Category Archives: allergies

But the label said no nitrates

But The Label Says No Added Nitrates

What are nitrates?

Nitrates and nitrites are preservatives frequently found in preserved meats such as deli meats, hot dogs, sausages, etc. Nitrates are seen as the less harmful of the two, however, they can turn into nitrites which are linked to more serious health concerns.

Nitrites help keep the meats looking pink and can prevent the growth of listeria or botulinum bacterias. Unfortunately, however, consuming high amounts of nitrates and nitrites can be bad for your health. And nitrites can further degrade into nitrosamines (which are highly carcinogenic) when exposed to the amino acids in the stomach. 

Health impact of nitrates

Studies have shown that people who eat a lot of processed meats tend to have a higher than average risk for cancer including pancreatic and gastrointestinal cancers. Other studies indicate a link between nitrosamines and diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and liver disease. So even if you’re not highly sensitive to nitrates, consuming a lot of them is not a good idea. 

“No nitrates” on the label

Sometimes you’ll see labels that say “no nitrates.” You may be wondering how they’re preserving the food.  The answer is they’re still using nitrates, they’re just using a different form, usually celery juice or celery salts.

This is a case of manufacturer manipulation. Because of what these food/based nitrates are, the current FDA rules allow for the product to be labeled either No Nitrates or No Added Nitrates. (Similar to how they allow certain glutamate-rich products to be labeled no added MSG).

Because of consumer demand for cleaner labeling, some food producers are choosing to manufacture with these food-based nitrates. They then use Front-of-Package terminology to lure consumers to their products. However, some people are very sensitive to nitrates, even the food-based ones. So once again it comes down to reading the ingredient panel and knowing what’s in what you are eating.

Symptoms of allergy or sensitivity

The symptoms of nitrate sensitivity include headaches, sinus issues, stuffy nose, sneezing, runny nose, itching, hives, or asthma. It can be difficult to pick out if it’s specifically due to nitrates as these symptoms can be found with other ingredients as well.

If you think you are sensitive you can check with a doctor for an allergy test. You can also do an elimination diet and avoid all sources of nitrates. Those added to the food, as well as the vegetable-based sources listed below. When doing an elimination diet it’s important to keep a food journal so you can closely track your symptoms in relation to the food you are consuming.

Food sources of nitrates

High nitrate vegetable sources include:

  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Collard Greens
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Radishes
  • Spinach

Plus, when these ingredients are juiced, the longer they sit the more the nitrates convert to nitrites. So if you make juice that includes these kinds of vegetables, it’s best to drink it right away rather than letting it sit.

If you’re looking to consume low nitrate vegetables, these are:

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Broad Beans
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Green beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Summer Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

It’s also important to know that industrial fertilizers are high in nitrates. This means that commercially grown crops tend to have higher levels. In other words, the more nitrate-rich the soil they are grown in, the higher the nitrate level in these vegetables.


  • Hord N.G., Conley M.N. (2017) Regulation of Dietary Nitrate and Nitrite: Balancing Essential Physiological Roles with Potential Health Risks. In: Bryan N., Loscalzo J. (eds) Nitrite and Nitrate in Human Health and Disease. Nutrition and Health. Humana Press, Cham.
  • Nothlings, Ute, et al. Meat and Fat Intake as Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer: The Multiethnic Cohort Study. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Vol. 97, No. 19. October 5, 2005.
  • Tong, M, et al. Nitrosamine Exposure Causes Insulin Resistance Diseases: Relevance to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis, and Alzheimer’s Disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009; 17(4): 827–844.

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milk - food allergies

Got Milked?

The Got Milk Campaign

Developed for the California Milk Processor Board in 1993, Got Milk? was a campaign to help sell more milk.  It was apparently successful in California but not so much in the rest of the country.  It was a cute campaign with a lot of celebrities painted in milk mustaches among other visuals. It appeared both as magazine ads and television commercials.

