My food history # 7 – food sensitivities – my shattered ideal of a healthy diet



Shattered ideals

After my father had a heart attack, our family diet changed to avoidance of fatty red meat, full-fat milk and butter to one including more fish, chicken and vegetable oils. Those messages and promotion of fibre and fruit, and less refined cereals and sugar stuck with me. Thus, when I started out on motherhood I had high ideals of a healthy diet being wholegrain cereals, vegetables, fruit; and avoidance of excess fat, salt, sugar and refined cereals.

My ideals came crashing down when my second son was a failure to thrive, suffering chronic ill-health from the introduction of solid food. After a three year battle, I sought advice from a specialist at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) in Sydney. An exclusion diet and series of food challenges (1), proved he was sensitive to salicylates, amines and some food additives (colours, preservatives and MSG). Salicylates are flavour components of many fruits, juices and vegetables. Amines occur in cheese, chocolate, bananas and yeast extracts. On a diet removing those foods he became well and gained weight.

Disclaimer: Please note – an exclusion diet protocol including challenges should only be done under the supervision of a medical practitioner. Other reasons for symptoms need excluding before diet is tried. Some people may experience severe symptoms to challenges. In some instances these need supervision by a medical practitioner or in hospital. 

Sorting out the family diet after my son’s diagnosis took time. The prime objectives were to get him well, establish which symptoms were due to diet, which foods were the culprits, and then exclude only culprit foods from his diet. His long-term diet had to be nutritionally adequate, palatable, fit in with the family lifestyle and be socially acceptable. I wanted the family diet to also fulfill my own long-term health objectives of preventing diseases that plagued my father and his generation: heart disease, obesity and diabetes. However, because of my son’s sensitivities, many foods I previously considered ‘healthy’ were now off the family menu – many fruits, juice and colourful vegetables. Moreover, as I had gone on the RPAH dietary protocol myself, I discovered I too was food sensitive. This diet I had tried for my son became my own diet.

My symptom history

I had always considered myself a reasonably healthy person. When I think back now, that supposed ‘reasonably healthy’ actually was not that healthy. According to my mother I had numerous ear infections as a child, measles as a three year old that left me deaf in one ear; tonsils and adenoids removed after continual infections. At age five I suffered chronic cystitis and became gravely ill from a kidney infection. I nearly died, a fact my mother only told me five years ago. I suffered intermittent gut symptoms, with vomiting attacks that would last for days; or episodes of sudden diarrhoea. I was often home with colds that ‘turned to my chest’ and every winter was plagued with a chronic hacking cough, not diagnosed as asthma until my adult years. I had numerous episodes of hives. As an adult I had chronic tinnitus (ringing in the years) and balance problems, a tendency to trip and fall. I was a chronic teeth grinder which gave me headaches. Worst of all, I often had a foggy brain and could not think straight. I was completely disorganized and could not keep things tidy.

When I went on the RPAH exclusion diet, I became ill with flu-like symptoms and a hacking cough that lasted weeks. I was told this could be withdrawal effects. In people with this type of food sensitivity, food components exert drug-like effects, including withdrawal symptoms. It took eight weeks for symptoms to noticeably decline and twelve weeks to cease with ringing in the ears from tinnitus my last symptom to completely resolve … after which I felt better than I had ever felt in my entire life. A clarity of thought processes was a remarkable change for me. An increase in energy levels was an added benefit. Becoming tidier was a welcome bonus. And I was calm.

Next came the food challenges.

It was important to determine that foods definitely were the underlying problem, that symptoms that had supposedly cleared actually came back and were due to foods and not by coincidence or some other factor. The challenges to specific foods or food groups were important – to ensure no food was excluded unnecessarily from my diet – an important and often neglected point I read about so often in other people’s blogs.

Food sensitivities is a complicated and controversial area of medicine. For the interests of keeping this series of posts to my long-term food history and the reasons behind any changes, at this stage I will simply summarise the effects from food challenges in the following two posts, although I will expand upon food sensitivities in future posts.


And now to my food challenges …

This is a series of posts on my food history from my childhood up until 2013.

This is a series of posts on my food history from my childhood up until 2013.
My food history # 1 – My childhood diet – Late 1950s, early 1960s
My food history # 2 – Mid 1960s – First nutrition lessons
My food history # 3 – Late 1960s – Times are a-changing
My food history # 4 – Critical moments – my father
My food history # 5 – Fit 1970s – fibre – fruit – free of sugar
My food history # 6 – 1980s – Critical moments – a health scare – hypertension
My food history # 7 (part 1) – 1980s – Food Sensitivities – shattered ideals of healthy food
My food history # 7 (part 2) – 1980s – Food sensitivities – proving the culprit foods
My food history # 7 (part 3) – 1980s – Food sensitivities – hypertension & biogenic amines
My food history # 8 – The 1980s Healthy Eating Pyramid
My food history # 9 – The 1990s Nutrition studies – low GI – lipoproteins
My food history # 10 – 1990s combining ‘friendly’ with ‘healthy’ – a bland yet healthy diet
My food history # 11 – The 2000s – slow ticking time bombs
My food history # 12 – Critical events and life catastrophes

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article or on this website should be taken as medical or dietary advice. Anyone reading any information provided within should seek advice from their own medical practitioner for any issue, disease, illness or health-related problem they may have. Always seek your own advice from a medical practitioner or dietitian before changing your own diet.


References and notes:

(1) Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (Sydney) Exclusion Diet protocol.



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