OUR FOOD SUPPLY – A CHEMICAL CUISINE 1
Food allergies per se are well researched and documented and I’m sure the medical profession knows how to deal with them. However, what I want to bring attention to, deals with what is being put into our food – the synthetic/artificial/imitation food additives, preservatives, colorings, flavorings, etc. which are found in such abundance in our food supply and to which so many people have found they are allergic. According to a University of Michigan allergist, James L. Baldwin, M.D., if a physician suspects a substance to be an allergen, there is a Prausnitz-Kustner (P-K) test which can be done to confirm that a patient is indeed allergic to some food dyes, for instance. A P-K test involves making a serum from the patient’s blood and injecting it in the skin of a person who is not allergic to the substance being tested. P-K tests are rarely administered anymore because of concern over blood-borne infections. 2 In my research I have not been able to learn of any routine tests to pinpoint an allergy/sensitivity to synthetic food additives generally. People find out as we did, by extensively researching the subject, by using the process of elimination, or by accident; others die not knowing what it was that was plaguing them. The Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. states that only one person in ten thousand is sensitive to tartrazine (yellow food coloring #5).3 I wonder where they get this statistic if there truly are no tests to determine this.
I don’t profess to be an authority on this subject, but on relating our experience, I hope that I can be instrumental in helping others to pinpoint their allergies, and to encourage people to lobby the powers that be to do something about what is happening to our food supply. Even if one does not experience adverse reactions to these synthetic chemicals, they cannot be doing anyone any good. They are used to make a product look more appealing, to enhance the flavor, to produce a product more economically, and to extend shelf life. They have no nutritional value whatsoever.
In doing my research for this article, I have tried to be very careful to use what I consider to be reputable websites. I have found evidence of extensive research being done on the adverse effects of synthetic food additives on the human body; yet their use is still sanctioned, especially in Canada and The United States.
This is my story. After my husband passed away, I received a brochure in the mail from Creative Retirement Manitoba, which offered computer courses. I decided that this would be an excellent time in my life to involve myself with this awesome technology. As fate would have it, Len, who had also just lost his mate, was also enrolled in this course. When we first met in the spring of 1997, I learned about this allergy of his, not realizing just how frightening it could get. In his case, his reaction is life threatening. Sometimes hives appear on various parts of his body, and/or his tongue and throat swell to such a degree, that if he didn’t have his antihistamines and/or his epi pen (if the antihistamines don’t work quickly enough) his throat would close, he’d go into anaphylactic shock, and death would be inevitable. Often, along with these symptoms, he would suffer extreme internal discomfort and would actually have to go to bed for a day. He has made many a visit to emergency rooms during his life. After we married in 1998, I became absolutely panic stricken. I would actually get up in the middle of the night to check his face and neck to see if there was any swelling. I realized that I couldn’t live this way. I just had to find what was causing this nightmare.
Len has suffered with his allergy since he was very young. His first severe reaction occurred when he was twenty-two years of age while he was employed by the City of Winnipeg at their hydro plant at Pointe du Bois, Manitoba. Several hours after one of the meals, his entire body began to swell and become inflamed. He had to be taken by train to the nearest hospital, where he was told that he was having a severe allergic reaction to something he ate. Later, he was subjected to a series of skin tests; but the cause was never determined. Over the years he continued to have reactions.
The perplexing thing about this was that one time he could eat a food such as cheese, for instance, and not have a reaction, and another time he would. No skin tests were ever conclusive and it was difficult to pinpoint because his reaction was not instant. It occurs, we have since found, 6 to 8 hours after ingesting whatever it is that causes the problem.
After purchasing a computer, I decided to put my newly acquired computer skills to work and proceeded to surf the web to see what I could learn about allergies. My research led me to the Northern Allergy Centre’s website.4 There I found a list of synthetic food additives, preservatives, flavorings and colorings. In their research, this organization found that tartrazine, also known as yellow food coloring #5, which is used not only to color foods but also to preserve other colors, was causing hyperactivity in children. I understand pets that were fed food containing this chemical were also found to be hyperactive.
Tartrazine is a derivative of coal tar – yes coal tar. As I understand it, ninety percent of synthetic food colorings are coal tar derivatives. The Oxford Dictionary describes coal tar in this way: a thick black, oily liquid distilled from coal and used as a source of benzene. Benzene is described in this way: a colorless carcinogenic volatile liquid found in coal tar. This alone was enough to scare the pants off me.
