Most parents are reluctant to consider a low salicylate diet. ‘How can children live without fruit?’ they ask, not realising that it is possible to eat vegetables without fruit. Nearly two thousand years ago, the ancient Greek physician Galen (Claudius Galenus), considered to be the co-founder of modern medicine, wrote that his father had lived to be a hundred by avoiding fruit.
I have spent months in remote subsistence villages in the Himalayas where children eat very little fruit. These children are happy, healthy, well-spoken and eager to learn, sometimes walking up to two hours each way to school. They are mostly vegetarians living on home-grown rice, lentils, dried beans, potatoes and a range of other vegetables in season, with a few fruit trees around the house. ‘How much fruit do you eat?’ I would ask. After a lot of thought, they would generally estimate ‘about one piece a week’. As well there might be fresh milk and yoghurt in season from their own yak-buffalo cross and eggs from their own chickens. Their intake of additives is zero and their intake of high salicylate-containing foods is much lower than ours. My daughter, who had been diagnosed with ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder and had been following a low salicylate diet for years in Australia, is able to eat this Himalayan subsistence diet without ill effects.
As income increases, households move from subsistence to supermarket eating, buying more fat, meat, sugar, wheat, expensive fruits and vegetables and processed foods36. Finally, in the Western diet, intake of whole fruits and vegetables is replaced by products such as fruit juice and hot potato chips and, in adolescence, by soft drinks and fast food such as pizza37.
During the transition from subsistence to supermarket diet, our intake of salicylates increases because salicylates are concentrated in products such as jam, juices, sauces, stock cubes, tomato paste and dried fruit and vegetables. As well, foods are usually picked unripe for long shelf life when salicylates are at their highest, plants are genetically engineered with increased salicylates for disease resistance8and a wide variety of very high salicylate fruit and vegetables are available all year round.
Since food chemicals can be addictive, it is common to find salicylate-intolerant children choosing to eat very little other than the highest salicylate foods, especially tomato sauce, orange juice, broccoli, grapes, berries, kiwi fruit, sultanas, fruit juice and fruit flavoured yoghurts, while their parents think ‘well, at least it’s healthy’.
In addition, exposure to environmental chemicals such as pesticides and solvents may make people, especially children, more sensitive to other chemicals in foods and in perfumes38.
Very few consumers are affected by one dose of salicylates in foods. More often, as people are exposed to salicylates many times every day, effects build up slowly causing occasional outbreaks of symptoms and no one realizes what is happening. The table below shows how salicylate exposure increases with the Western lifestyle.