My family has food intolerances and has followed the RPAH low chemical eating plan (also popularised as FAILSAFE eating by Sue Dengate, which stands for foods Free of Additives and Low in Salicylates, Amines and Flavour Enhancers) since 2011. We have three children (7 years, 4 years and 9 months old) and hope that sharing our story and meal planning ideas we can help others facing similar challenges.
We undertook the RPAH elimination diet after our middle child developed physical and behavioural reactions to a range of processed foods at about 9 months of age. On bad nights, he would wake screaming every hour with swollen lips (angioedema) and writhing with a stomach ache. He sometimes developed rashes on his face or torso and could be grouchy for a few days for no obvious reason. As he tried more solid foods, he seemed to have more reactions and gradually went from being a happy, contented breastfed baby to being a sleepless, grouchy, red-cheeked toddler. During the elimination diet, started just after his first birthday, we realised he reacted to more than just processed foods. After following the elimination diet, then introducing food groups during challenges, we found he was sensitive to naturally occurring food chemicals including salicylates, amines, glutamates, some legumes and dairy (though he could tolerate A2 milk in small quantities). These days, he can have moderate salicylate foods a few days a week which is great for variety (watermelon, peeled cucumber and carrot are his favourites) and seems fine with legumes.
He also has an egg allergy, identified at 11 months of age, which resulted in a rash around his mouth within minutes of eating egg. The allergy was easy to identify as it showed in a skin prick test and was relatively easy to manage, as we completely excluded one food only. At 4 years of age, he is growing out of his egg allergy and can now eat egg in baked products such as muffins and biscuits, but he still carries an Epipen and has an anaphylaxis management plan in place.
Our eldest child was the opposite, a very colicky baby, screaming every night for at least 2 hours between 6 weeks and 6 ½ months of age but she seemed to settle over time. Fast forward 3 years and we realised that food colours affected her badly, causing night terrors and repetition of silly noises, so she had been eating mostly failsafe at home since 3 1/2 years of age. But when we went out she ate different fruits, sometimes cheese and crackers, olives, a small slice of cake, or a babycino – something to reward her for sticking to the same diet as her brother at home. These diversions from the failsafe diet resulted in increasingly defiant and irritable behaviour and she was unable to respond to simple requests and took ages to fall asleep. It turned out she was also sensitive to salicylates, glutamates and dairy and had a slow build-up to amines. Her salicylate challenge was like a puzzle piece falling into place – within 2 days she had night terrors, a stuffy nose, trouble falling asleep, poor behaviour and silly noises. I attended Sue Dengate’s talk a few days after her salicylate challenge ended and agreed that I hadn’t taken salicylates seriously – her behavioural reactions being easier to explain away than my son’s mainly physical reactions. We are impressed with how well my daughter has coped with the change, she happily swaps lolly bags for safe treats at parties, eats from her lunchbox during outings and likes being a bit ‘special’ with her food, just like her brother.
Our youngest child seems to have similar food sensitivities, even through breastmilk. He is generally a happy, contented baby but any deviation from my low chemical diet has caused sleeplessness and irritability. While being exclusively breastfed, he vomited more than usual if I ate eggs and had blood in his stools if I ate cashews (the only low-chemical nut), so I am wondering if he also has allergies. He has very sensitive skin, with baby wipes causing a bright-red rash like a chemical burn, so we only use lanolin on his skin and a little QV wash in the bath. As we introduce foods, we either vary his diet or mine to include some moderate salicylates, but he doesn’t tolerate these very well. We are combining baby-led weaning with some pureed or mashed food, and he still has plenty of breastmilk. There is a great article on breastfeeding and food sensitivities from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
Eating ‘failsafe’ and doing food challenges while breastfeeding has been a great wake-up call for me. I realised that high salicylates cause my aching knees (a problem since childhood and reappearing every time I went on a health kick – I had blamed the exercise!); amines cause a low mood, ‘spaced out’ feeling, irritability and muscle pains; amines are also the explanation for intense stomach cramps caused by paw paw, avocado and pineapple. My irritable bowel symptoms and migraines are gone (probably a combination of amines, salicylates and dairy). I’ve struggled with depression in the past and now realise that those times coincided with an increase in processed foods, takeaways and chocolate. I eat out very occasionally but always return to failsafe eating at home, as it’s not worth those wasted days feeling miserable and missing out on life (or dealing with a baby reacting to foods through my milk!).
My husband thought he was immune to food intolerance but since viewing Sue Dengate’s DVD has realised that sulphites result in headaches within a few hours. He is a great supporter of failsafe eating, helps with cooking and shopping where possible and thinks my cooking is getting better all the time (probably a result of simpler meals and lots of time in the kitchen!).
Since our introduction to failsafe eating, we are lucky to have added the support of great dietitians, a compounding chemist (for additive free medications) and the blogs, forums and Facebook pages dedicated to failsafe eating.