The Northern Allergy Centre’s website listed other adverse reactions to tartrazine (as well as to various other synthetic food additives), and the reaction was identical to what Len was experiencing. This led me to believe that perhaps Len was not allergic to any food at all but to something they were putting into it. The fact that he could eat one type of cheese and have a reaction, and eat another type and not have a reaction, prompted us to check labels on various cheeses, and we found that some contained tartrazine and others did not.
It all began to fall into place. I have since become involved in a chat room on the web dealing with allergic reactions such as Len’s and was amazed to find just how many people were affected. I have received a huge amount of E-mail from sufferers and their families, which I plan to forward to Health Canada as well as to our members of parliament.
During a get-together at a Creative Retirement Manitoba Christmas party almost two years ago, our table got into a discussion on allergies, and after hearing my story, I was asked to write an article about our experience. I did, and it was published in their newsletter. Response to my article was overwhelming. A food magazine in the United Kingdom asked for my permission to publish it after they picked up my story on the web.
Numerous synthetic food colorings were banned after twenty years on the market, when it was discovered that they were found to be carcinogenic.5 However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that so few people had a serious problem with tartrazine, that they allowed it to continue to be used. We have found scores of people, in our own circle as well as ones who have responded to my article on the web, who will attest to the fact that this is not an isolated allergy. I repeat, “If there truly are no routine tests to determine allergies to artificial food additives, how can the FDA and the others say that so few people are allergic to a particular one?” However, I think sufferers are getting to the FDA because I noticed on their website recently that they were requesting that people who suffer with a known sensitivity to tartrazine, send them their experiences.
Did you know that many synthetic food additives are banned in France, United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium? 6 Why then are they still allowed in Canada and The United States?
And now, to get back to my story. Len and I began checking all labels and were amazed to find tartrazine in so many foods (as well as other products). Here’s a partial list:
A couple of years ago, Len bought some hot cross buns at one of our major supermarkets and that night had a reaction. We couldn’t figure out what it was that he had eaten that might have contained tartrazine. The hot cross bun was the only food that he hadn’t eaten since we started our detective work. Upon checking the label, we found that what we thought was candied peel they were using was not candied peel at all but bits of colored sweetened rutabaga (turnip) containing tartrazine. On contacting the store’s head office, I discovered that the reason they were using rutabaga was that it was more economical. And this beats all. They had the unmitigated gall to put up a large sign over the shelf that holds their little plastic containers of their product alongside another brand that contains real candied peel. The sign reads, “COMPARE” – indicating that their price is so much lower.
We were in a well-known bakery in our community and noticed that their hot cross buns had a label that read “glazed fruit mix.” When we asked one of the ladies in the bakeshop if it was truly glazed fruit or colored sweetened rutabaga containing tartrazine, she went into the bakeshop and brought out the jar that the so-called fruit mix came in. We found that it was indeed sweetened rutabaga dyed various colors, which contained tartrazine. When I got home, I sent a FAX to the store manager and related my story. I received a very apologetic phone call from him. He was a bit defensive at first, saying that it WAS a fruit mix, and when I told him that rutabaga was a vegetable and not a fruit and that right there it was false labeling, he changed his tune. And when I told him that so many people were allergic to tartrazine (and he was shocked to learn what this ingredient was), he promised that they would revise their labeling, which they did. I have been led to understand, in a letter from Health Canada, that strict labeling laws were being enforced. I wondered how many instances like this can be found if one had the time and energy to check. We no longer buy baked goods of any kind. I have a trusty bread machine. Actually, we don’t buy any prepared foods that contain synthetic additives.
I’ve given food stores in our area such a difficult time that our major supermarkets now have labels on all their baked goods, and most of the ingredients – sometimes as many as seventeen or eighteen – are artificial additives. When we first started checking labels, we found that most bakeshop items didn’t even have a label; although they were willing to check their “binder” and give us the information. When we asked one of the bakers at one of the stores for the ingredients in a particular cake one time, he was interested in knowing why we were asking and when we told him our tale about tartrazine, he said, “You know that’s exactly what happens to me. I think I know now what it is I’m allergic to.
I’ve written to a major manufacturer of cake mixes and packaged icings asking why they found it necessary to use tartrazine. I received the most asinine reply from them (I have a copy of their E-mail). They stated, “Our rich and creamy vanilla frosting contains yellows #5 and #6 and other colors added, which are not certified colors.” All Food, Drug and Cosmetic “certified colors” must be and are listed on packaging.” Isn’t this scary? What else are they adding? I have no idea how they get yellow food coloring into white vanilla icing. I wonder what they use to bleach it – peroxide?
