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For the last couple of months, our family has been following a low-chemical elimination diet, which is based on research done at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Australia over the last 20 years. Through a series of controlled studies, they've demonstrated that many common foods can trigger such symptoms as hives, eczema, migraines, asthma, ADHD, fatigue, and depression. Here's where it gets really interesting: They believe that most food reactions aren't caused by allergies, but, rather, by a pharmacological intolerance to certain natural food chemicals (salicylates, amines, and glutamates), as well as many artificial food additives. In other words, in susceptible people, these foods act as drugs. These sensitivities won't show up on conventional allergy tests. The only way to diagnose them is to exclude all the possible culprits for at least three weeks, then do systematic challenges for each type of chemical.

The RPAH diet has been popularized by an Australian mother, Sue Dengate. She calls it the "FAILSAFE diet" (Free of Additives, Low in Salicylates, Amines, and Flavor Enhancers). Thanks in large part to her efforts, many families in Australia and New Zealand have benefited from this information, but it still hasn't made it to North America in a big way. (The closest thing we have here is the Feingold diet, which only addresses a much smaller number of food chemicals -- making it easier to follow, but less effective.)

At first, the RPAH diet seems to fly in the face of healthy eating. Hardly any fruit? No broccoli? No tomatoes??? Then I realized that my British and Nordic ancestors ate just this sort of plain food: cabbage, leeks, split peas, potatoes, grains, and very fresh meat & seafood. This is why Sue Dengate refers to Failsafe recipes as "cuisine grandmere" (Grandmother's cooking).

There are other reasons why food intolerances might be more of a problem today. Our fruits and vegetables are higher in salicylates, because they're bred for pest-resistance, and picked while they're still underripe. Our meat is higher in amines, due to aging, cryovaccing, shipping cross-country, and flash-freezing. And our livers are less able to detoxify these chemicals, due to the added burdens of environmental pollutants and stress hormones.

This diet has worked miracles on our family's various health & behavior problems. We don't even have cravings; once the "addiction" is broken, we don't miss the high-chemical foods. The down side is that the diet is very tricky to do properly, especially in the beginning. (And I'm speaking as a veteran of many elimination diets, like the SCD and Dr. Sears' TED.) This is because the levels of chemicals in food are affected by cooking, storage, and processing. It's even more complicated for Americans. We can't just follow the RPAH food lists, because some of our foods -- such as potatoes -- are higher in chemicals than their Australian equivalents. But we're starting to get the hang of it.

Anyway, I'd love to hear from any other mothers who have tried the Failsafe diet, or who suspect that food intolerances might be a problem for their families.

(MamaMonica, I noticed that you mentioned Failsafe in some of your posts. Did your family do the full elimination and challenges? If so, how did it go for you?)