Sue Dengate has been twice nominated for Australian of the year and for good reason. For 20 years she has worked toward educating the public on food additives and their effect on health. Sue runs the Food Intolerance Network where parents at the end of their tether can go for support, and it seems, most turn their children’s health and behaviour and their family’s life around.
I contacted Sue to ask a few quesitons.
Sue, your journey started with the health of your own child. How did her issues manifest?
In behavioural issues, particularly oppositional defiance - touchy and easily annoyed, often saying ‘no’, temper outbursts - as well as restlessness, difficulty falling asleep, frequent night waking and learning difficulties related to inattention.
What do you consider the main chemicals that trouble children’s behaviour?
Of the approximately 400 additives permitted in our foods, any or all of the following can be associated with behavioural problems: artificial colours, one natural colour (annatto 160b), preservatives (sorbates, benzoates, sulphites, nitrates, nitrites, propionates), antioxidants (gallates, TBHQ, BHA, BHT) and the 600 number flavour enhancers. As well there are thousands of flavour additives that can cause problems. There are also naturally occurring food chemicals such as salicylates that can contribute to behavioural disorders, depending on individual sensitivity.
What other issues are related to food additives?
Food additives can be associated with a range of health problems including migraines and headaches, asthma, itchy rashes such as eczema or hives, bedwetting and irritable bowel symptoms including bloating and sneaky poos.
People may believe that if they eat only whole foods they’re not being affected adversely by their diet. Is this true?
No. It is generally well understood that some people will have problems with dairy foods or wheat or gluten. However, many people are unaware that natural chemicals called salicylates can cause the same problems as additives if consumed in large doses or by sensitive people. These natural food chemicals are increasing in our food supply due to added flavours, concentrated natural chemicals in processed foods such as tomato sauce, and increased availability of out-of-season fruit and vegetables. Foods high in salicylates include strong fruit and mint flavours, berries, citrus, kiwifruit, avocadoes, sultanas and other dried fruits, pineapple, broccoli, pizza toppings and spicy foods. Another set of natural chemicals that can cause problems are the biogenic amines in foods such as cheese, chocolate, canned fish and processed meats.
Why do you not include refined sugar and margarine in your list of No Nos?
Contrary to what most people believe, refined sugar has been found not to cause children’s behaviour problems. When parents think their children are affected by sugar, the reactions are almost certainly due to additives or salicylates. Honey and raw sugar contain salicylates, refined white sugar does not. However, sugar can contribute to tooth decay and obesity so consumption should be limited. Margarines do not cause food intolerance reactions unless they contain nasty additives - as many do. One brand in particular is free of nasty additives, negligible in trans fats and useful for people who can’t tolerate dairy foods.
What would you say is the biggest hurdle to ridding foods of chemical additives?
The enormous and often hidden power of the giant food companies means they can dictate policy to governments and consumers. The current row in the UK over aspartame (artificial sweetener 951) is an example of this. Aspartame was listed as one of the additives consumers would most like to avoid in a recent survey by the Asda supermarket chain. When Asda described aspartame as a ‘hidden nasty’ on the labels on their new ‘Good for You’ range, the Japanese food manufacturer Ajinomoto - the world’s leading supplier of aspartame (and MSG) - accused Asda of ‘malicious falsehood’ and launched legal action. Who can prove whether aspartame is ‘nasty’? The food industry’s hidden influence on medical and legal opinion can be seen in a review of 166 aspartame studies where 100 per cent of industry-funded studies concluded aspartame is safe whereas 92 per cent of independently funded research identified a problem. Consumers need to overcome this power by refusing to buy products containing these additives.
