Frequently Asked Questions

Food and product questions

I am very confused about vanilla. Is it failsafe or not?

I’m a wine-taster which means that I must taste usually up to 4-5 wines, at least three times per week

Is there is some information available for eating out with food intolerance?

What's in a Subway Chicken Bacon Ranch Wrap? Every time I eat one, I have severe spasms in my stomach, with some nausea and gas.

Can children be sensitive to chewing gum (even if they don't swallow it)?

I heard that the salicylate level is high because fruit and veg are picked too early. If you have your own veggie patch and fruit trees and pick things when ripe, or if you buy organics or from a farmers market where you are only buying seasonal fruit and veg, does this mean the fruit and veg are ok and low in salicylates?

Is there anything failsafe on the menu at Subway?

When my husband drinks carlton midstrength beer as opposed to fourex light, he gets really moody, cranky and goes off into another world. Why?

Is it worth writing to food manufacturers about their additives?

Which ingredient in jelly beans could cause loud, aggressive behaviour?

Is it true that there are glutamates in chicken and rice?

Can sugar affect some children's behaviour?

My butcher sells preservative free gluten free sausages for coeliacs - are they failsafe?

Can you tell me whether apple cider vinegar has any salicylates?

Is it possible to have healthy slushie??

Are chia seeds failsafe?

Is Stevia failsafe?

Are Coles Smart Buy pears in syrup failsafe?

Are smoked cold meats generally preservative-free, or would sulfites still be used?

Does ham sliced off the bone in the deli still contain nitrites/nitrates like processed sliced ham in the packets?

What is in this stock that is not failsafe and what could I use as an alternative?

Is grain fed beef OK?

Does white wine have less salicylates than red wine?

Why is sulphur dioxide added to wine?

I am totally confused about formula vs cows milk about whether to continue on formula after 12 months or change to cows milk. Can you offer any insight?

I was wondering where on the scale of things oranges and avocado fit?

I was hoping you could tell me if this supermarket bread would be suitable?

My doctor wants me on high omega 3 oils, any suggestions?

Should I contact the manufacturer to complain about a label, or should it be reported to the relevant authority (whoever that is)?

What is “chicken salt” and is there somewhere I should report the label being incorrect?

Is Eskals FreeNut Butter considered failsafe?

Could Vegeta stock powder be causing my son’s bad behaviour?

Can you tell me if processed eucheuma seaweed listed as a stabiliser in a homemade icecream mix is failsafe?

Our children eat at least 3 fruits a day – can this be a problem?

Are there any failsafe low GI (Glycemic Index) breads?

Is TVP (textured vegetable protein) failsafe?

Is vegetable protein extract the same as hydrolysed vegetable protein – to be avoided?

We can’t find cauliflower mentioned in your book – it is failsafe?

Cornflakes are not on the shopping list but I can't see what is wrong with them. Please explain!

I regard potatoes more as a starchy carbohydrate than a vegetable and wonder if my son has too many.

Is xylitol not recommended as a sugar substitute?

Is a reaction to grapes a common phenomenon?

Would removing the crusts on bread get rid of the preservative?

Can you tell me is bocconcini cheese failsafe?

It is easier for me to buy goats’ milk than A2 milk. Is it the same?

I would like your opinion on whether fresh coriander is failsafe or not.

Are natural jelly cups failsafe?

Why is cochineal not in your banned list?

I feel very confused about which is the lesser of two evils - the trans fats in butter or the preservative 202?

Is there a product like muesli bars that can be bought directly off the shelf that is homemade without all the additives?

MSG headaches from “healthy choice” meals?

 

 Q: I am very confused about vanilla. Is it failsafe or not?

 

 

A: Failsafers are best avoiding all except vanilla flavoured products, and even then the amount is limited. Synthetic vanilla, called vanillin or vanilla flavouring, is made in a factory and is cheap, so more of it is used in some foods causing reactions. Vanilla essence is made by soaking the vanilla beans in alcohol and so is more expensive. This is what most people call vanilla.

Small amounts of vanilla can be tolerated by most but not all people; if suspicious, use it as a challenge. For more information see flavours factsheet.

 Q: I’m a wine-taster which means that I must taste usually up to 4-5 wines, at least three times per week. It is policy that we must spit the wine out and not swallow it, but my question is - could this still alter the effectiveness of getting to baseline and when doing challenges? – Sarah

 

A: The short answer is yes, if you are sensitive to salicylates then, as with toothpaste, you may be affected by tasting wines. Inhaling salicylates can have the same effect (see factsheet on our website) as eating them on those who are sensitive and of course most of the "tasting" of wine means smelling it before putting it in your mouth to add to the volatility of the flavour substances so that you can smell them fully.

So you can use it as a challenge and please let us know if you are affected so we can warn others. Some ideas to help

  • take only the smallest of sips, spit it out quickly and rinse out with water
  • avoid inhaling while tasting
  • take some plain Enos after every tasting session

 

 Q: Is there is some information available for eating out with food intolerance? I’m in the middle of the elimination phase and react to salicylates and amines. I have a work conference where we will be eating out most nights.

