If you have nagging health complaints, you might be one of the increasing numbers of people with sensitivities to naturally occurring chemicals in foods such as salicylates. Guest blogger Maribeth Evezich, RD, offers information on sensitivities caused by salicylates (suh–lis-uh-leyts) to help you get a handle on–and resolve–your health issues.
What Are Salicylates and Where Are They Found?
Salicylic acid (salicylate) is a natural chemical produced by plants. As part of their natural defense system, this chemical concentrates in the leaves, bark, skin and seeds of plants. It helps protect them from environmental stress and acts as a natural pesticide. First identified in willow tree bark, salicylic acid is known today as the common pain and fever reducer aspirin.
As a rule, the more flavor and aroma a food has, the higher its natural chemicals like salicylates, glutamate and amines. Thus extra virgin olive oil is higher in salicylates than refined olive oil, honey and cane juice are higher than white sugar and romaine lettuce is higher than iceberg. Unripe produce such as green banana is higher in salicylates than ripened banana.
If you find that you have become salicylate intolerant, start peeling all your produce. That’s because flavor and natural chemicals are typically concentrated in and near the skin of produce. When any food cooks to the point of becoming browned this increases both its flavor and salicylates. Therefore favor an un-browned pot roast over crispy ribs. Opt for mashed or baked potatoes. As you become less salicylate sensitive, you can once again enjoy crusty hash browns as well as the following foods that are naturally high in salicylates.
Foods High in Salicylates
(see below for links to comprehensive lists)
- Fruits: all berries and dried fruits; also most apples, avocados, cherries, citrus, figs, grapes, kiwis, peaches, and plums,
- Vegetables: cucumbers, mushrooms, radishes, artichoke, eggplant, spinach, zucchini, broccoli, hot peppers
- Herbs and spices: Virtually of of them except saffron and fresh parsley
- Grains: corn products, flavored breakfast cereals or cereals with added fruit and nuts
- Meats: all processed and seasoned meat, fish unless it’s very fresh, gravy, browned or crisped meat
- Oils: extra virgin coconut, olive, walnut, sesame oil
- Condiments: tomato paste and sauces, vinegar, soy sauce, jams, jellies
- Drinks: beer, coffee, fruit juice, tea (black, green and herbal), wine
- Nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamia, peanuts (with skin), pine nuts, pistachios
How Does Salicylate Sensitivity Happen?
Like aspirin, salicylate is a natural anti-inflammatory. But for people who have become sensitive to salicylates, it can trigger an allergic-type response. While some people may have a genetic predisposition toward salicylate sensitivity, others with poor gut health can develop one.
As you can see from the list above, many of our whole food staples are high in salicylates, so a squeaky clean diet may be part of the problem! While this natural food chemical normally is a plus, it becomes a toxin if you’re over your threshold of tolerance. When in excess, salicylates irritate nerve endings in different parts of the body and trigger allergic-like responses. Although this information may seem counterintuitive, making use of it may be your ticket to renewed health.
How Can I Tell if I’m Salicylate Sensitive?
Sensitivities to natural food chemicals vary significantly from person to person. If you have a low tolerance threshold for salicylates, then you can develop symptoms from the cumulative effects of small amounts of otherwise healthy foods over several days or weeks.
The most common symptoms are congestion; itchy, red or watery eyes; recurrent hives and swelling; headache; fatigue; rapid, slow or irregular heart rate; flu-like aches and pains; mood swings; mouth ulcers; nausea or stomach pains; and bowel irritation and irregularities.
I think I’m Salicylate Intolerant. Now What?
The only way to diagnose salicylate intolerance is with an elimination diet. The resources listed below will enable you to get started. The good news is that unlike true food allergies, food intolerances need not be permanent. After the elimination diet, the plan is avoiding foods high in the natural chemicals that are problematic for you and addressing any gut issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO), both of which often go hand in hand with chemical sensitivities.
Once your GI health is back on keel, you can again enjoy a wider diet. Then lush, ripe figs or a comforting cup of herbal tea with a spoonful of honey will no longer trigger nasty side effects.
How Soon Will I See the Benefits of Reducing Salicylates?
According to medical nutrition therapist and elimination diet specialist Heidi Turner, MS, RD, if you are salicylate intolerant, it’s possible to see benefits from going salicylate-free within two weeks and in some cases just one week. “While symptoms may not resolve completely, two weeks is generally enough time to calm the system. Then you can get a read on how the body responds to reintroducing salicylates into the diet.”
The Food Intolerance Network
Start here! Consisting of thousands of families, this network is a great entry point for learning about food intolerances. In addition to providing community and independent research, it provides support for the FAILSAFE diet.
The FAILSAFE Diet
The FAILSAFE diet is a comprehensive elimination diet, designed to treat sensitivities to specific man-made and natural flavorings, colorings and preservatives as well as natural food chemicals, such as salicylates, amines (histamine, serotonin, dopamine, phenylethylamine, tyramine and others). The FAILSAFE Diet was formulated by allergists at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
This online resource exists to help those who suffer from salicylate sensitivity and other chemical sensitivities to find the information that they need to begin their journey toward health and recovery. It includes information on chemical sensitivities, recipes and an online forum for their community.
1. Palikhe NS, Kim SH, Park HS (October 2008). “What do we know about the genetics of aspirin intolerance?”. Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics 33 (5): 465–72.
2. Swain AR, Dutton SP, Truswell AS. Salicylates in foods. J Am Diet Assoc. Human Nutrition Unit. 1985;85(8):950-960. http://www.slhd.nsw.gov.au/rpa/allergy/research/salicylatesinfoods.pdf. Accessed July 7, 2016.
3. Salicylate Sensitivity: the Other Food Intolerance – Naturopathic Doctor News Review
http://ndnr.com/autoimmuneallergy-medicine/salicylate-sensitivity-the-other-food-intolerance/ Accessed July 8, 2016.
4. Karl T, Guenther A, Turnipseed A, et al. Plants in forest emit aspirin chemical to deal with stress: Discovery many help agriculture. September 8, 2008. AtmosNews. NCAR/UCAR https://www2.ucar.edu/atmosnews/news/921/plants-forest-emit-aspirin-chemical-deal-stress-discovery-may-help-agriculture. Accessed July 6, 2016.
5. The Food Intolerance Network fedup.com.au Accessed July 6, 1016
6. The FAILSAFE diet failsafediet.com Accessed July 7, 2016
Maribeth Evezich, RD is a functional nutrition and therapeutic lifestyle consultant. Maribeth who completed her Masters in Nutrition from Bastyr University is also a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. Whether she is in her kitchen experimenting, at her computer researching phytonutrients or behind the lens of her camera, she is on a mission to inspire others to love whole foods. She currently lives in New York City and blogs at Whole Foods Explorer.