Food Additives Allergy

There are currently over 3000 substances added to food. These additives are used for flavour and colour enhancements, act as stabilisers and preservatives and to plump out the antioxidant content of products. And while additives are only a small fraction of the food they are put into, they can cause a wide range of allergic responses in those that are sensitive to them.


  • Allergies to flavourings can include the entire spice family, which is made up of the flavourful parts of various plants, trees and fungi. It is down to the origin of spices that they are able to cause allergic reactions in sensitive people. The allergic reaction is very similar to that caused by hay fever, or the reaction to a particular protein in fish or eggs.
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a salt based compound used to add flavour to a range of foods. It is perhaps most commonly associated with Chinese food. It was initially manufactured using wheat gluten, but is now produced via a fermentation process. This makes it safe to ingest for those suffering from gluten allergies and celiac disease.
  • Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that can be used in foods designated as sugar free, such as soft drinks and sweets.

Dyes & Colourants

There are any number of both synthetic and naturally occurring dyes and colour enhancers added to food and drink. Some researchers feel that allergic reactions to natural colourings are better understood due to their organic nature. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Carmine - Red in colour and made from the dried and crushed body of an insect Dactylopius coccus.
  • Annatto - Yellow in colour and originating from south America .The colour comes from the seeds of a tree called Bixia orellana.
  • Saffron - This is another yellow dye that can be harvested from flowers on a species of the Crocus plant, sativa


The only way to be one hundred percent certain that your food does not contain any preservatives is to grow and rear it yourself. All commercially produced food products will have some form of preservative added to them or applied to them in order to extend their shelf life and delay the onset of spoilage. These are usually in the form of chemical additives and stabilisers.

Chemical Additives

These can help preserve foods by stopping the formation of microbes (antimicrobial) or by inhibiting the oxidation process (antioxidents). Antimicrobials prevent things like bacteria and moulds from becoming active and antioxidants help food to remain fresh instead of turning rancid. BHA ( Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are both antioxidents used to help fat and oils from spoiling. Chemical additives can also help food retain any vitamins and minerals that might otherwise be lost during the cooking process. Sulfites, nitrates and nitrites, benzoates and sorbates are all commonly added chemical additives.


Stabilisers can be an invaluable additive in food products. They are used to enhance the texture of things like gravy granules, jellies and jams by giving them a firmer consistency. Two of the most common stabilisers used today are geletin and carrageenan.

Reaction to Food Additives

Because of the vast amount of additives used in food products, the range of symptoms associated with this type of allergy is also quite varied. Symptoms can include headache, blurred vision, itchy eyes and nose, nasal dripping, swelling of the throat, bowel upset, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, decreased blood pressure, sweating, rash and wheezing. In severe cases anaphylaxis can occur.

As with all food allergies, it is of utmost importance to anyone suffering from a food related allergy to be fully aware of what they are eating. Check the product labels. Do the research. Ensure there is no possibility of cross contamination when dining out. It is not easy to be restricted from eating certain things, but a little careful planning and diet control can ensure you do not have to suffer from an allergic attack unnecessarily.

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Guide to Food Allergies