Allergic to dairy?

The concept of “got milk?” takes on a different connotation when you can’t have milk or dairy products.  Similar to those who can’t have gluten and have significant health problems when they get “glutened,” for those who are sensitive to dairy or any of its parts consumption can be very dangerous. 

Lactose intolerance

There are different issues related to consuming dairy products. One is Lactose intolerance. This is where the body does not produce enough of a particular digestive enzyme, lactase, to break down the lactose (milk sugar). Most people lose their ability to produce lactose in early childhood. That leaves a lot of people who struggle with the symptoms of lactose intolerance when they eat yogurt, milk, cheese, ice cream, or any other dairy product. Symptoms can include

  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • farting
  • gas
  • stomach cramping or upset

Milk protein allergy

Another issue with dairy consumption is the protein in the milk. There are two different types of protein, whey and casein.  Whey is made by removing the milk protein solids. It’s often found in protein beverages or athletic recovery formulas and may be listed as either whey protein, whey protein concentrate, or whey protein isolate. Whey is rapidly absorbed into the system. Depending on how lactose intolerant you are, when consuming whey you may also have lactose intolerance issues going on as there is a small amount of lactose in whey.

The other protein, casein, is also sometimes found in protein beverages. The body responds more slowly to casein and because of this slower breakdown tends to promote fullness longer. Some people are allergic to either casein or whey, some people are allergic to both.   

Some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance and milk protein allergy are the same. However, over time the milk protein allergy can worsen. For those who are allergic to whey or casein, it can even be fatal.  Because these allergies can pose significant health problems it is important to work with an allergist for testing and support if you suspect there is a problem. Allergy symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Behavioral health changes
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Hives or rash
  • Joint Pain
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing

Know your dairy ingredients

It’s important to note that just because a product is labeled lactose free that does not mean that it is dairy-free.  When there’s an allergy it is a matter of concern about whether or not there is dairy in what you are eating.  On packaged food labels there are a lot of ingredients to watch out for that are derived from milk. If there is a lactose intolerance or a milk protein allergy, these need to be avoided:

  • milk
  • butter
  • casein
  • casinate
  • cheese
  • cream
  • curds
  • whey
  • lactalbumin
  • lactoferrin
  • lactose
  • lactulose
  • yogurt

Surprising places for dairy

In addition to these ingredients, there are a number of surprising items that are derived from dairy or that may contain dairy.  It’s not always clear and you may not be aware of what to watch out for:

  • artificial sweeteners
  • baked goods (many of these are unlabeled)
  • bath products
  • breath mints
  • candy
  • canned tuna fish (may contain hydrolyzed caseinate)
  • caramel
  • chewing gum (may contain milk protein)
  • medications (if this is a concern talk with your pharmacist)
  • hot dogs
  • lunch meat (cross-contamination may also be an issue)
  • margarine (while these are not butter, they may not be dairy-free)
  • potato chips
  • soy cheese (some of them still include dairy)
  • spice mixes (may contain whey powder)
  • whipped topping (these are marketed as “non-dairy” but often contain casein)

Food allergy labeling

While that’s a lot to keep track of, for those who have a significant, life-threatening allergy to dairy it is critical that they are aware of what’s in what they are eating.  Because dairy is one of the seven top allergens in this country it does need to appear on the label as an allergy statement like the example below where the allergens are listed in bold

Food allergy label






Another labeling example is when foods do not necessarily have dairy (or other top food allergen) products in them but are made in a facility that also processes a food allergen such as the example below. This statement is also in bold type.

Food label allergen





Eating away from home

While labeling might show if there’s dairy in packaged foods, this all goes out the window when eating out at a restaurant or at someone else’s home.  

It is possible to ask if there’s dairy in a product and be told no but to discover that it’s finished with butter. Or to have someone not be aware of what’s in a dish.

