Flavor enhancers and preservatives, as well as food-coloring dyes, are among the food additives that may elicit allergic reactions in susceptible individuals 2. Allergic reactions to food additives include hives, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory problems such as asthma 2. According to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, there are eight additives that cause allergic reactions, some more commonly and others rarely 3.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is added to foods as a flavor enhancer. This common ingredient in Asian foods can result in allergic reactions such as chest tightness and asthma, headache and migraine, diarrhea, sweating and a burning sensation at the nape of the neck and the upper chest.
Are Sulfites Good for Your Health?
Countless foods are tinted with yellow dye No. 5 (tartrazine 102 and yellow 2G107) and yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow FCF 110). The yellow dyes contain carcinogenic benzidine and other chemicals that our bodies convert to benzidine. Yellow dye No. It causes allergy-like hypersensitivity reactions, especially in aspirin-sensitive individuals, and hyperactivity in some children. Yellow dye No. 6 has been reported to cause adrenal and kidney tumors, as well as severe hypersensitivity reactions in some people.
- Countless foods are tinted with yellow dye No.
- It causes allergy-like hypersensitivity reactions, especially in aspirin-sensitive individuals, and hyperactivity in some children.
In 1986, the FDA banned sulfites from use on fresh fruits and vegetables to retain their color and freshness. Allergic reactions to sulfites usually include itching, skin rash and abdominal discomfort. Some asthma medications even contain sulfites. However, in 5 percent of people with asthma, sulfites can cause anaphylactic symptoms such as:
- chest tightness
- stomach cramps
- breathing problems
This extreme reaction may be related to a hypersensitivity to inhaled sulfur dioxide.
- In 1986, the FDA banned sulfites from use on fresh fruits and vegetables to retain their color and freshness.
- Allergic reactions to sulfites usually include itching, skin rash and abdominal discomfort.
BHA and BHT
List of Foods With Sulfites
Butylated hydroxy toluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are added to many breakfast cereals, breads and other grain products to preserve their color, odor and flavor by preventing the oxygen-induced breakdown of the grains. Allergic reactions to BHT and BHA in sensitive individuals include skin swelling, redness, hives and severe itching.
Potassium bromate is used in the preparation of many baked goods. This additive is known to cause cancer in animals, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization. After the baking process, a small amount of carcinogenic potassium bromate remains in the bread. Bromate has been banned everywhere except Japan and the United States.
- Potassium bromate is used in the preparation of many baked goods.
Other additives that may cause allergic reactions are aspartame, nitrates and nitrites, and benzoates. Reactions to these additives are considered rare. In some cases, such as aspartame, the calorie-free sweetener used to sweeten countless foods and beverages, reactions such as hives and swollen eyelids have not been verified. Nitrates and nitrites are used to preserve and enhance flavor and color and to prevent botulism; these additives may cause headaches and hives. Benzoates are preservatives added to cakes, candy, margarine, cereal and salad dressing; reactions to benzoates are rare.
- Other additives that may cause allergic reactions are aspartame, nitrates and nitrites, and benzoates.
- Nitrates and nitrites are used to preserve and enhance flavor and color and to prevent botulism; these additives may cause headaches and hives.
Are Sulfites Good for Your Health?
List of Foods With Sulfites
10 Worst Food Additives
Can Food Allergies Cause Dry Skin and Hair Loss?
Can Milk Thistle Cause Skin Rashes?
Foods That Trigger Ocular Migraines
Hot Dog Nitrates & Hives
Side Effects of Formaldehyde Exposure
Is Monosodium Glutamate a Gluten?
Side Effects of Mold Inhalation
- Better Health Channel: Food Additives
- Home Remedies: Food and Food Additives
- Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America: Food Additives
- University of Michigan: Food dye can cause severe allergic reactions
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Overview of food ingredients, additives & colors. Updated April 2010.
- Mondal, S. Food Safety and Human Health. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier Science; 2019.
- Food Allergy Research & Education. Blood tests. Updated 2019.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, New England Chapter. Adverse reactions to food additives. Updated 2019.
- Smolinske, SC. CRC Handbook of Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Excipients. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2018.
- Michigan New, University of Michigan. Food dye can cause severe allergic reactions. Updated January 25, 2007.
- Myles IA, Beakes D. An Allergy to Goldfish? Highlighting the labeling laws for food additives. World Allergy Organ J. 2009;2(12):314-316. doi:10.1097/WOX.0b013e3181c5be33
- Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Food Allergy Research and Resource Program. Soy lecithin, soybeans and soy lecithin. Updated August 7, 2019.
- Saha D, Bhattacharya S. Hydrocolloids as thickening and gelling agents in food: a critical review. J Food Sci Technol. 2010;47(6):587-97. doi:10.1007/s13197-010-0162-6
- Sampson, HA, Simon, RA. Food Allergy: Adverse Reactions to Foods and Food Additives. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2011.
- Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Food Allergy Research and Resource Program. Spices and herbs. Updated March 10, 2014.
- Chen JL, Bahna SL. Spice allergy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2011;107(3):191-265. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2011.06.020
- Adkinson Jr., NF, Bochner, BS, Burks, AW, Busse, WW, Holgate ST. Middleton's Allergy E-Book: Principles and Practice. London, UK: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2013.
- Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Food Allergy Research and Resource Program. Sulfites - USA. Updated 2019.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors. International Food Information Council (IFIC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Updated December 2, 2014.
- Chen JL, Bahna SL. Spice Allergy. Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. September 2011;107(3):191-9. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2011.06.020.
- Simon RA. Allergic and Asthmatic Reactions to Food Additives. UpToDate. Updated May 4, 2017.
- Vally H, Misso NL. Adverse Reactions to the Sulphite Additives. Gastroenterology and Hepatology From Bed to Bench. 2012;5(1):16-23.
Ann Yacono has been editing scientific books and journal articles for more than 20 years. She writes and copy edits nonfiction articles on diverse topics. Yacono earned a B.A. and M.A. in English from Lehigh University and is a board-certified editor in the life sciences (ELS).