Sue Dengate

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Fed up with trying to decipher names and numbers on food packaging and wondering what it all means? FOCUS speaks with renowned author and speaker, Sue Dengate, about food and the effects it can have on all of us.



This month I had the pleasure of speaking with Sue Dengate, author of the best selling book Fed Up (2008), Failsafe Cookbook, and the DVD Fed Up with Children’s Behaviour: How Food and Additives Affect Behaviour.

Sue Dengate BA.Dip.Ed is a psychology graduate and former high school teacher who became interested in the effects of food additives after the birth of her first child 20 years ago. Since then, Sue has focused on the effects of food chemicals on children’s behaviour, health and learning ability.

Her groundbreaking study about the behavioural effects of a common bread preservative was published in a medical journal in 2002. Sue, helped by her husband Dr Howard Dengate, a food scientist, runs the Food Intolerance Network through the website

The Food Intolerance Network provides independent information about the effects of food on behaviour, health and learning ability in both children and adults, and support for families using a low-chemical elimination diet free of additives, low in salicylates, amines and flavour enhancers (FAILSAFE) for health, behaviour and learning problems.

I first heard of Sue Dengate’s Fed Up book and website when my second child hit the terrible twos, which he just didn’t seem to grow out of. He obviously had a strong aversion to dairy – let’s just say our leather couch paid for itself 2 seconds after he finished his first dairy based formula bottle.

Soy helped, but as he began eating solids, we noticed his behaviour changed after eating particular foods. I had friends who had struggled with their children’s behaviour and food intolerances and had had great success after trying the elimination diet mentioned in Sue’s book.

Interested, I trawled Sue’s website and took some of the advice on board. We noticed a marked difference in all our children, after eliminating just a few simple things from our diet. We are now also much more aware of what we give our kids and are more aware of their reactions when they eat something that triggers certain negative behaviours.

We have been very fortunate, but there are many families struggling with a variety of behavioural issues. I am happy to inform them that there is help available. Sue is coming to Taree in early August to speak to local families about food allergies and intolerances.

Sue, what started your journey looking into the affects of food additives on children’s behaviour and health?

It was through my own experiences with my children. I was really quite alarmed that there was so little information and that parents were being actively discouraged from investigating it. So I pursued my own path and discovered that so many parents found information by word of mouth.

I thought I would self publish a little pamphlet on the information I had discovered. The whole thing has been driven by the fact that there are so many desperate parents who need to know this information.

Where did you start looking for the information if it was so hard?

Well, a lot of it was observation, trial and error and just reading everything I could get my hands on. Then we eventually found the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Elimination Diet, which turned out to be a great resource, and a lot of people still don’t know about it.

The RPA diet is a revised version of the Feingold diet based on salicylate avoidance – and works much better. So it was just a matter of letting parents know that this information is available. Also, at first these diets look SO difficult and are extremely daunting. I know; I had gone through all that with my children. So that’s what I write about.

Our website, support groups and my talks are all about the fact that you can do it, and you can end up having wonderful children and a happy, harmonious family with a bit of effort and a positive support network.

Why do you think so many doctors are reluctant to, or don’t want to look at food as a potential cause for some of the behaviour and health issues parents are experiencing with their children?

I think it is because doctors don’t generally study food as a part of their course, and they know very little about nutrition, let alone food intolerance. It’s just not something they know about. We had a mother in our network who was really amazed when she said to her doctor that her son was sensitive to salicylates, and the doctor actually said, “Well, that makes sense”, because they were dealing with asthma. Most doctors understand that salicylates can cause asthma in some people.

So she said, “Well, if you knew that salicylates were a problem, why didn’t you tell me?”, to which he replied, “We don’t really know about it in food – just in medications”.

So do you think that some doctors are too quick to prescribe medications before they consider the impact of food and diet on a patient?

Yes, I do think that. What worries me most is that doctors don’t understand the Elimination Diet, which aims to identify triggers for intolerance, allergy and behavioural issues.

The whole point of an Elimination Diet is that you have to get it right, or it won’t work. Yet over and over again I hear doctors saying,”Well, you can try the elimination diet if you want, but just don’t do it too strictly”.

Which is virtually saying, make sure you don’t do it properly, then it won’t work. So this is a real worry. From my point of view, I would prefer that doctors always referred parents to an experienced and supportive dietician. Parents have to go to the right people.

I guess the problem that so many parents have, especially in rural areas, is finding a professional who understands and is able to help.

That is so right, and I understand how hard it is for parents in the country. You can’t just say, “Well, I’m going into a clinic in Sydney”. We at the food intolerance network keep a list of dieticians all over Australia and New Zealand who are supportive and experienced, and we actually mark the ones who are recommended by other Failsafers. That is really helpful for rural parents.

There has been some press coverage at the moment about vaccinations and their effects on children’s health as well. Do you find that you come across a lot of parents


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