Even for those who are not allergic but have a food intolerance or delayed hypersensitivity, accidental exposure may cause a heightened reaction as the body reacts more strongly to the substance it’s trying to clear.

For those with life-threatening allergies to dairy any exposure poses a dangerous situation.  Be aware of your setting and the possibility of exposure.  It’s important to ask if your food allergen is in the meal that you are being served.  It can also be helpful to use a Food Allergy Buddy Card (available for free download).

Understanding Food Intolerance Testing

Food sensitivities, or food intolerance, can cause a number of different health-related issues.  Some people refer to food sensitivities as food allergies.  It’s important to note that a sensitivity is different than an allergy, sometimes referred to as a True Food Allergy.  A true food allergy, such as a life-threatening response to peanuts, can be dangerous and may require the use of medication or, in extreme circumstances, an epi-pen.  Food sensitivities can cause significant discomfort but, to the best of my knowledge, are not life-threatening.

Symptoms of food sensitivities

One of the issues when it comes to diagnosing food sensitivities is that there may be a delayed hypersensitivity response, meaning it can take several days for symptoms to appear. 

Symptoms are varied and often can be misdiagnosed as being something else. These include:

  • Bloating
  • Coughing or continual throat clearing
  • General Malaise (feeling “under the weather”)
  • Hives
  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Irritable bowel symptoms
  • Sinus issues
  • Stomach ache
  • Repeated sneezing for “no reason”
  • Runny nose

My story

I noticed several significant changes in my health that lead me to believe I might be developing some food sensitivities.  I realized that I was getting frequent rashes or flushes on my neck, my sleep was more interrupted (I kept waking repeatedly for no particular reason), I also noticed occasional low level aches in my small joints, and I realized I had developed a craving for cheese.  Sadly when we “crave” foods it often turns out that this is because we have developed a sensitivity and become intolerant of them.

Because it had been a while since I’ve had food sensitivity testing I decided it was time to go ahead and retest myself.  Here is my thought process after I received my results and read the report:

  • Strong reaction – honey – “Darn!  My favorite sweetener to deal with seasonal allergies.  I often take a spoonful of raw, local honey in tea to help me through the winter allergy season.  Oh well, I guess I’ll have to give that up for now.”
  • Strong reaction – fusarium vasinfectum (an agricultural fungus) – “Rats!  Hard to deal with.  I’ll really have to be extra vigilant about washing produce and drying it carefully before use.  Time to get out the humidity monitor and make sure the house isn’t too damp.”
  • Strong reaction – sodium benzoate (a preservative) – “Say what?!?!  I’m guessing my exposure is coming from eating on the road because I KNOW I am not eating it at home.”
  • Moderate reaction – Blueberry – “Darn!  My favorite berry.  Luckily there are lots of other berries, I’ll just have to switch for a while.”
  • Moderate reaction – Canteloupe/Honeydew – “Huh?  Another fruit?  I don’t even eat that much fruit to begin with.”
  • Moderate reaction – Cottonseed oil – “Again probably from eating out, I certainly don’t have this at home.”
  • Moderate reaction – Cheese (cow) – “Dagnabit [and yes, I do say this, it’s my favorite “swear” word followed closely by dagnabitall] I was afraid of that.  NO CHEESE!  Seriously!”  [That’s when I realized the craving part was worse than I had thought]
  • Moderate reaction – Raspberry – “Excuse me??  What???  No berries????” [note: a food sensitivity to more than one thing in a food group often means that there is a reaction to the group as a whole.  For me the berry sensitivity means no acai, blueberry, blackberry, boysenberry, cranberry, elderberry, goji berry, gooseberry, raspberry, and strawberry for six months.]
  • Moderate reaction – FD&C Yellow #10 – “Oh man I seriously need to look at how much I am eating out or away from home.”
  • Moderate – Dibutyl Phthlate – “hmmmm, time to look more closely at my personal care products.”
  • Moderate – Ethylene Dibromide (a chemical solvent) – “no earthly idea where I could be getting exposed to this but I’ll have to be more aware of my surroundings.”