 

A: Work is hard and often you have to dine out and suffer the consequences, particularly withdrawal several days later.

  • Don't forget to take Enos (plain) afterwards to speed excretion of salicylates
  • You might also want to consider using capsaicin beforehand, mixed in a little yoghurt


Amines can be harder to deal with, so try hard to avoid.

 Q. What's in a Subway Chicken Bacon Ranch Wrap? Every time I eat one, I have severe spasms in my stomach, with some nausea and gas. Tonight, it was so severe it felt as though a knife was cutting into me, [556]

A. Counting the wrap, chicken, bacon and dressing, there are 7 or 8 additives (preservatives and some type of MSG such as hydrolysed vegetable protein) that could cause your problem either singly or in combination. As well, guar gum and xanthan gum thickeners in the ranch dressing could be the culprits as these vegetable gums are known to cause 'a laxative effect' including nausea, flatulence and abdominal cramps in some people. Further reading https://www.subway.com.au/site/assets/NutritionalDoc/2015.08.22-Ingredient.pdf

 Q. Can children be sensitive to chewing gum (even if they don't swallow it)?

A. Yes, the additives in chewing gum can affect children and adults. You think of what is left when the gum is discarded - all the flavours, colours, preservatives, synthetic antioxidants and artificial sweeteners have gone. Where to? Down your throat! One reader reported months of continuous stomach bloating due to the effect of sugar free chewing gum [386]. And this mother replied: "my 6 year old son seems to be sensitive to colours. After the blue chewing gum he couldn't sit still and was wild".

 Q. I heard that the salicylate level is high because fruit and veg are picked too early. If you have your own veggie patch and fruit trees and pick things when ripe, or if you buy organics or from a farmers market where you are only buying seasonal fruit and veg, does this mean the fruit and veg are ok and low in salicylates?

A. The sals level depends on the variety as well as ripeness. Most people report that the older heirloom varieties are better and that picking your own ripe fruit and vegies is better too (although don't forget that amines increase in riper fruit and vegies while sals decrease). But organic is not necessarily lower - salicylates are natural pesticides produced by the plant to resist disease and insect attack and this can be higher in organic products because they are exposed to greater pest pressures! Try it and see is all that we can suggest.

 Q. Is there anything failsafe on the menu at Subway?

A. There are additives in most Subway foods, so nothing that would be suitable to eat during your strict elimination diet. After that you can choose whether you are prepared to compromise. I eat the occasional Veggie Delite - salad veggies on wheat bread, no dressing, no pickle

  • fresh salad veggies - e.g. lettuce (Low sals), carrot, cucumber (Mod sals), tomato, onions (High sals), capsicum (Very High sals)
  • wheat, multigrain or white bread NOT Italian (with antioxidant 320) or Wraps (with preservatives 282 and 200)
  • shredded mozzarella (no nasty additives but high amines and dairy)
  • turkey (if you're not asthmatic or otherwise sensitive to preservative 223 sodium metabisulphite)
  • NO  salad dressing and pickles ( as well as salicylates, e.g. the chilli pickle contains artificial yellow colour 102 and sodium benzoate preservative 211)


Unfortunately, according to Subway (14/03/2012), there is unlisted 320 in the oil in the what, multigrain and white bread, not mentioned due to the 5% labelling loophole (but Melissa says "I have been advised that they are currently investigating the option of removing this content entirely which they are hoping to have in practice later this year.") Most though not all failsafers can manage one small dose of 320 but we would advise against eating these items frequently. Note that the dose of 320 in the Italian bread would be bigger due to a higher oil content. https://www.subway.com.au/site/assets/NutritionalDoc/2015.08.22-Ingredient.pdf

 Q. My question is about my husband, he drinks beer daily, which in itself is a problem, but when he drinks carlton midstrength beer as opposed to fourex light, he gets really moody, cranky and goes off into another world. I was wondering if you knew if there was anything different in the carlton that could be causing this?

A. Carlton Mid is double hopped for extra flavour compared to Fourex with a “mild bitter flavour”. The characteristic bitter flavour of beer comes from hops (high in salicylates), so it seems likely that your husband is salicylate-sensitive …  Reader response ….Thank you so much Sue, I have noticed mood changes with some of the other salicylate foods you have mentioned too, so it explains a lot!!!

 Q. I have recently written to Spreyton's of Tasmania regarding the inclusion of 202 in their fruit juice. Enough to say their response was less than encouraging ....

A. It is always worth writing to food manufacturers. Their replies are usually discouraging but you have to ignore them - if they hear from enough people they will change. Thank you for doing this!

 Q. 'Which ingredient in jelly beans could cause loud, aggressive behaviour? At the end of last term, for two weeks my son was eating a packet of jelly beans a day - about 30 - and you could see his behaviour getting worse every day. He wouldn't listen, and the teacher was complaining.’

