Five Creative Food Substitutions

Cilantro Nickel Free Salad
Understanding and accepting my unique food allergy, enables me to think differently about food and what I eat. Finding creative substitutions for foods high in nickel has changed my thinking about the challenges of my food allergy.

Undergoing an awfully itchy scratch test to determine what was causing my severe eczema, I received a diagnosis of a nickel food allergy. It took a very skilled research driven dermatologist to make the leap from a skin patch test to a food allergy that was causing my atopic dermatitis. While handing me an overwhelmingly long list of foods high in nickel, I started by completely abstaining from every food that has high concentrations of nickel.
Avoiding certain foods makes you adept at finding creative alternatives. When I was first diagnosed with my nickel allergy, I used to carry around a 3X5 inch note card identifying every food that contained high concentrations of nickel. Some foods are simple to refrain from eating, such as coconut and raspberries. Whereas other foods high in nickel were entire categories of foods, such as all of the leafy greens – chard, spinach, arugula – or beans. Basically, I can never be a vegetarian.
My spouse was the main food preparer for my household and she was totally overwhelmed and baffled. It was her challenge to figure out what the hell to feed me. So Sara painstakingly meal planned. Whenever I went out to eat, my skin would tell me that there was hidden soy or peanut oil in things like condiments or sandwich bread. These revelations and reactions emphasized the importance of eating at home.
Overtime, I kept a food journal to identify degrees of severity for foods and could identify which foods affected me more than others. For me, soy, seeds and nuts are the worst culprits. Most recipes only require omitting ingredients; however some dishes really require a different perspective.
Here are five of my creative food substitutions:

1. My nickel free salads involve various vegetables and I substitute the leafy greens for cilantro, parsley and/or basil. I typically add feta cheese and dress it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

2. I enjoy homemade ice cream sandwiches using soy-free graham crackers and ice cream. These Honey Graham Sticks are the only type of soy-free, oat-free, whole wheat free processed graham crackers I found, despite them also including safflower oil. This recipe looks promising if you want to make your own homemade graham crackers.

3. To make pie crust and other baked goods, I substitute either butter or palm oil in lieu of Crisco.

4. Soft caramels have accompanied my roasted marshmallows for s’mores instead of chocolate.

5. As an alternative to mayonnaise and vegenaise, which are both loaded with soybean oil, I’ve used avocado, plain yogurt or olive oil for sandwich condiments and other recipes.

Understanding and accepting my unique food allergy, enables me to think differently about food and what I eat. Finding creative substitutions for foods high in nickel has changed my thinking about the challenges of my food allergy.

16 comments
  1. Hi my name is Faye and love finding you here. My close friend and neighbor has just been confirmed with nickel allergies. Doctors gave her lots of information but she is overwhelmed. I see you can relate to this. She has suffered 4 years without knowing. Cleaning out house and kitchen as well. I will give her your info. meanwhile would like to cook something for her. So the recipes are a blessing.
    Thanks,
    FAYE JAMES

    1. Hi Faye,
      Thanks for your comment. I am glad you found my website and hope it and my recipes are useful for your friend. Suffering through health issues without answers is daunting and discouraging. It’s always a blessing to know what’s causing the issue and a course of treatment for improvement. I do hope the low nickel diet helps your friend.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  2. For mayonnaise, I just started making my own, with olive oil as the base. It is super easy (and takes about a minute) and tastes way better anyways.
    I’m very much appreciating your blog! I was diagnosed about 6 years ago in Italy, but didn’t actually try to go low nickel until a few months ago. It’s extra hard because I also have a severe gluten intolerance, am on the road a lot for work and am a cooking instructor. Your blog has been a good resource!