These reactions are very similar to the sort of mental gyrations that many of my clients go through when we review their results.  Although a significant reaction requires a six month avoidance of the substance and a moderate one only three months.  I often just ask that they avoid everything for six months.  We also embark on a healing gut protocol.

In my case I’m already doing most of what the healing gut protocol involves, however there are some gaps, especially when I travel.  I’ll be working hard to address those.

However, I’m going to confess that none of this will take place until after Thanksgiving.  The results came after I had planned my menu, purchased food, and started cooking.  I’ll admit that I’m human and not able/willing to completely revamp my holiday menu with just a couple of days notice.  I’m also not thrilled about mashed potatoes with no butter or cream, no homemade cranberry orange relish (made this year with kumquats picked fresh off the tree instead of oranges), no whipped cream on the pumpkin pie/custard.  But believe me, I know how much better I will feel once I start on my new eating plan and clean up my food intolerances.  I also know that the more compliant I am the better I will feel and that in six months it is highly likely that most if not all of these food sensitivities will have gone away.

Testing for food sensitivities

If you suspect you have food sensitivities you can talk with your doctor or order a test online.  The test I used looks at 212 different potential allergens.  You can see them listed below. 

EAB pg 1


EAB pg2



One of the reasons I like this particular company is because their test comes with a dietary rotation plan (you can get more information about what a dietary rotation plan is and how it works here).  The report also comes with a laminated wallet card. The wallet card is so you can take it with you to the grocery store or when you are on the road to help you remember what exactly you are supposed to avoid.

How To Do A Rotation Diet

When diagnosed with food sensitivities you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Especially since the foods you are most likely to develop a sensitivity to are the ones you eat most often.  Once diagnosed, either by a doctor or through testing, it’s important to have a rotation diet.

What is a Rotation Diet?

In simple terms, a rotation diet means that you are not eating the same foods every day. It’s not a specific diet per se, such as Paleo, Keto, Mediterranean, etc, but rather a conscious way of eating that reduces your exposure to food proteins. Following this type of a plan requires you to write out what you can eat without repeating a food more than once every four days.  By following a rotation diet plan you are able to eat a variety of foods without building up sensitivities to them. This is because with a four-day gap in consumption you are not overconsuming to the proteins in those particular foods on an everyday basis.

Rotation Diet Basics

Here is an example.  When it comes to nuts most people eat a lot of almonds. In fact, they may eat them every day, or even multiple times per day.  But by eating almonds every day there is a possibility that you will eventually become hypersensitive to the proteins in them. That would then eventually show up on a delayed hypersensitivity test and you would need to avoid them while working on a program to support gut health.  By avoiding the foods that you are identified as sensitive to for 3-6 months and doing a supportive nutrition plan, you can potentially restore your insides to the point that you can eat some of those foods again.

Using the category of nuts and seeds for someone with an almond intolerance this might be a potential plan:

  • Day 1 – flax seeds, pistachio, hazelnuts (also called filberts),
  • Day 2 – brazil nuts, cashew, pinenuts
  • Day 3 – chestnuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts
  • Day 4 – sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pecan
At the end of the four day period you begin the rotation again.
It’s important to note that peanuts are not really a nut.  They are a fatty legume which tend to be one of the top food sensitivities and allergies. Therefore we do not include them in the rotation.
This pattern of rotating foods every four days applies to each category of food:
  • Dairy (if tolerated)
  • Herbs and Spices
  • Fish/Shellfish
  • Fruit
  • Poultry
  • Meat
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Oils
  • Vegetables

Eggs are included in the poultry category and are consumed with their protein, i.e., chicken eggs with chicken, duck eggs when you are eating duck, turkey, quail, etc.

In the case of severe or a significant number of food intolerances, you may need to follow a rotation diet for an extended period of time while you work on your gut health.