Christmas and food intolerance


Xmas pitfalls (reader reports)

  • unlisted sulphites in Christmas prawns
  • gout from Christmas strawberries
  • Christmas Eve hives from corn chips
  • stabbing pains after Christmas dinner
  • a disastrous Xmas due to antioxidant 320
  • Xmas reaction: I knew there was something wrong

Recipes and hints for safe Christmas alternatives
More information

Keywords: food intolerance, Xmas, Christmas



Christmas can be the worst time of year for people with food intolerance - especially those who haven't yet realised they are affected by food.

Food reactions are related to the size of the dose, people eat bigger doses of high salicylate, amine and glutamate foods at Christmas time, reactions can be delayed and cumulative. This is when people are likely to realise they need to take food seriously.

The good news is that after all those Christmas parties, January is a good time to do your elimination diet, like this family:

"Since Christmas we've lived failsafe which has made our house a calm, lovely environment (thank you for that!)" –Kate (from Checklist of Common Mistakes)

Christmas pitfalls (reader reports)

[996] Sulphites & asthma: unlisted sulphites in prawns (March 2011)

Just purchased my Xmas prawns and thinking to avoid any additives, I always buy 'Australian' uncooked prawns. As I purchased 2Kg they came in the original box and shock, horror, I see preservative ticked, and then 223 (sodium metabisulphite). This product was labelled 'Wild caught Australian frozen prawns' from Hervey Bay - all sounds so pristine!

I rang the fish man morning and he informs me that all prawns are treated with 223 to prevent discolouring. This is common practice across the industry, the only difference being that imported prawns may not declare the preservative on the packaging. I phoned the Health department who were completely unaware of this practice. I suggested that as processed foods have to have labelling of ingredients what of the 'fresh' product?

An asthmatic with sensitivities to the sulphur group of preservatives may well react to prawns and then assume this is a seafood allergy, as preservative would not be considered a factor. Imagine if all those wonderful sea food displays at this time of the year were labelled 'contains sulphur metabisulphite'! – Judy, Vic

[1131] Gout from strawberries (September 2012)

The Sunshine Coast is a strawberry-growing area. My visiting daughter gave me a blender for Xmas and bought me daily supplies of bananas and strawberries. I was consuming half a punnet a day. After several days I was struck by severe gout, and it was excruciating, making walking from the car to the doctor almost impossible. Several passersby stopped to ask me if I had gout, and laughed at my affirmative saying "You've been into the strawberries, haven't you?"

Astonished, I told the doctor, who clearly was not impressed and prescribed some pills. I ignored the pills and simply gave up the strawberries. Instant cure. Testing the thesis, a few weeks later I tried some strawberries and the next day I had gout in, of all places, my left thumb. Just thought this experience might confirm for you your own conclusions (See gout and salicylates - Tony, Qld

Christmas Eve hives from corn chips

"One of my friends had a frightening experience on Christmas Eve, which we thought may have been caused by 635 in corn chips. She has never had a reaction like it before, but had eaten quite a few corn chips (and not much else) at a family is part of what she wrote: - 'there was one bottle of mineral water, one bottle of wine, 2 packets of corn chips and a salad consisting of lettuce, tomato and cucumber!! Not only that but halfway thru the nite I started to get these itching lumps on my neck and legs. Felt ordinary for the rest of the nite and next morning I noticed more lumps and my ears were red hot and swollen. Managed to get thru the day okay but I didn't feel much like eating and was tired. Next morning... I woke absolutely burning and covered in lumps (or hives as you have probably figured out). I tried to get up and shower but I fainted... my lips swelled up and (my husband) was in a panic. The doctor came and gave me an anti-histamine and within an hour I was better but my blood pressure remained low and I had to stay in bed til my body battled whatever I ate that I was allergic to. Today I am better... the hives are beginning to go and no new ones are appearing. I can walk but I have to tell you I am scared. I don't know what I ate...I think maybe the corn chips... they were flavoured.'" - from

from [1108] Stabbing pains after Xmas dinner (April 2012)

My daughter is 20 and has suffered bloating, runs, painful wind and, at times stabbing stomach aches which had her writhing on the floor and necessitated rushes to the doctor for pain relief, calls to afterhours drs, and hospital emergency ... After Xmas lunch she was in a lot of pain ...

