Doors that don’t open and preservatives in food

At my work meetup in Madrid this past week I embarrassed myself one night just before dinner. There were eleven of us and we arrived at the restaurant at 8:29pm. The restaurant opened at 8:30pm and when I tried to open the door it was locked. We figured they would open it at any moment and waited outside. Minutes went by and other people joined our queue at the front of the restaurant waiting to go in. After about 10 minutes we started to get worried and Ceri asked me whether I’d tried pushing the door as well as pulling it. I was a bit indignant – as if I wouldn’t have tried that already? I replied, “Of course!” and then demonstrated this to her : I pushed and pulled the door with force and it opened. Evidently it had been unlocked the whole time. Either that or there was a time freeze during which aliens appeared and unlocked the door before vanishing into space.

When we visited the three wineries I was very irritating and asked each of them whether they put sulphur dioxide (a preservative) in their wines. All three wineries did and so I didn’t taste any of the half-dozen or so wines we were presented with except for two – one of which was 30 years old and I wanted to try it. I drank less than half a glass all day but still got a headache. The wineries all told me they have to put sulphur dioxide in the wines or they turn to vinegar. If that’s the case then how do all these other wine producers manage to produce wines without it?

Sulphur dioxide is a known allergen; however there’s no evidence that it causes headaches. I think part of the problem is that alcohol often causes headaches and it’s hard to isolate the cause and identify sulphur dioxide as the source of the problem. Correlation is not causation. But since this happens to me when I eat other foods that contain preservatives I prefer just to avoid them. Headaches are awful and I would prefer to avoid them if I can.

The best dietary advice I ever heard came from an anthropologist – Christina Warinna and this is what I try to live by:

Eat wholefoods, eat fresh foods, eat lots of species.

She talks a little bit about preservatives in her TED talk. She says preservatives all work in the same way: by inhibiting bacterial growth. What’s wrong with this? She says, “We have to keep in mind that our gastrointestinal system is also full of bacteria: good bacteria that do many good things for you. They digest your food, they regulate your immune system, they promote mucosal function. If you’re eating foods full of preservatives how does that affect your micro-biome, your good bacteria within you? The answer is we really don’t know and it’s something we’re only starting to investigate.” 


5 responses to “Doors that don’t open and preservatives in food”

  1. Black pepper causes me headache 12 hours after the ingestion. There’s no scientific correlation between headaches and allergy reactions maybe, but I listen to my body and I can spot the patterns, so I’m no surprised you get headaches due to a substance you’re sensible to 🙂

    • I think it’s sensible to listen to your body. The studies that look at food allergies and intolerances test with a random sample of the population rather than people who have a disposition to these problems. This researcher describes it well here:

      Gewirtz says that previous studies may have missed these links because newly developed food additives are tested in large swathes of the population, masking any subtle effects in people whose genetics or gut-microbe composition predispose them to these diseases. For regulators, he says, “the idea that a subset of the population may be sensitive isn’t on the radar.”

  2. I will drink wine, but I don’t really like it. I find it a bit acidic. Luckily my favourite beer BrewDog, doesn’t contain preservatives, neither does my favourite mixer, Fever Tree. I didn’t know that before but thought I would look it up after I read your post. And I think both taste wonderful, very flavoursome and refreshing. Also you’ll be thrilled to know, with your newly acquired taste, that high quality Scotch is one of the “cleanest” drinks too.

    • I like beer a lot and it’s probably my favourite alcoholic drink. I’m starting to like whisky too but I only need a teaspoon of it and my head spins 🙂

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