Another time, we were in a health food store. I was looking for a healthy snack food that didn’t contain you know what. I spotted a bag of some sort of chips and thought, “This is a health food store. These must be pure.” Upon checking the ingredient label, I found the word tartrazine. I couldn’t believe it! On asking the manager why a health food store would sell anything but pure food – without artificial additives – she said, “But they don’t contain hydrogenated fat.” I said, “What has that got to do with my question?” I sent a letter to the head office of the health food store. I never did get a reply. However, I have noticed that our health food store no longer sells these goodies.
We don’t eat out very often and when we do, we ask questions and ask to see the package the product they are using comes in. We are extremely careful now because in the past, we have had surprises. One time, on a plane, they served “fruit juice.” Len drank it first, then read the label. Who would think to check fruit juice? Sure enough the word yellow food coloring #6, which is also a coal tar derivative, was on the label. Another time while we were in Hawaii, we went to a hotel down by the ocean to have a cocktail and to watch the sunset. People line the beaches there just to watch the sun go down, which is incidentally really quite spectacular. When Len does have a drink, it’s usually Scotch but this time, because I was having a Mai Tai, which I’ve never had before either, he decided to have one also. Well, in the middle of that night, he had one of the worst reactions he has ever had. His throat almost closed up completely – and we were leaving for Winnipeg later that day. He took half a dozen antihistamines within the next hour or so and the swelling finally began to subside. We found that the fruit juice they were using was the same as the one he was served on the plane - a combination of passion fruit, orange and guava juice laced with tartrazine. Talk about scary stuff! He really should have used his epi pen but only does so if the antihistamines don’t work. Did I mention that the epi pen is a one-time injection costing almost $100.00 (Canadian) and has an expiry date?
From what I have been able to learn in my research, labeling rules/laws regarding synthetic food additives are more stringent in the U.S. than in Canada; although, according to a letter I received from Health Canada recently, they are in the process of improving this. Their letter indicates that people have all sorts of allergies to food as well as to synthetic additives and that one has to read all labels and avoid whatever it is that is giving them problems. We know that people are allergic to foods, but synthetic chemicals are not food and it’s the synthetic garbage that we are concerned about. If most of them are being banned in other countries, how are they managing to live without them? Upon checking the FDA website the other day, I found a list of recalls – pages and pages of recalls – and many of these food products were found to contain tartrazine; however, the word didn’t appear on the label (and it’s mandatory that it does in the U.S.). It’s like playing Russian roulette. What a lot of food processors are now doing is using a variety of pseudonyms and numbers instead of the words tartrazine or MSG, for instance, to confuse the issue even further. And if a product such as popcorn, candied nuts, etc. is made before your very eyes, it doesn’t even require a label, I was told by a representative of a well-known nut company. While in Hawaii last winter, we attended the Honolulu Symphony and during intermission, went outdoors where they were selling, nuts, wine, etc. We decided to have a paper cone of macadamia nuts, which were coated with a caramel-like flavoring. Luckily, Len only had a few, but that night he had a slight reaction. I called the 800 number on the cone and asked what artificial additive they used in their caramel coating. The answer was artificial flavoring. In all probability, it was synthetic vanilla that is now being made from petrochemical raw materials. Prior to this, it was made from lignin-containing waste liquor obtained from acid sulfite pulping of wood, which sounds just about as appetizing.7
Here’s another tidbit. Again in Hawaii last winter, we had another surprise. We stayed with Len’s friend for the first few days of our vacation. Ralph offered us a choice of packaged cereals for breakfast one morning. Len chose one that sounded very healthy indeed. The word tartrazine did not appear on the ingredient list; however, I noticed BHT did. I told Len not to eat the cereal because I had found BHT to be on a list of many things for anyone to avoid, along with aspertame, olestra and others. Well, about 6 hours later, right on cue, the side of his face began to swell and his ear began to ache very badly. He quickly took his antihistamines and it began to subside; however, it took several days to get back to normal. Luckily, it didn’t affect his throat this time. Upon checking this BHT in Ralph’s encyclopedia, I found it to be the abbreviation for butylated hydroxytoluene, and upon checking this, I found one of the ingredients used in the manufacture was cresol, which is a coal tar derivative. Evidently what they do is spray the inside packaging material with BHT to preserve the contents. By the way BHT is prohibited in England.8
We had an experience with monosodium glutamate that I should tell you about also. I had bought a jar of shelled peanuts and after having a handful, that night Len had a raw tongue and broke out in hives on various areas of his body. He’s had this type of reaction in the past, not knowing what was causing it. After ruling out everything else he had eaten that day, we decided it must be the peanuts, but the word tartrazine was definitely not on the label. I thought, “Oh no, don’t tell me he has now developed an allergy to peanuts!” Then we noticed the words monosodium glutamate on the label and I wondered if this was now being produced synthetically. Well, it is! It is now a synthetic derivative of amino acids, according to the Alternative Medicine Website (The Voice of Health.com). 9 I found that raw tongue and hives, along with headaches, etc. were common adverse effects of this MSG. After this experience, we had to add MSG to our list of synthetic additives to avoid. Did you know that monosodium glutamate is known by more than forty different names and numbers? Mark Gold states in his article on the above mentioned website that the following always contain MSG: potassium glutamate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, hydrolyzed oat flour – in fact, hydrolyzed anything, as well as plant protein extract, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, yeast extract, textured protein, and autolyzed yeast.
