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“While food additives pose no problem to most people, a small number of people with food intolerances may be sensitive to certain food additives,” says Jasly Koo, Dietitian, from the Nutrition and Dietetics Department at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, a member of the SingHealth group.

For example:

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

This was originally isolated from seaweed in 1908 by a Japanese chemist. It is commonly used in Chinese cuisines to enhance flavour but it also occurs naturally in foods such as

  • camembert cheese
  • parmesan cheese
  • tomatoes
  • soy sauce
  • mushrooms

Intolerance towards MSG is also known as ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ and symptoms that can occur after ingesting foods containing MSG include headache, chest tightness, nausea, sweating, burning neck and facial pressure.

Histamine

Foods containing histamine include fermented foods such as
  • tofu
  • sauerkraut
  • aged cheese
  • processed meat and fish
  • alcoholic beverages
  • tuna
  • mackerel
  • yeast

Eating foods containing histamine can result in symptoms similar to allergic reactions such as headache, flushing, rapid heart rate, feeling faint and wheezing.

Sulfites

These are chemicals added to some foods and drinks to prevent spoilage and to help preserve the flavour and colour.

Foods containing sulfite include

  • fruit juices
  • dried fruit (e.g. apricots)
  • wine and beer

The most common reactions to sulfite affect people with asthma and tend to occur when the asthma is poorly controlled. Symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness and coughing. Reactions can range from mild to potentially life threatening.

Tartrazine

This is a yellow food coloring most commonly used in beverages, sweets, ice cream, desserts, cheese, canned vegetables, hot dogs, salad dressing, and tomato ketchup. Reported adverse reactions can include hives or swelling, and possibly a trigger for asthma symptoms. However, studies have not documented this relationship consistently.

Benzoates

Benzoic acid, sodium benzoate and parabens are added to food and drinks including cakes, cereals, salad dressings, fresh noodles. Benzoates also occur naturally in prunes, cinnamon, tea and berries. They may cause hives, angioedema and asthma, but reactions are rare.

For more information on the different types of food intolerances, see previous pages. 

Ref: N18