Sue’s “Different Kids” (1994), “Fed Up” (2008), and “Fed Up with ADHD” (2004) and the “Fed Up” DVD are excellent resources for practitioners and parents alike and a great gift for anyone with ‘highly strung’ kids. I’m concerned about the effects of margarine on Asthma so I’m not so fired up about “Fed Up with Asthma” (2003). “The Failsafe Cookbook” (2007) is a good start for newbie health investigators but I’d hope they graduate to Sally Fallon’s, Nourishing Traditions - avoiding of course ingredients they’ve discovered through Sue’s elimation diet to be reactive. It would be nice to see Sue speak out about the worlds number one preservative non-food, refined sugar as other food writers and nutritionists are beginning to. Refined sugar may not contain salicylates but neither does it contain anything else that is useful for the body.
What I learned
I was surprised to discover that some aspects of entirely traditional diets are potentially hazardous to some individuals. The jury’s out on which came first, intolerance to natural foods or metabolic disturbance caused by unnatural chemicals in food. It’s also unclear if these intolerances are reversible.
Of most interest to me was the research on Biogenic amines: formed by the inadequate breakdown of proteins in foods. Amines can affect mental functioning, blood pressure, body temperature, and other bodily processes.
There are many different amines, including:
• tyramine (e.g. in cheese) • histamine (e.g. in wine) • phenylethylamine (e.g. in chocolate) • agmatine, putrescine, cadaverine, spermidine (e.g. in decomposing fish) • tryptamine • adrenaline (epinephrine) • serotonin • dopamine.
It was disturbing for me to find that many of the sources of rogue amines are some our favourite traditional foods:
Fish, cheese, wine, some meats, fermented foods such as chocolate, sauerkraut and soy sauce. Basically any protein food can contain amines depending on the way it is handled. Sue says, fresh is best. I wonder if raw protein foods are better?
Biogenic amines are normally quickly broken down in the body with the help of enzymes such as MAO (monoamine oxidase-A) which render them harmless. Missing, sluggish or blocked enzymes can lead to a build up of amines in the body.
Symptoms include migraines and headaches, irritable bowel symptoms, eczema and depression.
There’s also conjecture that Amine intolerance is related to schizophrenia. “A biogenic amine called dimethyltriptamine (DMT for short) is the only known hallucinogenic compound naturally produced by the body. Normally it is metabolised by the monoamine oxidase enzyme before its effects can be noticed. It is used in tribal and religious rites in South America by combining a naturally rich source of DMT with a natural MAO inhibitor while avoiding tyramine containing foods, usually through fasting. DMT is present in small amounts in a wide range of animal and plant foods and mushrooms. In the 1950s, researchers suggested that the schizoid symptoms of auditory or visual hallucinations could be due to an inborn deficit in the MAO enzyme, allowing small amounts of DMT from foods to build up in the body. This theory is once again becoming popular. It would account for why some failsafers (those following the failsafe elimination diet - Ed.) have reported that schizoid symptoms improve on a low chemical elimination diet.”
Many drugs can contain amines, including over the counter cold tablets, decongestants, nasal drops or sprays, some pain relievers, general and local anaesthetics and some antidepressants. How much do the over use of these drugs and a diet in processed packaged foods contribute to intolerance to amines? After eliminating every source from the diet, how long would it take to be able to include Nourishing traditional foods such as sauerkraut, soy sauce and aged meats again?
These are questions I’m left with after reading Sue’s work. While I see her work as vital to families in turmoil from behaviour and health burdens due to improper diet, I worry that the cure may be deficient for building strength in the long run. I’d like to see the next step post elimination. How do we bring the body back to a state of balance in which it can tolerate the diet it’s genetic blueprint demands? It will be of great interest to watch this body of research continue. Sue’s books and DVD are available from her website: FedUp.com.au
About the Author...
A Super Hero and one of many who have realised their true calling as saviors of humanity, healers of our connection with Nature and creators of Heaven on Earth. The Nourisher's gift is the re-spiritualisation of the 'process of recreation' we call eating. Mother of three Super Heroes in training and wife to her God incarnate, The Nourisher hails from the place of feminine healing, Byron Bay, Australia. She gathers together Life Creators from all over the globe at NourishedMagazine.com.au