Annatto may cause IBS & other symptoms

Diagnosed with IBS and still trying to figure out what is causing your issues? When you don’t eat you feel better? Wake up feeling good and miserable by evening? These could be symptoms of food intolerance! Annatto is on the salicylate no-no list, although salicylate levels appear to have never been tested. This video covers the story of a retired allergist/immunologist, Dr. Stein whose wife struggled with IBS for three years. After traveling to Europe and adjusting routine, they discovered the culprit had been annatto coloring.

If you’re on a low-salicylate diet, this video is still useful to learn about the products annatto is in, and also what some of the symptoms are. Some children seem to have poor behavior from annatto including head butting, outbursts, tantrums, and even color obsession (with yellow). Adults complain about headaches, pain, and sleep issues, and sometimes the symptoms build up over a few days.

I never noticed annatto bothering my before going low-sal, but I was always chronically sick and miserable. I explain in my video how I was diagnosed with IBS three different times! Even after going low-sal I waited several months before cutting out yellow cheese until my mouth started getting blisters every time I’d eat it.

Annatto is from the Achiote tree, Bixa orellana, native to Latin America (Mexico to Brazil). It’s used in many traditional Latin foods, and used as a natural food coloring in products around the globe.

Resource Links

  1. Color of low-fat cheese influences flavor perception and consumer liking: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22541462/
  2. Dr. Stein’s letter: https://journals.lww.com/jcge/fulltext/2009/11000/annatto_and_ibs.27.aspx
  3. Marlene Stein (Dr. Stein’s wife) – I found a video! https://youtu.be/nguk5ca8rfc (although her website is closed) She did mention she had it for 40 years (!!) while Dr. Stein mentioned in his letter that it lasted 3 years, but specified that it was a daily occurrence.
  4. One response to the letter: https://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1097/MCG.0b013e3181b84517
  5. NIH information on IBS: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome/diagnosis
  6. Food Intolerance Network: https://www.fedup.com.au/factsheets/additive-and-natural-chemical-factsheets/160b-annatto

 Here is the Doctor’s list of foods he included in his letter (published 2009).

  • Yellow cheeses: American, Cheddar, and Velveeta. White cheddar is usually okay. Read labels.
  • Crackers: so far, Triscuit seems to be the only one I saw without annatto. Check Trader Joe’s.
  • Cereals: almost all. Check the label. Rice Krispies is fine.
  • Wishbone Italian Dressing: and other commercial dressings. Read the label. Check at restaurants.
  • Light-colored ice creams: vanilla, butter pecan, vanilla swirl, chocolate chip, vanilla fudge. Some yogurts.
  • Coffee mate: To keep it white. Also Cremora. Non-dairy creamers.
  • Gourmet Mustards: French’s and Heinz are ok.
  • Capsule medications and vitamins and minerals: both prescription and over-the-counter. The casing is colored.
  • Rice noodles: Pad Thai and Chinese rice noodles have it. Pure rice is fine.
  • “Artificial color” could have annatto. A “catchall” and they do not have to list annatto as it is organic.
  • Chicken bouillon cubes. Not the powder; just the cubes.
  • Commercial potato salads. Togo’s potato salad listed annatto.
  • Jell-O. Sugar-free.
  • Tamales: Mexican cuisine uses it in chicken and pork dishes.
  • Crystal light mixes.
  • Pam with butter. Original is fine.
  • Cooked/roasted or barbecue chicken at grocery stores that are “ready-to-eat”. Check label. Lemon seems ok.
  • Butter. Check labels. Drawn butter in a restaurant could have it.
  • Microwave and theater popcorn.
  • “Color added” could have annatto.
  • Spreads for Italian, cheese or garlic bread. Also prepared Italian bread.
  • NutriSystem Food Plan. I called the company. Many of the foods have annatto.
  • “Rubs”. Used on barbeque ribs and chicken prior to cooking. Barbeque sauces tend not to have annatto.
  • Powdered donuts. Check all commercial pastries; even at restaurants.
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