Some food processors are adding MSG to hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) and not labeling it as as containing MSG. According to Dr. Blaylock, author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, HVP poses an even greater threat than MSG. He describes the manufacturing process of HVP (sometimes referred to as hydrolyzed plant protein) in this way: the major ingredients are “junk” vegetables, unfit for sale, which have high amounts of naturally occurring glutamates. Dr. Blaylock quotes Dr. George R. Schwartz as describing it this way: “old milk, decaying vegetables, or even pork blood.” The mixture is boiled in sulfuric acid for several hours and then neutralized with caustic soda. This produces a sludge, which is dried to make a brown powder, often spiked with added MSG. “Not only does it contain three very powerful brain cell toxins – glutamate, aspartame, and cysteic acid”, Dr. Blaylock notes, but also contains several known carcinogens (cancer causing substances). Incredibly, the FDA does not regulate the amount of carcinogens allowed in HVP or the amount of HVP allowed to be added to food products.” 10
Back to the jar of peanuts - I wondered just how they got MSG into peanuts so I called the 800 number on the jar and was told that some peanut farmers sprayed the fields where they grow with MSG. In fact, spraying the fields with MSG, from what I understand, is being done for other crops as well now. Can you believe it?
Did you know that there is a red food coloring called cochineal extract or Red #40 (carmine dye) on the market, which is made from crushed female cochineal bugs? People have been known to have life-threatening reactions to this dye. Since it is considered a “natural” additive, it is subject to less stringent labeling regulations than synthetic food dyes and it is often labeled only as “artificial color, or color added.” 11
Did you know that if a person is allergic to tartrazine, then one is also allergic to aspirin? The way that I understand it, the salicylate used in the manufacture of aspirin was once made from the bark of a willow tree. It is now synthetically produced from coal tar. Dr. Stephen D. Lockey, Sr. of the Mayo Clinic 12 is an early advocate (1948) of using a non-salicylate – no tartrazine diet to treat urticaria (hives), which is one of the adverse effects of this substance.
According to Dr. Alan R. Gaby, M.D. in his article “The Role of Hidden Food Allergy/Intolerance in Chronic Disease”, psoriasis, eczema and lupus are exacerbated by tartrazine. 13 Asthmatics are extremely sensitive to this chemical as well. Am I wrong in thinking that tartrazine might also cause these conditions?
Did you know that chickens now are often housed in pens and rarely see the light of day? Since they are not range fed, these chickens lay eggs containing yolks that are almost white. In order to produce nice yellow yolks, these chickens are given feed containing tartrazine (yellow food coloring #5). 14 Can you believe it? I wonder if people who are told that they are allergic to eggs could possibly be allergic only to eggs laid by chickens that are fed this type of feed. But how would one know which egg was which? And what about the chicken meat itself?
I might add here, that because one finds a product to be tartrazine free one time, doesn’t mean that the next time one goes to buy it, that it’s still okay. Tartrazine is being added to more and more products all the time. We have to be especially wary of foods served on airplanes. Many of the little packages of salad dressing, spreads, muffins, etc. have no ingredient labels and we’ve had surprises.