A. Artificial colours can cause that behaviour. That’s why, in Europe, this product would carry the warning 'may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children'. In in Australia, parents are somehow supposed to know this.

 Q. Is it true that there are glutamates in chicken and rice? I came across the suggestion while doing some research online and wanted to see if you thought there could be any validity to this. I am very concerned by this as if it is true I am running out of things to feed my child.

A. There are two forms of natural glutamates - free and bound (also called protein-linked). We only have to avoid free glutamates. You will be pleased to know that chicken and rice are low in free glutamates, see USDA figures for free glutamate content of foods (mg per 100g):

  • 5000 mg MSG power ( in 1 tsp, for comparison)
  • 1431       Vegemite yeast extract (high)
  • 1090       soy sauce (high)
  • 200         green peas (moderate)
  • 44           chicken (low)

 

Of course if you buy commercial seasoned chicken (e.g. KFC or BBQ) or seasoned rice ( flavoured rice, rice cakes or rice snacks with flavouring such as yeast extract, hydrolysed vegetable protein or tomato powder) the flavourings are very high in glutamates. Read more in our MSG factsheet.

 Q. Can sugar affect some children's behaviour? I know you say it doesn't, but I baked a cake (no additives) for my grandchildren and they were both hyperactive within half an hour.

A. Sugar has been shown not to affect children's behaviour but salicylates can be a major problem. Are you avoiding salicylates? Fruit and fruit flavours are high in salicylates. Even the type of sugar makes a difference. White sugar, icing and caster sugars and light brown sugar are low in salicylates; raw sugar is now rated as high in salicylates; honey is very high in salicylates. If white sugar appears to be affecting children, consider salicylate-induced hypoglycaemia, see reader story below.

We're just trying to start an elimination diet but over the last few weeks my 8 year old's behaviour just seems to have gotten worse! I've looked back on his food diary and nothing really sticks out. I made some home-made marshmallows from the failsafe book and he reacted badly to them (two small pieces and licking the whisk!) (crying, sad followed by hyper then on to the humming and repetitive singing, ending after three days as usual) .... My husband is convinced it's the sugar. The only possible thing I can think of that is new is that we have had the chia bread from bakers delight ... Update after five days on failsafe bread: he is a totally different child, we are now on calm street. - Kate

In this case, the salicylates in the chia seeds were most likely to cause the sugar reaction. People who are failsafe 'but not 100%' and swear they react to sugar have almost certainly failed to reduce their salicylate level enough. See more about salicylate-induced hypoglycemia on page 5 of my book Fed Up.

 Q. My butcher sells preservative free gluten free sausages for coeliacs - are they failsafe? All they contain is: meat, potato starch, maize starch, salt, soy protein, spice, yeast extract, spice extract (incl 160c), flavour.

A. Those preservative free gluten free sausages are NOT failsafe because:

- spice and spice extract are very high in salicylates

- soy protein and yeast extract are glutamate-containing ingredients similar to MSG

- added 'flavour' in sausages could contain salicylates, amines and/or glutamates.

  Q. Can you tell me whether apple cider vinegar has any salicylates?

A. Cider vinegar – as well as red and white wine vinegar - is listed as very high in both salicylates and amines; malt vinegar is listed as moderate in salicylates (Source: p48 “Baking aids, herbs, spices & condiments’, the RPAH Elimination Diet Handbook 2009, www.allergy.net.au) (March 2011)

 Q. Is it possible to have healthy slushie ?? My canteen insists on serving slushies to the children. I was looking for a safe alternative syrup mix but it has proven to be very hard. The best I have come up with so far is one with potassium sorbate (202) as preservative. - Linda

A. We haven’t found any additive-free slushies. Potassium sorbate 202 is sometimes described as a harmless additive by food manufacturers but we don’t agree, see our Sorbates factsheet. For children with salicylate sensitivity, strong fruit flavours and concentrated natural colours will be very high in salicylates. You can make your own slushies by using icypole mixes (see Fed Up or the Failsafe Cookbook) frozen in a baking tray then whizzed in your food processor for 30 seconds. Further reading: http://www.smh.com.au/news/lifeandstyle/health/diet-experts-go-cold-on-icy-canteen-treat/2008/11/14/1226318927579.html. (October 2010)

 Q: Are chia seeds failsafe?

A: Chia seeds are not included in the foods allowed on the RPAH elimination diet. Chia is a member of the mint family. Mint is very high is salicylates and there have been numerous reports of gastrointestinal symptoms due to chia seeds from salicylate sensitive people overseas (http://nutritionalconcepts.blogspot.com/2008/03/caution-regarding-chia-seeds.html) ; also a behavioural report, and also possibly an amine reaction see below:

Chia seed reaction report: It took me months to twig that chia oil was causing a kind of colitis and amine-type moodiness. It was such a relief to realise the source of the problem (May 2011)

 Q: Is Stevia failsafe?

