If you were hoping that summertime – a time with no school, fresh air, sunshine, and exercise – would help your child feel better and improve their behavior…. but it hasn’t, then salicylates might be your challenge.
Salicylates in Food
Salicylates are naturally-occurring food chemicals in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods like herbs, spices, nuts, etc. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Dr. Ben Feingold observed that artificial additives and high salicylate foods caused hyperactivity and other symptoms in some children. Biochemically, salicylates are a type of “phenolic acid” or “phenol.” Phenols need to be broken down in the body, i.e. “detoxified,” which occurs through a process called sulfation.
For children with salicylate sensitivity, summer can be particularly challenging because so many of the abundant summertime fruits are very high in salicylates, a high salicylate food list include:
- Most melons including watermelon
- Red bell pepper
- Cucumbers and pickles
- Tomato sauce
- Zucchini (with peel on)
- Cinnamon and spices
Many of these foods are delicious and plentiful, children eat quite a bit more during summer than any other time. The resulting increase in salicylate consumption can cause a child’s body to become overloaded, and cause physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.
Symptoms vary by individual, but some of the most common salicylate sensitivity symptoms are:
- Red cheeks and ears (not from the heat)
- Defiant behavior
- Aggression toward self or others
- Bedwetting and day-wetting accidents
- Sleeping challenges
If you’d like more information on how these foods can cause behavior challenges, along with the foods to avoid and those to eat, see my post on salicylates and behavior challenges.
Chlorine in Swimming Pools
Chlorine from the swimming pool is another summertime stressor. Your child doesn’t even need to drink the water, just soaking in a chlorinated pool will cause it to absorb into the body.
Chlorine is processed by the same sulfation pathway as salicylates in fruits. Sulfation requires proper methylation and transulfuration, as well as adequate sulfate (sulfur) and many other needed nutrients.
Each of these stressors (the fruit and chlorine) will deplete the sulfate and detoxification pool further, making each that much more difficult to handle. After working with many children with autism in my nutrition practice, I’ve found that most react poorly to chlorine from swimming pools. Add this fruit consumption to chlorine from swimming pools, and a child can fairly easily hit “overload.” Crying, meltdowns, increase in stimming, and hyperactivity can result.
Junk food with artificial food additives are more plentiful during summer. Artificial additives such as artificial colors (red 40, blue 1 and yellow 5), flavors (such as artificial strawberry flavor and vanillin) and preservatives (BHA, BHT and TBHQ) are strong phenols–and require the same biochemical processes.
If you don’t consume these, good for you. You shouldn’t.
In the average American family, however, blue-colored sports drinks on hot days, cotton candy from the beach boardwalk or fair, shaved ice or blended slushies from the amusement park are all too common occurrences (sadly). Alone they are known to cause hyperactivity, combined with these other stressors and they can be particularly problematic. Learn about food additives to avoid.
Summer 2021 High Salicylate Food Substitutes
I hope this summer is better than ever. Here are some ideas to get you off to a good start. The following foods high in salicylates and for lower salicylate substitutions.
Please note: it might not be that you or your child can’t have ANY high salicylate summer fruits and veggies, it might just mean you have to pay attention to the amount and limit it (along with avoiding all artificial additives. Also peeling certain fruits and vegetables can lower salicylate levels.
Instead of This ======> Try This
Instead of blue sports drink ======> try a natural electrolyte drink like this organic coconut water
Instead of artificial flavored and colored candy ======> try a natural one like Yum Earth, they have a variety of natural candy options
Instead of popsicles with high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors ======> try and make your own with these silicon popsicle molds or try Ruby Rockets (they have veggies in them)
Instead of ice pops with high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors ======> try and make your own with these reusable ice pop molds
Instead of high salicylate fruit ======> try pear or mango
Instead of cucumber ======> try peeled cucumber
Instead of zucchini ======> try peeled zucchini
Instead of lots of salicylate fruits ======> try a small serving
What Can You Do?
- Avoid food additives. Firstly, if your child eats artificial additives, cut them all out.
- Identify salicylate intolerance: If you want to determine if your child may have an intolerance to salicylates, start by simply observing your child within the hour after they eat, and before bedtime—making correlations with high salicylate consumption. The best way to determine salicylate intolerance is to avoid high salicylate foods for a period of time and observe any improvements, and then add them back and see if you notice a reaction. You can also try digestive enzymes such as No-Fenol by Houston Enzymes to help the body process polyphenolic compounds.
- Try a low salicylate diet trial. There are two diets that I like that address this: The Feingold Diet and The Failsafe Diet. The Feingold Diet is a smaller list of salicylates to avoid—it includes many of the big offenders (but misses some) and is easier to do. The Failsafe diet is much more comprehensive, but more complex and restricts more foods.
- Determine swimming pool solutions. The best part about having your own swimming pool you can choose a less toxic sanitizing option. While I’m not a expert at this, you can Google and research: salt water chlorination, ionizers, ozonators, and more. At public pools, these other options are not usually available, though you can ask around about any public pools that might use them (as some do).
- Consider epsom salt topically for support. You can also try Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths or magnesium sulfate cream before or after a swim in the pool—the sulfate absorbs and helps supply sulfate for sulfation/detoxification. This can help a child process the chlorine better, hopefully, creating less (or no) reaction. An Epsom salt bath or Epsom salt cream can also help reduce salicylate reactions too. You can apply cream before or after swimming. Not everyone likes or can take a bath. Showering after swimming and then applying Epsom salt cream can provide similar support to a bath.
In our Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids nutrition program for parents I cover everything you need to know about addressing salicylate reactions and improving your child’s behavior, focus, and mood.
Enjoy your summer and the time with your family! And keep nourishing hope.
Share your family’s experience with salicylates and summertime in our comment section below.
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