    1. Hi Annie,
      Wow, thanks for your appreciation for website. I would love to be a cooking instructor, but having a restricted diet would certainly make that challenging! I love eggs, but do not like mayo enough to make my own, so sour cream or plain yogurt make a good substitute for me. I hope the low nickel diet has been helping you.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  3. Thank you so much for your blog.
    I’m in the process of being diagnosed with nickel allergy and have a question.
    I LOVE bread. What kind/brand of bread have you find that works on a nickel free diet?
    All breads at the store…even white bread has wheat flour.
    Have you found any white bread that works for nickel free?
    Really appreciate your help.
    Tiffany

    1. Hi Tiffany,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my blog! I love bread too and I am able to tolerate white flour. Whole wheat flour is higher in nickel than white flour.
      Processed breads even made with white flour can be a challenge to find without soybean oil or soy lecithin. I used to purchase bread from a local bakery that used olive oil instead of soybean oil. Overtime it became really expensive and a hassle, so I began making my own homemade bread using a Cuisinart Bread maker I found at a local thrift store for $15.00. I didn’t want to purchase it new, because it does contain stainless steel and I didn’t know if I skin would tolerate it. So far, I love cooking my own white bread and the bread maker doesn’t seem to impact my skin. There are also recipes online for making your own bread in the oven or in a ceramic Crock-pot if you want to cook it without stainless cookware.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  4. Hello to you and yours! I found your blog in a very circuitous manner. Recently I’ve been diagnosed with hemochromatosis, which apparently is progressive. Since I’m the type who automatically (compulsively?) looks for patterns, I began researching some food sensitivities that became apparent late in life. A major one is tuna: I could go through the canned variety and share with my feline companion (RIP Tommy Boy) until around 5 years ago, when I began experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort and minor hives. I also discovered the same occurs with arugula and fresh basil. Although my rural upbringing never brought me into contact with either, I distinctly recall enjoying basil pesto in my 30s; now it or arugula cause the same issues as tuna. Recently I encountered the same issue when dining on a gyro platter at my local diner. For years I’ve been looking for the thread that ties together these seemingly diverse items, and now I have something to go on. I appreciate your having shared your story, and wish you the very best as we power through life in our own kind of normal.
    Yours,
    The Dude

    1. Hi Bryant,
      Thanks for your comment! Nice to meet you too. Thanks for sharing parts of your story as it’s interesting how we all identify foods that were the original culprits to our nickel allergy. Canned tuna tends to include vegetable broth, which can contain undisclosed soy, which is higher in nickel and may be the reason for the tuna issues. I love tuna myself and probably still eat it once a month. I like Kirkland’s brand which is packaged in water.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  5. Thank you for your blog! It was only last night that I discovered that I most likely have nickel allergy when I went on a manic research to explain the itchiness on my hands which has been 6 months now. One thing led to another and suddenly I’m here on your blog 🙂 I was bummed I could neither eat chocolate nor all the lovely soy products and beans my husband and I adore (he’s vegan and I meal prep for the both of us). I gotta find alternatives – FAST! Plus it doesn’t help that we just got married and we have a wedding party in a month and my wedding wedding ring (thank god it wasn’t expensive!) is just collecting dust since I now have the ugliest flaky blistery hands to wear it (stark contrast to how pretty it looked) and white gold supposedly contains nickel 🙁 Your blog saved me! I’m now gonna document every single step of my journey with all your useful tips and hopefully my hands do regain its natural state and I get to wear my wedding ring for just a couple of hours… that wouldn’t hurt right you think?