A: Stevia is NOT approved for the RPAH elimination diet which recommends avoiding sugar free sweeteners (RPAH handbook & shopping guide, p53). Although Stevia is promoted as natural (ie plant derived) by the food industry, as we all know, natural is not necessarily safe - e.g. salicylates. See more information at nutritionist Kimberley Bither’s website http://thewellnessworkout.typepad.com/the_wellness_workout/2009/04/is-stevia-safe-the-fda-now-approves-its-gras-status-but-dont-let-that-fool-you.html. (June 2010)

 Q: Are Coles Smart Buy pears in syrup failsafe? On the product updates it says to avoid the snackpacks (due to natural juice) but I just wanted to check the tins are ok as my son is not quite as well behaved as he used to be. I didn't know if he was having a reaction to something or just going through a phase.

A: Coles canned pears in syrup should be OK (ingredients: pear halves, water, sugar).

Some possible problems:

  • pears should be ripe (if pears are hard, they are moderate in salicylates)
  • pears are limited to 2 peeled pears per day or equivalent (including pear jam etc)
  • pears should be the traditional varieties such as Packham, Williams, Beurre Bosc, Bartlett NOT Nashi, Ya or other crisp Asian pears. I phoned the Coles free call number 1800 061 562 to ask about the country of origin and variety of the pears. (You need the barcode if enquiring about a product). The customer liaison officer was very helpful - he confirmed that the Coles pears in syrup are Australian and will be either Williams or Bartlett depending on the season. Could it be some other food or environmental chemical affecting your son? You are very welcome to send me a list of what he eats in a typical day so I can check for possible problems (including brand of toothpaste, washing powder etc).

 Q. Are smoked cold meats generally preservative-free, or would sulfites still be used?

A. I would expect smoked meats to contain one of the nitrate/nitrite preservatives (249-252) unless organic. I found an ingredient list for Virginia Leg Ham described as quality boneless lean leg ham, Naturally Wood Smoked, No Artificial Colours, No Artificial Flavours. It contained preservative 250 (nitrates) and traces of sulphites. (Smoked meats are listed as very high in salicylates, amines and glutamates so are never failsafe.)

 Q. Does ham sliced off the bone in the deli still contain nitrites/nitrates like processed sliced ham in the packets?

A. Yes! For people who don’t react to amines, it is possible to buy preservative-free ham and bacon from organic suppliers in fine food shops or health food stores, see Failsafe Shopping List.

 Q. What is in this stock that is not failsafe and what could I use as an alternative? I currently use Campbell's Real Stock in Beef and Chicken (Ingredients: Beef Stock (water, beef, salt), vinegar, salt, sugar, soy sauce, garlic, yeast extract, natural food colour (Caramel1), natural flavours, spices and wheat gluten).

A. No commercial stocks are failsafe. That one contains salicylates, amines and/or glutamates in vinegar, soy sauce, yeast extract, natural flavours and spices. You can make your own stock, see recipes in my books, or How to Boil Chicken: Whole or Pieces, Fresh or Frozen http://www.favoritefreezerfoods.com/how-to-boil-chicken.html

 Q. Is grain fed beef OK?

A. Grain fed means feedlot beef where animals are crowded together and low levels of antibiotics may be mixed into the feed over a long period of time. It is failsafe but if you can, it’s best to buy non-feedlot that can be described as free range, grass fed, pasture fed or organic.

 Q. Does white wine have less salicylates than red wine?

A. See below for the amounts of salicylates in Dr Swain's 1985 Salicylates in Foods research (in mg of salicylate per 100 ml). Note that as well as salicylates, grapes contain amines and glutamates which puts wine in the very high category for troublesome food chemicals. Most wines also contain sulphite preservatives (220 or 223). As you can see below there are considerable variations - possibly the cheaper wines are slightly lower in salicylates. Also, salicylate content depends on many changing factors including the climate and variety so these particular brands could be very different by now. According to RPA (Friendly Food p22), people who aren't too sensitive can often tolerate a half glass of wine. They say that high quality wines are less likely to cause reactions, presumably because they are lower in sulphites but that is no longer an issue as you can use SO2GO to remove the sulphites, see Failsafe Shopping List.

WHITE

0.10 McWilliams Dry White Wine

0.81 Lindeman's Riesling

0.81 Penfolds Traminer Riesling Bin 202

0.89 Seaview Rhine Riesling

1.02 Yalumba Champagne

RED

0.35 McWilliams Reserve Claret

0.86 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon

0.90 McWilliams Private Bin Claret

 Q. Why is sulphur dioxide added to wine?

A. According to Erl Happs, maker of the excellent Happs range of preservative-free and low preservative wines, sulphur dioxide ‘hardens the palate’ of a wine, see http://www.happs.com.au.

 Q. I am totally confused about formula vs cows milk about whether to continue on formula after 12 months or change to cows milk. Can you offer any insight?

A. Toddler milk formulas for babies over 12 months are just a marketing trick, see http://www.choice.com.au.

 Q. I was wondering where on the scale of things oranges and avocado fit? My daughter is an extremely fussy eater and I hate to take away some of the few things she will eat.

