Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Allergy Unit

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Salicylates, Amines and Glutamate booklet introduction


Food chemicals can cause adverse reactions due to their drug-like side effects. Strictly speaking, these should be referred to as "intolerances" rather than "allergies". If you're a food-sensitive individual, your reactions will depend on:

What symptoms you're prone to:
Symptoms vary from person to person. Hives, headaches, stomach and/or bowel problems are the most common, sometimes with a feeling of being generally unwell, run down, or irritable.

What you're sensitive to:
Most people with food intolerance are sensitive to more than one chemical. These can be both "natural" and "artificial" substances. Their effects depend on the combination and amount consumed in your daily diet.

How sensitive you are:
The more sensitive you are, the less of the chemical-rich foods you'll be able to tolerate. Speed and severity of reactions can vary too. Symptoms can begin within an hour or two, but more often take several hours to develop. Typical reactions last a few hours, but severe ones can sometimes go on for days.

How much you eat:
Depending on your "threshold" for reacting, large doses may upset you, whereas smaller amounts may have no immediate effect. However, low levels of salicylates and amines from many different foods can build up in your system gradually. Chronic or recurrent symptoms can then develop without the cause being obvious.


The natural substances which can upset sensitive people are found in many different foods. The more of these consumed in the daily diet, the more likely it is that reactions will occur. The charts in this booklet will tell you which foods to look out for, and should be used together with the companion "The Simplified Elimination Diet" booklet.

SALICYLATES are a family of plant chemicals found naturally in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices, jams, honey, yeast extracts, tea and coffee, juices, beer and wines. They are also present in flavourings (e.g. peppermint), perfumes, scented toiletries, eucalyptus oils, and some medications (ASPIRIN is a member of the salicylate family).

AMINES come from protein breakdown or fermentation. Large amounts are present in cheese, chocolate, wines, beer, yeast extracts and fish products. They are also found in certain fruits and vegetables, e.g. bananas, avocados, tomatoes and broadbeans.

GLUTAMATE is a building block of all proteins, and is found naturally in most foods. In its free form, not linked to protein, it enhances the flavour of food. This is why foods rich in natural glutamate are used in many meals, for example tomatoes, cheeses, mushrooms, stock cubes, sauces, meat extracts and yeast extracts. Pure monosodium glutamate (MSG) can also be used as an additive to increase the flavour of soups, sauces, Asian cooking and snack foods.

The foods most likely to cause problems are the tastiest ones, since they have the highest levels of natural chemicals.

People who are sensitive to natural food chemicals are usually also sensitive to one or more of the common FOOD ADDITIVES. The ones most likely to cause unpleasant reactions are listed (along with their code numbers) in the booklets mentioned above.