I spoke to a friend about my concerns and she said one of her daughters suffered greatly from stabbing pains after Xmas dinner! Her eldest daughter who has just completed a degree in nutrition suggested her sister might be sensitive to salicylates.

I went into research mode and found a list of symptoms for salicylate sensitivity. All of the symptoms she had been having were there plus many we did not realise were part of her problem ....

I continued reading and helped her start the elimination diet. The bucket affect was a revelation. No wonder we could not pin point the problem foods. I read everything and borrowed Sue's books from the library and passed all the info onto my daughter. She was quite upset as looking at the list of what she couldn't eat and combined with how unwell she was, she needed lots of support. I found recipes and went shopping. She came home for a few days and we cooked and shopped and read labels. So much is just knowing the alternatives. No honey but golden syrup fine, no olive oil but canola fine. So many simple changes that are so easy ... After about a week her physical symptoms were almost gone ...Read the full story at [1108]

[1038] 320: A Disastrous Christmas 

At Christmas we went for a month's holiday to New Zealand. I got slack on avoiding preservatives so he was eating lots of peanut butter with BHA (320). The worst thing is that we didn't really think about what was causing his deteriorating behaviour, but just battled through our holiday trying to cope with it. We returned home but it wasn't until he returned to school and went from an average maths student at the end of 2003 to bottom of the class in a remedial group at the start of 2004, and looking back at the horrendous hour-long tantrums we were experiencing at home, that I seriously started questioning what was going on. Living with him was like treading on eggshells. At the end of one particularly distressing tantrum he said he hated himself and hated the way he felt. His teachers said he has NO concentration. I had noticed this myself at home during the holidays but STILL didn't think of diet! He had also totally lost interest in playing the piano which he was mad keen on before we went on holidays. He said it was too hard.

I phoned Woolworths to double check on the ingredients in their gluten free Kerry Formula bread. They told me they don't put preservatives in their bread. Then when I asked specifically about E320 she said, oh yes, it has that.

Anyway, apart from 320 being in the bread he was eating 2-3 times a day, I'm not sure of what other preservatives he's had, but for nearly 2 weeks now he's been off them all and his behaviour has become quite reasonable. He has again become excited about playing the piano, and I have my lovely little boy back. Even my husband who is a bit of a 'disbeliever' until he is thoroughly convinced has noticed a big difference.

I can't believe I let all of this happen. And when it was happening I can't believe I didn't see it earlier. It's scary that chemicals permitted in our foods can have such an extreme effect. My son avoids gluten because he hates being sick. There is no problem there. But preservatives are more difficult. I can keep him off them now, but when he's a teenager will he have to become antisocial and drop to the bottom of the class again and reach rock bottom before he is determined to avoid them, because at the moment he can't, or doesn't want to, understand the connection. It's very hard, but when I feel sorry for myself or him I just remind myself that at least we know what the problem is. Wouldn't it be awful having that sort of behaviour and not knowing why? – reader from NSW.

from [461] Xmas reaction: I knew there was something wrong

My story started with an uncontrollable daughter who at 8 years of age was already getting suspended from school and was a horrible bully. The school wrote me a referral to a paediatrician. At the time I thought would only mean having her medicated to control her which I was dead set against.

I have two older boys that were very well behaved so I wanted to find the cause of the problem and not just cover it up with medication. Three days after Christmas 2002 my daughter went off to such a degree that all I could do was hold on to her while she bit, kicked and screamed until she was physically exhausted. That was when I knew there was something seriously wrong so I went to see a child psychologist who fortunately for me recommended your book Fed Up.