A. Oranges and avocados are definitely NOT OK for failsafers because they are high to very high in both salicylates and amines. If you haven’t seen the RPA’s Friendly Food or Elimination Diet Handbook, ask for our Salicylate Mistakes Information Sheet (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). Food intolerance fussy eaters often eat a wider range of foods when you avoid the foods to which they have an intolerance – and therefor an addiction.

 Q. I was hoping you could tell me if this supermarket bread would be suitable? I am new to failsafe and have found our local IGA bake their own bread without preservatives. The ingredients are: flour, salt, soy flour, emulsifiers (481,472e) mineral salt, enzyme (alpha amylase), flour treatment agents (920,223), vitamin (thiamin).

A. All of those ingredients are failsafe except 223 (sodium metabisulphite) which is one of the sulphite preservatives associated with asthma and other food intolerance symptoms. According to RPA most of the sulphites used in bread disappear in the cooking process, so that bread will be suitable for most people. However, some extra sensitive people in our network do react to 223 in bread with various symptoms including asthma and chidlren’s behavioural problems. See Failsafe Shopping List for other suitable breads.

 Q. My doctor wants me on high omega 3 oils, any suggestions?

A: Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential to human health but it is best if they are consumed in balance, that is, close to a ratio of 1:1. Instead, Western diets are typically much higher in omega-6s, generally in the range of 10:1 to 30:1. It is thought that traditional subsistence diets were much more in balance. The ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in oils includes:

  • 258:1 cottonseed oil (commonly used in fried takeaways such as fish and chips)
  • 156:1 sunflower seed oil
  • 46:1 palm oil (in many processed foods, often listed as vegetable oil)
  • 35:1 rice bran oil
  • 7:1 soy oil
  • 2:1 butter (organic)
  • 2:1 canola oil
  • 1:1 fish oil
  • 1:3 flaxseed oil

By using canola oil, organic animal products and avoiding processed foods, you may be able to achieve the correct balance without the need for supplements. The only failsafe omega supplement is flaxseed oil, to be used in moderation because it contains small amounts of salicylates and amines. Organic animal products e.g. beef, chicken, milk, butter, sheep milk and goat milk have a higher proportion of omega-3 fatty acids and a consistently lower omega ratio than conventional products. For more information and failsafe foods that are a good source of Essential Fatty Acids see in our Supplements factsheet

 Q. Should I contact the manufacturer to complain about a label, or should it be reported to the relevant authority (whoever that is)? Today I saw a packet of homestyle jam drops in a fruit shop. The label said "no added artificial colours or flavours". The ingredients list included custard powder, and the ingredients of the custard powder included 102 and 110. The implication of the "no added artificial colours" seem to be that the colours which were already in the custard powder somehow didn't count. I would be very concerned that people would buy them because of the implied no artificial colours claim. I now read the label of every product I buy, but prior to starting the elimination diet, I could have been taken in by such a label.

A. One thing we have learned over the years is NOT to complain to our national food regulators (FSANZ). You can complain to the relevant food authority in the State/Territory where the main food factory is located (listed for all states at http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/about/foodenforcementcontacts/pages/default.aspx), but our experience has been that any action or feedback is rare to non-existent. It makes annoys me that it is up to consumers to police labels, and there are few consequences for companies that use misleading labelling unless they refuse to change it. You could also complain to the manufacturer.

 Q. What is “chicken salt” and is there somewhere I should report the label being incorrect? Recently I purchased a quality fresh homemade style chicken and leek family pie. On reading the ingredients I was overjoyed that here was a fast food that had failsafe ingredients, listing salt but no stock. Anyway I was hit with severe tiredness, heavy eyes, thirst and unusual (for me) bad mood within one hour of eating it that lasted over 24 hours. My breastfed 10-month old baby had a bit of an unsettled night, bit of a cough and … some red blotchy rash on her torso. I knew for sure that there must be an ingredient unlisted like stock or flavour enhancer. I rang the company (who said) “there is no stock, just a bit of chicken salt”!

A. Chicken salt is often ordinary table salt with added MSG type flavour enhancers such as 621 or 635. That would account for all your symptoms. Our updated MSG factsheet might be useful. In Australia you can report illegal labeling to the relevant state/territory authority. For instance, in NSW this is the NSW Food Authority, but in Victoria local councils have the responsibility (although not the resources). Unfortunately, in our experience, it doesn’t always result in any action at all.

 Q. Is Eskals FreeNut Butter considered failsafe? My son adores peanut butter, and I’m having a big struggle to find a substitute for him. I have tried the cashew paste in your cookbook, but he hates it. I also notice that Freedom Foods soy butter is no longer available. Yesterday however I came across a product called Eskals FreeNut Butter. The ingredients are sunflower seed (85% minimum), sugar, emulsifier (471), salt and antioxidant (306).