    1. Hi Rozana,
      Thank you for your comment and appreciation for my blog! I am glad you were able to find it. I used to eat chocolate, whole grains, leafy greens, oats and nuts nearly everyday. I can’t anymore or my skin freaks out! There’s a lot of great information on my blog in giving ideas of adapting recipes that are low nickel. I’m glad you’re going to use a food journal. I hope it helps. I know how hard it can be to meal plan for 2 when you eat differently. Good luck.
      Congrats on your wedding. I spent $300ish for my wedding ring so it’s titanium and nickel free. I couldn’t wear anything else. Systemic nickel allergies are the building up of nickel in our bodies. Preventing the body’s exposure to nickel the better for those of us with systemic nickel allergies.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  6. Hi Christy ! For a couple years now I have been breaking out with eczema all over my face! After years of me blaming it on the stress of working overnights in the hospital I just recently went to the dermatologist and got a patch test done. Along with a few other things I tested positive for being allergic to nickel. They gave me some information for the low nickel diet and I’m completely overwhelmed! I basically have to relearn how to eat. I love leafy greens! I love coconut and cocoa, I love beans and quinoa. I was vegan for a while and then recently switched back to vegetarian. So all of this is very hard for me and I don’t want to live off of cheese LOL. I was wondering if you have any idea if Arugula, which is one of my favorite things, has a high nickle content? It gave me hope when I saw that you said cilantro and parsley are good, because those are leafy greens as well. If you have any idea if arugula has a high nickel content could you please to let me know? I am desperate to figure this out. My wedding is coming up in September and of course I don’t get the rashes anywhere else other than my face! 🙁 finding your website has given me a lot of Hope! Hope to hear from you soon

    1. Hi Jordan,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website! Being diagnosed and changing your diet overnight is quite overwhelming. I too loved beans and leafy greens. One of my favorite foods of all time is arugula. Unfortunately it higher in nickel than herbs like cilantro and parsley. Cilantro (in high quantities) is known to be a chelating agent which can be helpful in regards to heavy metals. Also both vitamin C and iron can reduce your body’s absorption to nickel. I will eat an arugula salad about once a month, often with steak and an apricot or strawberry vinaigrette. I still react, but eating the salad is pure bliss! Perhaps adding cilantro with your arugula could help too.
      Also, I think my reactions aren’t as bad as they originally were since I’ve been on the low nickel diet for a long time now. So I’m no longer eating other foods higher in nickel when I splurge on my salad. I not longer miss chocolate as it was one of the worst offenders. I do miss peanut butter though. Congrats on your upcoming wedding and I hope that helps!
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  7. Christy,
    Thank you for your blog it has been very helpful as I now go down this path of having a nickel allergy. I was diagnosed this past January after three months of my skin being unbearable. I am 56 years old and have never had any allergies until I received a booster vaccination for TDap. It had thimerosal a preservative that sent my body into a downward spiral. After having a patch test they found out that I also had a nickel allergy. I have found you site very helpful in finding thing I can use and haw to learn to eat again. One thing I want to share is if you place cottage cheese into to a food processor you can get a substitute for mayo. Again I can’t thank you enough for all you wisdom.

    1. Hi Joann,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website! Your story with thimerosal sounds very scary. I am also allergic to theramisol. I got a lot of adult vaccines in 2007 before I thought I was going to travel to Africa. I’m glad I received the vaccines, but I never traveled to Africa and wonder if it could have impacted my systemic nickel allergy diagnosis in 2009. I was 24 and it still took me several years to truly adjust to the low nickel diet and being focusing on what I could eat instead of what I couldn’t.
      Thanks for the idea to blend cottage cheese to make homemade mayo! It probably has way more protein content than mayo too!
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  8. Hi, my name is Natascha. I have a nickel allergy also nickel food allergy. The regular nickle such as jewelry I am severely allergic too food, not as bad luckily. I can eat certain foods from the list and either have no reaction too or minor. Sadly now on top of it they found I have GERD and am not allowed to eat gluten and I’m lactose intolerant…so basically I’m allergic to life and am so lost as what I can and cannot or should not eat. and My Dr. is no help.

    1. Hi Natascha,
      Thanks for your comment. It would be really tough for me to avoid dairy products and gluten on the low nickel diet! I’m sorry to hear your doctors haven’t been helpful. Have you tried using a food journal or an elimination diet to see what foods that are medium to higher in nickel you may be able to tolerate? It’s a slow but important process, but will have long term benefits, as systemic nickel allergies are so challenging as our bodies are all different!
      Warm regards,
      Christy

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