Within a month I went from thinking my daughter was destined for jail to thinking what a lovely young girl she is turning into. The results were noticeable that quickly. And from my daughter's point of view she felt better within herself. She was no longer on an emotional roller coaster every day. Because of how she felt on the diet it made it easy to keep her on it. She was feeling a whole lot more in control of herself.

Since cleaning out our cupboards I noticed that my eldest boy no longer suffered migraines and no longer took so long with gut aches on the toilet. So obviously he also was affected by these chemicals but in a different manner than my uncontrollable daughter ... – by email, NT See more at

Christmas recipes and hints

Christmas dinner

A traditional hot roast dinner can be failsafe. If you want to add some extras for Christmas day, consider pumpkin, sweet potato, parsnips or corn as extra vegetables, all moderate except corn which is high. If buying a supermarket turkey, check for added flavour enhancers (MSG and/or ribonucleotides 620-635, yeast extract, hydrolysed vegetable protein). If you can manage amines, make your own gravy (recipe in the Failsafe Cookbook).

As a Christmas pudding substitute, try:

  • Bombe Alaska (recipe below)
  • or steamed dominion pudding (Failsafe Cookbook p168 - we found a stainless steel pudding steamer in a kitchen shop)
  • or Andra's 'honey roll' made as a cake and served with whipped cream (p134, 'better than sticky date pudding' said one father)
  • or icecream with the exceptionally delicious caramel sauce on p154.

Hint: You can pour whisky or gin over icecream or pudding for a special occasion flavour, but you can't set it alight like brandy.

For a Christmas party plate, see failsafe gingerbread Santa recipe below.

Dominion Pudding

2 tbsp butter or failsafe margarine
½ cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup self-raising flour or gluten-free flour
½ cup milk or soymilk
4 tbsp golden syrup

Cream butter and sugar, add egg and beat well. Add sifted flour alternately with milk. Place golden syrup in the bottom of a greased bowl, pour batter over, tie brown paper or baking paper over the top and steam in a covered saucepan with 2 cm of water for 1¼ hours. Serve with a failsafe version of the traditional brandy sauce, cream, ice-cream or Narni’s custard

Bombe Alaska

An entertaining failsafe substitute for hot puddings, suitable for an Australian Christmas.

1 packet of broken biscuits (eg Nice, or homemade)
4 tbsp of magic cordial drink which has been diluted to taste
5 egg whites
155 g caster sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 litre block of failsafe vanilla icecream
pure icing sugar for dusting

Cover the base of an ovenproof serving dish with broken biscuits or stale cake. Drizzle with magic cordial. Beat egg whites with sugar and salt until stiff. Arrange icecream on broken biscuits. These are to insulate the icecream from the heat. Using a large knife, quickly spread meringue mixture all over the icecream. Dust with pure icing sugar. Bake for 3-4 minutes, no longer, in a very hot oven (250°C) and serve immediately. This dish can be prepared a few hours in advance and stored in the freezer. Dust with icing sugar immediately before baking.

Failsafe Christmas 'gingerbread' Santas


You won't know the ginger has been left out of these gingerbread shapes. Fun to make and good for a plate to take to a party.

125 g butter or Nuttelex
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup golden syrup
3 tsp sodium bicarbonate
1 egg
3 cups plain flour

Preheat oven to 180°C. Dissolve butter, sugar and golden syrup in the microwave or in a saucepan over low heat. When lukewarm, stir in bicarbonate and egg. Place flour in bowl, make a well in the centre and add other ingredients. Knead to form a dough, roll out on a floured surface and cut into gingerbread man shapes. Bake for 15 minutes. Decorate with plain white or citric acid flavoured 'lemon' icing and commercial mini Santa hats or make your own (red felt triangles and cotton balls) for Christmas.

Further information 

Introduction to food intolerance

More recipes and hints at

Failsafe birthday parties

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate December 2020