A. Unfortunately, Freenut Butter is NOT failsafe because sunflower seeds are listed as high in salicylates and amines. For children who don’t like cashew paste, try plain butter (e.g. Harmonie organic which has been recommended by a young failsafer) instead for a while, or try the option with carob powder added, it’s much nicer. Thanks to Annette.

 Q. Could Vegeta stock powder be causing my son’s bad behaviour? We have it nearly every night.

A. Yes it could. The vegetable flavour Vegeta gourmet stock powder contains MSG (flavour enhancer 621) which has been associated with a range of reactions including behaviour. The other Vegeta flavours (chicken, beef and chicken salt reduced) contain the newer flavour enhancer disodium inosinate (627) which seems to cause even more problems than MSG.

 Q. Can you tell me if processed eucheuma seaweed listed as a stabiliser in a homemade icecream mix is failsafe?

A. Processed eucheuma seaweed is vegetable gum (407a) also known as PNG-carrageenan or semi-refined carrageenan. Vegetable gums are regarded as failsafe although if eaten in large quantities or by extra sensitive people they may cause symptoms of IBS such as stomach discomfort and bloating. The other version of carrageenan (commonly known as additive 407) is controversial because some studies have suggested it is carcinogenic. However, others say that only degraded carrageenan (never used in food) is carcinogenic.

 Q. Our children eat at least 3 fruits a day – can this be a problem? My son has been getting into serious trouble at school and has been hitting children (he does not have ADHD). At home, we seem to have a very difficult time with him. Our children eat at least 3 fruits a day - mainly kiwi, pineapple, mangoes, apples and tangerines - and these seem to be the worst offenders.

A. Most of the fruits you mention wouldn’t have been eaten every day by young children 30 years ago. Kiwi fruit, pineapples and citrus are all rated as very high in natural chemicals called salicylates and amines that are known to cause behavioural effects and most varieties of apples are high in salicylates. Blueberries, strawberries, grapes and sultanas are some other fruits commonly eaten every day by young children that can cause problems. Some families can see improvements by avoiding additives and possibly reducing fruit and tomato intake, while others get best results through doing the RPA elimination diet supervised by a dietitian. Follow up: This family saw a big improvements when they cut out additives.

 Q. Are there any failsafe low GI (Glycemic Index) breads?

A.

  • Bakers Delight Hi-Fibre Lo GI (GI=52, the average GI of bread is 70) is failsafe and is the lowest GI white bread. The low GI is achieved through the inclusion of oatbran and inulin. Check other low GI breads for the inclusion of non-failsafe ingredients such as sesame seeds, calcium propionate (preservative 282 ) or cultured whey which is a natural form of 282 (see Watch out for Whey on our 282 factsheet). Linseeds have small amounts of salicylates and amines in them. RPA recommends the use of linseed oil in small quantities as a supplement, but you would need to test your own tolerance for linseeds in bread. Also, some people with food intolerance do better with refined white flour than wholegrain wheat. Bakers Delight white Lo GI may be best for them.
  • Bakers Delight Wholemeal Country Grain (GI=53) contains both maize semolina and linseeds so it is not fully failsafe and you would need to approach it with caution. Maize semolina is near the cornstarch end of the scale so it may be worth a try.
  • Country Life Rye Hi-Soy Bread with Linseed (GI=42) is not completely failsafe as sour rye dough may be a problem for amine responders, and check your tolerance for the linseed.
  • Country Life Performax bread (GI=38) has the lowest GI of any Australian bread, achieved by a high linola content. Linola is a new form of golden linseed developed from brown linseeds, unfortunately without the excellent omega ratio - linola has only about 2% of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, an omega 3 fatty acid, the good one) but about 72% of linoleic acid LA (omega 6). Performax may be suitable, we just don’t know - you would have to try it carefully (feedback welcomed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

 Q. Is TVP (textured vegetable protein) failsafe? I have googled it and from the Wikepedia description it appears to me to be ok.

A. I agree that from the Wikipedia description it sounds OK: made from soy, not to be confused with HVP (hydrolysed vegetable protein) and has "little flavour of its own". However, according to a manufacturer’s website, taste and colour can be made to order as mince, dice, flake, chunk, crumble or flour, so obviously added flavours and colours would be a problem. For example, the ingredient list for simulated bacon flavoured sprinkles made from TVP is "Textured soy flour, Vegetable oil, Salt, Flavours, Colour-129 (artificial colour allura red), Whey powder". NOT failsafe!

 Q. Is vegetable protein extract the same as hydrolysed vegetable protein – to be avoided? I found a vegemite copy spread with no preservative, no yeast extract but with the main ingredient being vegetable protein extract.

A. Yes. It’s the next step in the game of confuse-the-consumer. Now consumers know to avoid hydrolysed vegetable protein and hydrolysed plant protein, manufacturers have switched to words such as ‘formulated’ proteins or ‘protein extracts’, ‘yeast extracts’ or even just ‘soy (flavouring)’. You can expect an ingredient that sounds like a plant, vegetable or soy protein or flavouring or yeast to contain natural glutamates, especially when used in a ‘delicious’ sauce, spread or product.

