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Annatto (E160b) - Problems with beige food?


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I have suffered with almost continuous IBS symptoms for 10 years now. Intense stomach pain a few hours after eating (usually night times), followed by the feeling of glass passing through my bowels, wind, bloating, cramps and urgent, rather explosive trips to the toilet. I usually self-starve for a couple of days until my bowels recover enough to face food again. An ultrasound scan at my doctors practice confirmed my bowels were highly inflamed.

By the process of eliminating ingredients I have finally found the source of my problems, its often located at the very end of the ingredient list. The culprit is a natural food colourant by the name of "Annatto" or the European name "E160b". Wikipedia and Google will tell you all about it.

(The other E160’s suffixed with a, c, d, e etc do not contain annatto.)

Unfortunately, annatto is used within a wide range of products, including biscuits, pies, pastries, ice cream, cheese, otherwise healthy foods, and even in multi-vitamin supplements. A list of typical foods containing annatto can be found here:


Eliminating this one ingredient has utterly transformed my life for the better. My bowels are normal, and surprisingly my head is a lot clearer too. After 10 days of avoiding annatto, my permanent beer belly has almost flattened too.

I do not consider this a trigger for my IBS, I do not even believe I had IBS, I now passionately believe I just have an allergic reaction to "Annatto". In terms of my sensitivity, eating just 1 pringle containing annatto is enough to trigger the pain. After eating a pie glazed with annatto from my local butcher I get close to calling an ambulance.

Thankfully, it is quite easy to eliminate this one ingredient, certainly a lot easier than some of the other diets we endure, and the results should be fairly obvious within a few days. I sincerely hope this has a positive impact on other sufferers in a similar position to myself.

If you do identify this allergen as the cause of your IBS symptoms, then please contact your doctor, as in larger quantities this type of allergy can be life threatening.

As a downside, I now need to take my reading glasses to the supermarket, and I'm also going to need smaller trousers.

Please spread the word,


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Jeffrey Roberts

Hi Didge,

I'm concerned about something you wrote. Let's go back to one of the first things you said. If your bowels are actually inflamed and confirmed by an intestinal ultrasound then this is not IBS. This could be Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) namely Crohn's disease or Ulcerative colitis. No amount of food modification will relieve this.

I'm not sure an allergy to a food would also explain inflammation. I would think that you might have other symptoms if you were allergic.

Still, I have heard from others that annatto does bother them too. I'm not sure there is any research that explains why.

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Hi Jeffrey,

There is back story going back many years, ironically around the time that the EU approved the use of Annatto.

Initially I visited my doctor with a strange complaint where I woke each morning feeling fine, as the day progressed however, my throat gave me the impression that it closing-up. At its worse, it almost felt like I was breathing through a straw. My doctor undertook a comprehensive blood test which came back absolutely fine. He felt it was probably an allergy to something in my workplace. I resorted to taking anti-histamines daily, the throat tightening's continued for a few months and then slowly subsided and hasn't bothered me since.

Around that time, stomach pain and diarrhoea started giving me grief, this was quite surprising as I have always had a lead-lined stomach, and could eat pretty much anything.  I coped as best as I could and just learnt to avoid certain foods, in particular beige coloured foods.  To be honest this avoidance was as much sub-conscious as it was considered.

Eventually, one morning while getting dressed for work, I experienced a feeling like a grapefruit rising up from my lower gut up to my stomach, similar to a contraction during childbirth I guess. Although it was all over in 2 seconds, it was the most painful experience of my life, and left me with such backache that I stayed in bed for 2 days. A visit to the doctors initiated the external ultrasound scan. I then did a stool sample, which detected traces of blood but nothing else.

At this point, my doctor wanted more invasive tests to start ruling-out more serious conditions. I wasn't too keen for a few reasons, my Grandfather died of bowel cancer and my cousin had spent his entire life struggling with Crohns,   If I'm honest, I was too scared to face either diagnosis, plus I always knew in my heart of hearts that my problems were being caused by sometime I was eating. 

Initially my reactions were quite rare and difficult to pinpoint. As time moved-on, more and more food suppliers were switching from synthetic additives to "natural" alternatives such as tumeric, paprika extract and annatto. As my attacks became more frequent, almost daily, it became more and more obvious to me that it was something I was eating.

Eventually, it was pies from my local butcher that helped me make the connection. They're the best pies I've ever eaten, but no matter which filling I tried, steak, chicken, ham and pulled-pork, they all gave me a serious reaction. If it wasn't the filling then I thought it must be the pastry. I can eat bread, margarine, vegetable oil and salt without problems, but what's this "Annatto" stuff?.  A quick google and wikepedia confirmed I should be suspicious. Over a period of time, I was avoiding annatto for a few days, feeling better and then intentionally ingesting it by way of experimentation. The results were very conclusive, and even with minute trace amounts, a single pringle snack for example.

I have been completely free of annatto for nearly 2 weeks now, and the difference to my physical and mental health is just incredible. I'm embarrassed to admit, that I'm also a better parent too, I hadn't realised just how much my bowel problems had turned me into a miserable monster.

There is very little scientific information available, except for an admission that it may cause stomach problems. I understand it's even used in medicines to ease constipation.  The Australian "Fedup" organisation has compiled an extensive list of problems encountered by people.  SC160bannatto.pdf (fedup.com.au)

As I said initially, if stomach and bowel issues are being caused by annatto, simply avoiding for a few days will no doubt confirm it.

If my experiences help just one other person escape bowel problems then I'll sleep better at night.


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