to this ingredient through their mother.  This has not been seen with any other food additive to date.  Also, DO NOT buy any product that includes both 627 and 631  – these two ingredients combined make up 635.

Once very important statistic here is that 635 as an ingredient was approved in 1994.  Since then, the rate of general allergy has tripled.  Correlation does not always equal causation, but this is certainly a thought-provoking concept that needs more research done on it.

Well, I’m OK because we don’t eat processed food

Not quite!  Once you work your way through the minefield of additives, there are people who also react to chemicals that naturally occur in food.  These chemicals are glutamates, salicylates, and amines.

Glutamates have the same effects as MSG, as MSG can be naturally occurring in the form of glutamates or can be in artificial forms.  Remember, glutamates are the tasty stuff. Yeast extract is an important one to note.  Yeast extract has a very common form – Vegemite.  MSG in a jar.  Look closely at the jar in your cupboard.  Concentrated Yeast Extract.  I just noticed that the label has been changed on it.  It used to state this on the front of the label.  It’s now hidden on the back, I had to look for it.  It’s not just yeast extract, it’s concentrated yeast extract.  Concentrated  MSG in a jar.  Still want to eat it?

The creation of amines is due to the breakdown of proteins.  They occur in meat, dairy, and plant foods and amines increase as foods age. There are links between amine intolerance and behavioural issues, headaches, migraines, depression and possibly even schizophrenia.

Salicylates are chemicals in plant food.  They are higher generally in fruit rather than vegetables.  Some people are only able to tolerate peeled pears.  Peeling reduces salicylates due to their concentration near the skin.  But fruit is healthy!  Yes, it is, but the 5-2 model is 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit, and most of us eat this in reverse.  Oranges and strawberries are a common problem with sensitivities to naturally occurring chemicals.  Like all things, they can be ok for some people and not others.  We don’t have issues with salicylates or amines, but many others do.

So I can’t eat anything

Well, no, not exactly.  It certainly won’t hurt to remove artificial additives from your diet.  But even if you are one to react to naturally occurring chemicals, there is still food for you!  It’s a matter of working out what works for you and what doesn’t.  Over the years, we have become less and less likely to listen to what our bodies are telling us, but that’s a post for another day.

I would recommend for more information and references to research for those so inclined, to visit  This website is a fantastic resource for much more information that what I can give you in one blog.  Sue recommends an elimination diet to ascertain true levels of what you can and can’t eat, and encourages you to work with experienced dietitians in this field – you will find a list on her website.

I personally think that this is a great place to start, but is not the only answer, and it is worth exploring the underlying causes for why you are having intolerance issues, and this is where a holistic kinesiologist such as myself can be of great benefit.  There can be constitutional or emotional concerns that will affect food absorption, use and effects, and this is something that I can help you work through and resolve with holistic kinesiology.  Feel free to contact me for more information or to make an appointment.

Look out for my next blog, on food additives, chemicals and their link to behaviour and health conditions.




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