 Q. We can’t find cauliflower mentioned in your book – it is failsafe?

A. No. Cauliflower originally tested as moderate in salicylates but also contains amines so was listed in Friendly Food as very high, but is listed in the RPA Handbook 2009 as high in both salicylates and amines. Fruit and vegetables mentioned in the shopping list and recipes in my books are low in salicylates and therefore permitted on the strict elimination diet unless otherwise specified. If moderate, they are listed as optional -not suitable for the strict diet. If high, they are in the challenge section. If not mentioned at all they are probably very high in both salicylates and amines. If you’d like more information about salicylates or amines, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 Q. Cornflakes are not on the shopping list but I can't see what is wrong with them. Please explain!

A. The salicylate content of corn products depends on how processed they are:

  • corn, cornflakes, other corn cereals (e.g. Nutrigrain), cornmeal and polenta are listed as high in salicylates by RPA
  • highly refined corn products totally lacking in flavour such as corn cornflour (e.g. White Wings) and cornstarch and maize starch are listed as low but ground corn and maize flour are high
  • corn syrup isn’t mentioned but
  • popcorn has not been tested but I’m guessing it’s high

 Q. I regard potatoes more as a starchy carbohydrate than a vegetable and wonder if my son has too many.

A. Sometimes called uber tubers, according to the following book, potatoes contain all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, calories and cellulose necessary for life. The author says that a healthy adult can survive indefinitely on potatoes alone – e.g. the Irish until the potato famine, the sherpas - but don’t try this at home because they were living on organic potatoes http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2263286,00.html. Jamie Oliver lists potatoes as the top crop for home gardeners: 'Everyone deserves to experience home-grown potatoes - what a pleasure!' To be low in salicylates, potatoes must be large, old, brown skinned, white fleshed and thickly peeled. Potatoes that are small, new, red skinned or have coloured flesh - even cream colour - are higher in salicylates.

 Q. Is xylitol not recommended as a sugar substitute? Since we started our elimination diet I have been experiencing a lot of diarrhoea, at one point, every day for a week. I thought maybe it was a withdrawal reaction, but it has continued. I have stopped my 2 blocks of chocolate a day habit and to get me through I am using xylitol which the homeopath said was completely safe.

A. Xylitol is not safe for some people. It doesn't cause the full range of food intolerance reactions such as behaviour or headaches, but any of the sugar free sweeteners ending in '-ol' (e.g. Sorbitol, Mannitol) can cause diarrhea and irritable bowel symptoms, especially if eaten frequently. See our Sugar Free Sweetener factsheet for more details.

 Q. Is a reaction to grapes a common phenomenon? I bought green grapes two weeks straight – they were so cheap and I haven’t bought them since last year. My son loved them but for those two weeks he was screaming and hitting me and going crazy until I put it together - behaviour + grapes. I was talking to another friend and she said her daughter was reacting the same way. We took the grapes away and both the kids calmed down within a couple of days. There was a warning at the supermarket about sulphur dioxide next to the price sign on the grapes.

A. Since the ‘salad bar’ asthmatic deaths in the 1970s due to overuse of sulphur dioxide on lettuce, sulphur dioxide has been banned on fresh fruit and vegetables except for grapes. These days they use sulphur dioxide generator pads instead of sprays. However, growers are warned that high temperatures can cause excessive sulphur dioxide in the grapes. January was the hottest month ever in Australia so sulphur dioxide level could have been very high. Sulphur dioxide (220-228) can cause asthma, behaviour problems, eczema, irritable bowel and other symptoms. Another reader has reported feeling asthmatic since buying similarly labelled grapes. Another possibility would be behavioural disturbance due to high natural levels of salicylates, amines and glutamate in grapes (and sultanas). The more children eat, the more likely they are to be affected.

 Q. Would removing the crusts on bread get rid of the preservative?

A. Not in Australia, which has the highest use of the bread preservative in the world. Preservative 282 is baked into the bread and removing the crusts will make no difference. In the UK, according to the Food Commission, a freshly baked loaf of bread is given ‘a light coating of preservative - usually calcium propionate or E282’. In that case, it is possible that removing crusts from bread could remove preservative E282. However, I would want to know for sure that all bakers used this system, and that cutting off crusts would remove all the preservative before I would rely on it.

 Q. Can you tell me is bocconcini cheese failsafe? I assumed it was since it is a fresh white cheese.

A. No. White cheeses such as quark, cream cheese, mascarpone, cottage cheese or ricotta are low in amines and failsafe as long as they are preservative-free. Bocconcini are small, mild, white, young mozzarella cheeses kept moist by storage in natural whey or brine and are listed as moderate in amines by RPA (page 84 of the handbook).

 Q. It is easier for me to buy goats’ milk than A2 milk. Is it the same?

A. Goats milk contains the same A2 beta casein protein as A2 cow’s milk, but it has a different nutritional profile. Babies who have goat’s milk may need extra supplements including Vitamin D and Folic Acid. Your dietitian can advise about this.

