Just look at all that stainless steel cookware, full of nickel!

Dining Out with a Nickel Food Allergy

Dining out with a nickel food allergy can be quite a challenged! The majority of restaurant and culinary kitchens are full of stainless steel cookware, which is all high in nickel.

I am lucky. My nickel allergy is primarily a nickel food allergy. When I eat foods with nickel it triggers my atopic dermatitis or eczema. However, generally I don’t get a rash or eczema when I touch things made out of nickel. Likewise, I currently don’t have issues when I eat out at restaurants that use tap water and/or stainless steel cookware.

When my eczema does break out, it is tricky to completely know what caused the reaction. I wonder if it was the result of eating out and the chef using stainless steel cookware or if I ate something high in nickel?  At home, I predominately use nickel free cast iron or ceramic cookware.

I have experienced a series of adventures and misadventures dining out with a nickel food allergy. One of which, I’ve already blogged about where I ordered off the dog menu! I accept that I am a custom eater requiring meal modifications or substitutions. It’s difficult to believe that I still find restaurants – even small locally owned ones – that aren’t willing to make meal substitutions!

I have found it easier to eat out at restaurants that make certain types of cuisine. My preferences include restaurants that make American, Indian, Mexican and Japanese foods.

American – When I want traditional American food, it’s usually involves large amounts of meat, vegetables, fruit and bread. I love sandwiches and steak! Since soy flour or soy oil is predominately used in wheat goods, I have to avoid or ask questions about the bread, buns, pizza crust, desserts, etc. If a restaurant doesn’t include soy in its wheat products I always have to remember to ask if they also have sesame seeds. I also order most of my sandwiches without any condiments or ask for avocado instead.

Indian – Indian food is probably my favorite type of ethnic food. However, there are only a couple dishes I can enjoy that don’t include nickel. My favorites include tomato based Chicken Tikka Marsala and Tandoori Chicken! I hardly eat anything else, as many Indian foods include chickpeas, lentils, or beans. Many of their curries are tomato based, instead of coconut sauce based like Thai food. I cannot eat coconut, whereas I know some people with nickel food allergies can eat coconut.

Mexican – Eating Mexican food while on a low-nickel diet isn’t too challenging. I always negate the beans, lettuce and wild rice. Otherwise, I enjoy vegetarian or meat tacos and burritos.

Japanese – I admit that I love sushi! However, I have to be very careful when I eat out at sushi restaurants. Many times I have experienced language barriers where servers don’t understand that I cannot eat soy or sesame seeds. Most of the menu items clearly identify which type of fish is used in each roll. I prefer rolls with tuna and salmon, while avoiding anything with shellfish – I don’t even eat imitation crab!

Asian, African, Greek, German, Mediterranean cuisines I tend to avoid as they usually include several ingredients that are high in nickel, such as soy, nuts, cabbage, legumes, lentils, seeds and leafy greens. German foods involve many fermented foods high in histamines that trigger both my eczema and hayfever.

I occasionally eat at French or Italian restaurants, but I don’t find either very filling. Sometimes I’m open to trying new types of ethnic foods. The other day I enjoyed a roasted chicken dish from a Cuban restaurant. However, I also lean towards choosing meals that are balanced with either iron or vitamin C to reduce my overall nickel absorption.

It’s also important to be aware of how restaurants package their meals when you order take out. I once ordered a chicken burrito that didn’t include any ingredients with nickel. However, the restaurant packaged the burrito in aluminum foil. Really hungry at the time and not thinking about how the burrito was packaged, I ate it directly from the aluminum foil. Unfortunately, within about an hour my lips were swollen and on fire! They hurt terribly and I never made that mistake again!

Eating with a food allergy is a continual challenge. I know some people who cannot eat out at all or they risk going into anaphylaxis! Everyone’s food allergy journey is different. I feel it’s critical to remain open and understanding to how others experience their own food allergies and food intolerances.