recipes developed and illustrated by Linda Donald

Understanding salicylate intolerance

Salicylates pronounced:- sall-i-sill-ates (sals for short)

sall as in sally - i as in ink - sill as in silly - ates as in dates


Salicylates are plant chemicals that act as natural preservatives in many plants we eat daily as part of a healthy diet, protecting them against various fungi and bacteria. Salicylates are stored in the bark, leaves, roots and seeds of plants, often concentrated just under the skin and in the outer leaves of fruit and vegetables. They are highest in unripened fruit, decreasing as fruit ripens.

Salicylates are present in nuts, herbs and spices, spreads. coffee and tea, beer and wine.

Salicylates are also abundant in many toiletries, beauty and natural health products from shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and cosmetics, to sunscreens, mint and menthol products like lozenges, soap, toothpaste, nasal sprays and inhalers, as well as scented toilet paper and tissues.


Aspirin is in a group of salicylate drugs, known as salicylic acid. This derivitive of salicylate can be found in plants like willow trees and myrtle. It is used in many 'over the counter' and prescription medicines for it's analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic properties.


Some people suffer from salicylate intolerance or sensitivity. Unlike allergies where certain foods or products have to be avoided completely because they can have an effect every time they are eaten or used, an intolerance or sensitivity is dose related.


This happens with salicylates. Depending on how sensitive you are either eating large or frequent small amounts of food or using products containing salicylates can cause an overload, leaving you feeling exhausted and unwell.


The result can be flu-like symptoms - sinus issues, swollen glands, overwhelming tiredness, headaches, puffy eyes and joint aches and pains.


Perhaps part of the problem today is that we are exposed to much higher amounts of salicylate. Now many fresh fruits and vegetables are available all year round rather than seasonally; products have added flavouring; herbs, spices and natural perfumes are added to so many health and beauty products from shampoos and conditioners to soaps, toothpaste, mouthwashes, herbal remedies and sunscreens. On top of this many pain and anti-inflammatory muscle creams contain salicylates.


Allergy/Intolerance

The medical definition of food allergy is an immediate immune system reaction sparked by the binding of an IgE antibody to a mast cell thereby causing a release of histamine.

The medical definition of food intolerance is a delayed reaction to a food which does not involve the immune system, the symptoms of which are extremely varied and can be behavioural/psychological as well as physical.

Foodmatter Newsletter no. 77

19 January 2013