By Matt Rozsa
If you experience an allergic reaction to certain foods, it may not be because of the foods themselves. Scientific studies have found that food additives — substances which are added to foods to improve their taste or appearance — can cause these allergic reactions. Although most food additives are harmless, some of them can have a harmful effect on the people who eat them, especially when they aren’t aware of what they’re putting into their bodies.
The most recent additive found to stimulate allergic reactions is (1) tBHQ (or tert-butylhydroquinone), which is commonly found in cooking oils, breads, crackers, waffles, and nuts. As a scientist at Michigan State University discovered, this preservative can also cause allergic reactions to foods like milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, and shell fish. Another additive that has been reported to stimulate allergic relations in a small number of patients (2) are sulphites. These have been used as anti-browning agents during the manufacturing process for many foods, as well as preservatives, and appear in everything from dried fruit and white vegetables to alcoholic beverages like wine and beer and seafood. Certain people with asthma can be hypersensitive to sulphites, and there have been reports of sulphites triggering skin reactions as well.
Sulphites aren’t the only preservatives that have been linked to these kinds of problems. (3) Benzoates and Parabens (which are added to medicines and beverages like sugar free Coke) may cause urticaria, asthma, and angioedema, while antioxidants that are added to prevent spoiling can trigger asthma, rhinitis, and urticaria. Similarly, additives that exist to enhance a food’s flavor can lead to allergic responses, such as the sweetener aspartame (which can cause urticaria, itchy hives, and swelling) and monosodium glutamate (MSG), commonly found in restaurant Chinese food, which can lead to headaches, burning, and a tight sensation in the face, neck, and chest.
It is important to point out that not all people will have allergic reactions to food additives. Indeed, the reactions that have been reported in the past have only occurred in a small number of people. That said, when people eat their favorite foods, they rarely imagine that there are foreign substances completely unrelated to what would naturally occur within that product. This is the risk that one takes when purchasing non-organic materials — namely, that your bread or beer or Chinese food contains more than what you’d naturally assume is there.