Introduction to the Failsafe Diet
Video source: Fed Up
FAILSAFE stands for Free of Additives, Low in Salicylates, Amines and Flavour Enhancers. The failsafe diet was originally designed to treat ADHD children, but has proven useful for a wide range of conditions.
The FAILSAFE diet is a diet designed to be free of additives, low in salicylates, amines and flavour enhancers. It is Sue Dengate‘s term for the low-chemical exclusion diet formulated by allergists at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Australia.
It is designed to treat sensitivities to specific man-made and natural flavourings, colourings and preservatives found in foods by eliminating problem foods and replacing them with healthy, low-chemical alternatives.
Effects of food additives can include:
irritability, restlessness, difficulty falling asleep
mood swings, anxiety, depression, panic attacks
inattention, difficulty concentrating or debilitating fatigue
speech delay, learning difficulties
eczema, urticaria and other itchy skin rashes; angioedema or swelling of the lips etc often associated with rashes
reflux, colic, stomach aches, bloating, and other irritable bowel symptoms including constipation and/or diarrhoea, sneaky poos, sticky poos, bedwetting
headaches or migraines
frequent colds, flu, bronchitis, tonsillitis, sinusitis; stuffy or runny nose, constant throat clearing, cough or asthma
joint pain, arthritis, heart palpitations, racing heartbeat
and many others
Natural food chemicals:
Salicylates are increasing in our food supply, due to strong flavour additives, concentrated high salicylate foods such as tomato and onion powder in processed foods, and increased availability of out-of-season fruit and vegetables. Foods high in salicylates include strawberries, kiwifruit, avocadoes, sultanas and other dried fruits, citrus, pineapple, broccoli, tomato based pizza toppings, tomato sauce, olive oil, fruit juice and tea. Salicylate sensitivity can be triggered or worsened by medications such as aspirin and other NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Nurofen; drugs that interact with aspirin; lotions such as anti-arthritis creams; salicylate-containing teething gel and natural salicylates in herbal medications.
Nutritionists recommend 2+5 (2 serves of fresh fruit and 5 serves of vegetables per day), but most mothers who contact me do it the other way around – unlimited fruit, fruit juice, dried fruit and fruit flavoured products (e.g. muesli bars, fruit yoghurt), and don't worry too much about vegies because "fruit's so healthy". This can lead to a very high salicylate diet. One mother wrote:
"I got your book and did what it said. We have seen a huge difference, you have changed our lives forever and we are very grateful. My son used to live on fruit, especially sultanas. We were one of those 2+5 reversal families".
You can cut down on salicylates by drinking water instead of fruit juice or cordial; avoiding some of the highest foods - citrus, tomatoes, broccoli and grapes, and reducing fruit intake to 2 pieces of fresh fruit per day (best fruits are pears, rhubarb and 'just ripe' bananas). For more ideas, see one of my books. Or for best results with a severe problem, do the full RPAH elimination diet.
Fragrances such as fruit or eucalyptus are another source of salicylates. Since the 1970s, increasingly large doses have been added to products. In the UK, studies of new mothers found more headaches and depression in mothers and more asthma, diarrhoea, vomiting and ear infections in babies with increasing use of air fresheners and/or aerosols.
Amines occur naturally especially in protein foods such as cheese, chocolate, canned fish and processed meats.
Glutamates (like MSG) occur naturally especially in tasty cheeses, soy sauce, yeast extract, hydrolysed vegetable protein, soups, sauces, gravies, seasonings and many other foods. These are used in many 'No MSG' health food aisle rice-based snacks for children
A smaller number of people are sensitive to dairy foods and/or wheat or gluten.
People rarely realise that they are affected by salicylates, amines or glutamates unless they eat a very large dose in a short time (e.g. at Christmas or Easter) or until they reduce their intake. This is because these food chemicals are eaten so frequently that the effects fluctuate and can build up very slowly. One mother wrote:
'I cut back my five year old daughter's intake of fruit to about a quarter of what she normally had. Within days we saw dramatic changes. Her behaviour evened out ... she was more sensible and obliging, less aggressive and defiant - and altogether much more pleasant to live with.'
An experienced and supportive dietitian can supervise a three week trial of the RPAH (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital) elimination diet which is free of additives and low in salicylates and amines to find out exactly which food chemicals are contributing to problems. In our experience, this is the most effective elimination diet in the world. See FedUp's list of suitable dietitians
People rarely react to only one food chemical.
Most react to between 3-6 food chemicals. Overall, additives and salicylates are the main culprits, but everyone is different. See table below for the approximate percentage of overactive children likely to react to each challenge (other symptoms are similar)
75% - salicylates 65% - preservatives 55% - colours 40% - MSG and other flavour enhancers, natural glutamates 40% - synthetic antioxidants such as BHA 320 40% - amines 20% - dairy foods <1% - gluten (figures are higher for other symptoms, up to 20% for irritable bowel). However, many people with food intolerance are affected by wholegrains and do better on white bread than wholemeal, puffed rice or rolled oats than e.g. weetbix.
Source: Loblay RH, Swain AR. Food Intolerance. In: Recent Advances in Clinical Nutrition' Vol 2, 1986. Libbey, London. Eds: Wahlqvist ML and Truswell AS, pp169-177.