Here’s another little story. We were at a supermarket the other day where a lady was demonstrating a yogurt shake with some new-fangled flavorings. She asked if we would like to sample this fabulous new product. I asked her what the ingredients were because we had allergies. She said, “The yogurt is pure and so are these flavorings.” I checked the yogurt and flavorings and they all contained tartrazine. I asked her if she knew what tartrazine was and she said she had no idea. Well, when I told her it was a derivative of coal tar, she was flabbergasted and embarrassed and looked around furtively, as if to see if anyone had witnessed our exchange. I felt sorry for her.
We are what we eat. If you suffer with arthritis, you might find this story interesting. Len’s brother suffered for years with arthritis. The arthritis was so bad that his feet became deformed. He was not nearly old enough to retire from his job and was in so much pain that he was no longer able to drive his car or walk without pain. He had been reading everything he could get his hands on and came across a book that claimed that arthritis could be caused by an allergic reaction to foods and/or food additives. According to instructions he found in this book, John went to bed for five days. He had only water to drink and no food. On the fourth day, he felt so good he was absolutely euphoric. He then began to introduce food – one at a time – by putting a bit under his tongue. The reason for putting it under his tongue is because this is where food is absorbed into the body very quickly, just as in the case of nitroglycerin. He would take his pulse before he did so and then, a few moments later, if his pulse raced, it was an indication that his body was rejecting the food and he would strike that food from his list of things to eat. He did this for weeks and felt better and better all the time. He eventually got back to work. This was fifteen years ago. I wish you could see him now. He’s 78 years of age and has the vitality of a kid. He takes no medication whatsoever and has not had a further problem with arthritis. John has given me the name of two excellent books on this subject – An Alternative Approach to Allergies by Theron A. Randolph, M.D.15 and Dr. Mandel’s Lifetime Arthritis Relief System by Marshall, M.D.16
These have been my findings. I have no way of knowing if everything I have read is authentic; however, our experience does speak for itself. There is nothing in the medical books we have in our home that relates to synthetic food additives. However, there is so much research material out there on the subject that it boggles the mind. I seem to remember reading that there are approximately 3800 food additives of various kinds in our food supply. Heaven only knows how many are synthetic chemicals.
After completing this article I have learned that the California and New York school systems have banned foods containing synthetic food coloring/flavorings, which they have found, after much research, are responsible for attention deficit disorder as well as hyperactivity in children.17
Also, I have just found that some cough medicines – Calpol, for instance, contain paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, which is a coal tar derivative. 18 A father of a two-year-old boy wrote to me recently stating, that after taking this prescribed medication, the child wound up in the hospital with a severe swelling of the face and eyes. These stories go on an on.
Please keep in mind that I am not a professional in this field; this is the way I understand what I have read. This has been an account of Len’s and my experience in determining what he has been allergic to for the better part of his life. This doesn’t mean he can throw away his antihistamines and his epi pen, although we can both breathe easier knowing what to avoid.
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REFERENCES FOR “OUR FOOD SUPPLY – A CHEMICAL CUISINE”
1. Center for Science in Public Interest
2. Dr. James L. Baldwin, M.D., University of Michigan (allergist)
3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration – FDA/IFIC Brochure: January, 1993 “Food Color Facts”
4. Northern Allergy Centre http://allergy.pair.com/additives/colors100-181.htm
5. North American Diet by Ron Lagerquist and Tom McGregor http://www.freedomyou.com/nutrition_book
6. Lactose Intolerance and Milk Allergies – List of Allergens – Food Additives – Colors http://www.lactose.co.uk
7. Journal of Chemical Education (Martin B. Hocking, University of Victoria, Dept. of Chemistry) http://www.jchemed.chem.wisc.edu/journal
9. Holistic Healing Website (Mark Gold)
8. Food Additives: A Shopper’s Guide to What’s Safe and What’s Not by Christine Hoza Farlow, D.C. http://www.bookmasters.com/marktplc/00084.htm
9. Holistic Healing Website (Mark Gold)
10. Exitotoxins: The Taste That Kills (Dr. Russell Blaylock)
11. James, L. Baldwin, M.D., University of Michigan (allergist)
12. The Feingold Association of the United States (Dr. Stephen D. Lockey, Sr. of Mayo Clinic) http://www.feingold.org
13. Alan R. Gaby, M.C. The Role of Hidden Food Allergy/Intolerance in
14. Dr. Jeremy Sims http://www.everywoman.co.uk
15. An Alternative Approach to Allergies by Theron A. Randolph, M.D.
16. Dr. Mandel’s Lifetime Arthritis Relief System by Marshall Mandel, M.D.
17. Hugs Not Drugs (Health World)
18. Electric Library