 Q. I would like your opinion on whether fresh coriander is failsafe or not. Also interested in seeing if there is a difference between fresh coriander and ground seed?

A. Technically, fresh coriander is moderate in salicylates. It contains 0.20 mg per 100 mg (compared to fresh parsley leaves with 0.08 and Red Delicious apple with 0.19, according to the Swain et al 1985 analyses). An occasional small amount is probably okay for most salicylate sensitive people, but I recommend caution if using it in a product you eat every day. It is so easy for salicylates to build up when you are not looking. Ground coriander seed was not tested but you would expect it to be much higher in salicylates.

 Q. Are natural jelly cups failsafe? My son’s aggression has been increasing. He has been eating a lot of the new all natural jelly cups, strawberry flavour (ingredients: sugar, thickener (401), food acids (355,331), mineral salt (341), flavour, colour (120).)

A. Those jelly cups are fine for families who are simply going additive-free but they are not failsafe because of the strawberry flavour which contains natural chemicals called salicylates. Salicylates can cause the same problems as additives if consumed in large doses or by sensitive people. Note that colour (120, cochineal) doesn’t cause behaviour problems but because it is made from insects it should be used with caution by children with a family history of food allergy as there are several children in our network with nasty cochineal allergies.See 120 Cochineal factsheet.

 Q. Why is cochineal not in your banned list? My daughter has had severe reactions to cochineal pink colour (120) in a strawberry milkshake and some sweets. The reaction seems to occur within minutes and presents as a significant rash from the part way up the nose across the face to the jaw line. She gets significant swelling, although no breathing symptoms.

A. Reactions to cochineal (120) are true allergic reactions to proteins in the cochineal which is made from crushed beetles. As such, they are quick and easy to identify - which is what you have found. The treatment for true allergies like this is avoidance of the allergen. Allergy to cochineal is quite rare whereas the additives on our banned list cause a very wide range of intolerance reactions in large numbers of consumers. Unlike allergies, intolerance reactions are usually delayed and can be difficult to identify except through the use of an elimination diet. (Further reading: Chung K and others, Identification of carmine allergens among three carmine allergy patients. Allergy. 2001 Jan;56(1):73-7, abstract on www.pubmed.com) and our Cochineal factsheet.

 Q I feel very confused about which is the lesser of two evils - the trans fats in butter (which is listed as 'natural trans fats' - what does that mean???) or the preservative 202.

A. Unnatural or synthetic trans fats are the baddies, not natural trans fats. We ourselves eat pure butter (Mainland Buttersoft from NZ) and totally avoid 202. We also avoid synthetic trans fats. Nuttelex additive-free dairy-free margarine is low in trans fats. However, we minimise our intake of saturated fats including butter. For example, when baking I will often choose to make muffins or a cake recipe with vegetable oil rather than rather than butter or margarine. For vegetable oil, we use canola oil. It's a monounsaturate with one of the best omega ratios despite scientific-seeming internet criticism probably started by an opposing industry. Olive oil is similar but we can't eat it because of salicylates.

 Q. Is there a product like muesli bars that can be bought directly off the shelf that is homemade without all the additives?

A. Thanks to Jenny from Additive Education (www.additiveeducation.com.au) for the following answer: “We don't suggest any of the standard packets of muesli bars available in supermarkets because they all have either sulphites, annatto, flavours and/or nasty antioxidants in the oil. There is a great product called Naturally Organic Oat Slice (few varieties) made by the All Natural Bakery. They are sold individually in 100g slices with no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives - very much like a homemade product. There is also the Amore Fruity Nut Bars, sold in multi packs. Both of these are available in Coles, possibly Safeways and IGA. Please note that these suggestions are additive free but not failsafe (low in salicylates and amines).”

 Q. MSG headaches from “healthy choice” meals? Recently my husband has awoken with awful headaches after eating a "Healthy Choice" meal which is supposed to be "good for you". One was a stuffed shell dinner and another one was a beef stroganoff meal, which he used to eat without getting a headache. I wonder if they're currently sneaking in things which produce the same thing in him that MSG does; i.e., bad headaches?

A. Since you already know your husband gets headaches from MSG, it is most likely he is affected by some new flavour enhancers that can enhance the effects of MSG by up to 15 times. Here in Australia they are called disodium inosinate (627), disodium guanylate (631) and ribonucleotides (635, a combination of the previous two). In the US, they can be listed with different names such as disodium inosinate (“DSI” or “IMP”), disodium guanylate (“DSG” or “GMP”), and the combination of IMP and GMP (“I&G”); IMP, GMP and I&G are also known as nucleotides. Although these extra flavour enhancers are used to enhance the effect of MSG, MSG itself doesn't have to be listed on the label and often the packet will say "no added MSG" although MSG will be there in some other form such as yeast extract, hydrolysed or autolysed vegetable or plant proteins or even just "flavor".