Is An Allergy to E Numbers My Problem?

I think that I have finally uncovered the mystery of why I have been having strange symptoms for the last few years. I can go days without any symptoms and then suddenly get all the symptoms at one. My symptoms have include rashes covering large parts of my body, bowel problems, joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, and swelling. At one point I was seeing a rheumatologist, a dermatologist, an oncologist and a haematologist.

Nobody could find out what was wrong with me but they did find several other problems. For example, I had a severe vitamin D deficiency and moderate levels of lupus anticoagulant in my blood along with raised red and white blood cells. However, none of this explained my symptoms. 

I began to wonder if my diet was having any impact on the symptoms as several doctors said that my rash looked like an allergic reaction to something. I have racked my brains to think what I have eaten that has triggered the symptoms and was even keeping a food diary at one point. 

Over the past few weeks, I have not had many of the symptoms and then this week, I have had two bad flare-ups. The first was after visiting my local Indian restaurant (for which a review will follow). I have eaten take away food from there on several occasions and usually order the madras.  The night I visited the restaurant was a special promotional event where they were giving away free food on a set food menu. We had a selection of dishes including a tikka masala, a rogan josh, and a vegetable curry. When I got home, my skin was in a terrible state, covered in hives. My bottom lip was so swollen that it felt solid.

The second flare up was this morning. Over the past few weeks, I have made several diet and lifestyle changes and this may be why I have not had many of the symptoms. One thing I have given up is fizzy drinks. At the shop this morning, I decided to treat myself to a bottle of fizzy pop that was on offer. I am not sure if I should name the brand on my blog, but it is bright orange and associated with Scotland. I will let you guess. Within minutes of drinking a glass of this beverage, I was itching all over and had huge hives all up my arms. 

I Googled the name of the drink along with the word allergies and thousands of results came up stating that people are commonly allergic to this beverage because it contains a coloring called E214, also known as cochineal. This made me think about the tikka masala I had eaten. Food coloring is often used in this dish to achieve the bright red color. 

The more I have looked into E numbers in food today, the more convinced I am that this may have caused my health problems. For the most part, I cook all the food in the house using fresh produce and use very little canned or pre-prepared food that is likely to contain additives, such as flavourings, preservatives, colourings and stabilisers. Anything that I have included in my diet in the past that would contain such things has been beverages, such as fizzy drinks and wine. As these are things I have avoided over the past few weeks, it makes sense that this is potentially the cause of the problems. 

I also found an interesting chart that identifies the most harmful E numbers, the alternative names for them, what they are used for, and the symptoms they are known to cause. If you are interested in this subject, you can read this here.

I think that it is also important that I add a DISCLAIMER at this point. This article is not intended as dietary or health advice. The information included is based on my personal experiences and not on any proven medical studies. My degree is in education and not in medicine or nutrition!

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Progress with My Healthier Lifestyle

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A few months ago I posted that I was embarking on a healthier lifestyle and I was hopeful that I would lose weight in the process. The great news is that I have already lost 16 pounds!

I haven’t started a strict fitness regime or started a restricted diet; I have simply made a few changes to my lifestyle and eating habits. Here are the changes I have made to achieve this weight loss:

  • Cut out fizzy drinks
  • Cut down on wine intake
  • Walk back from the school run every morning
  • Stopped eating snacks in bed

Something that has helped is the sugar tax being implemented in the UK. I disagreed with this initially but it has prompted me to stop buying fizzy drinks and to drink water instead. 

If I continue with these few simple lifestyle changes, I am hoping that I will continue to lose weight and lose another 16 pounds before my birthday in November. Wish me luck!

Cooking Tips for Students on a Budget

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When people leave home to become a student, it is the start of a new chapter of their lives. Along with the freedom and independence come additional responsibilities which require the development of new life skills. Two such skills are cooking and budgeting. The majority of students will have limited funds and will need to cover bills in their new accommodation as well as making sure they eat a healthy and nutritious diet. To achieve this on such limited funds can be tricky, but it is manageable with a little thought and planning into shopping and the preparation of food. Here are some ideas of some staple foods that every student should buy and some ideas for student meals on a budget.

Pulses

These are a much cheaper source of protein than meat. They can be used to make vegetarian alternatives to meals or to bulk up a meal if only a small amount of meat can be afforded. Chilli con Carne is one such meal where meat can be entirely replaced, or kidney beans and haricot (or baked) beans can be used to bulk up the meal using only a small amount of minced meat.  Beans on toast are also a really quick snack or meal to eat that is cheap and packed with nutrients. Opt for tins with low salt and sugar content.

Rice

Rice is usually really cheap to buy and you can buy it in large bags to store for long periods of time, thus avoiding wasting money and food. You can use rice as a side dish to accompany another item, such as a curry, or to create a dish on its own. Adding spices, small amounts of meat or fish and as many vegetables as you like are quick, easy, cheap and tasty ways to use rice. Rice is also an ingredient that you can experiment with a little as it will absorb the flavors of the other ingredients with which it is served.

Pasta

Similarly, pasta is inexpensive and you can but it in large quantities that store for long periods of time. There are countless ways of serving pasta.  One really easy and cheap option is to simply add a tomato sauce to the pasta.  You can do this either by using a jar of pasta sauce or making a homemade sauce using fresh tomatoes and some herbs. A simple ratatouille added to the pasta is another option for a cheap, tasty and nutritious dish. There are many variations of this but frying courgette, tomatoes and peppers together is really easy even for an amateur cook. Other options with pasta include tuna pasta bake, pasta carbonara (adding cheese, ham and mushrooms) or spaghetti bolognese. 

Experiment

Finally, the best advice that can be given to a student is to experiment with the food you create. Buy lots of things that store well and try out different combinations of ingredients together. Keep a stock of dried herbs and spices in the cupboard so you can get experimental with flavours in your cooking.