Dining Out with a Nickel Food Allergy

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

Dining out with a nickel food allergy can be quite a challenge! The majority of restaurants 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 predominantly 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 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 mustard 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 (not Chicken Tikka Masala, as that can include nuts) 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! Now aluminum doesn’t necessarily contain nickel, but I avoid it, as it seems to bother me.

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.

  1. Besides iron and vitamin c, I have found a few other “nickel pullers” on my nickel allergy journey: wild blue berries, cilantro, and parsley. Every morning my husband makes me a smoothie with frozen wild blueberries, parsley, yogurt, milk, and other fruits that change with the seasons. This has allowed me to eat other foods in small amounts that I could not before, such as a leaf of lettuce on my sandwich.

    1. Thanks for your comment! That’s wonderful you have found other foods that reduce your body’s absorption of nickel. I also enjoy blue berries, parsley, cilantro and smoothies. I continue to enjoy salad lettuce from time to time, but haven’t been as fortunate as you to not experience symptoms when I do.

  2. Hello,
    I’ve just discovered that I have recently become allergic to nickel from wearing a pair of earrings. But the reaction has now gone from strictly being on my ears to now all over the top half of my body, so they’re not sure if I also have nickel reactions in food, but I’ve been researching about nickel allergy when I came across your website. Upon reading your article I noticed that you wrote about your experience with the take-out food being wrapped in aluminum foil, and it triggering your nickel allergy symptoms, but when I looked up aluminum foil (before reading this article) it said that because aluminum foil is strictly made out of aluminum only, it would be safe. If you have any other information about this to clarify this up for me, it would be greatly appreciated! This whole nickel allergy thing is really becoming a pain and I’m just really trying to see what I need to do.
    Thank you,
    – Ellie

    1. Hi Ellie,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found my site! My research is consistent with yours. I haven’t read directly that aluminum foil contains nickel.
      Some with systemic nickel allergies believe they can’t tolerate aluminum foil because during its processing it’s pressed into and aluminum packaging comes in contact with nickel via processing on large stainless steel equipment and there’s a possibility nickel from the stainless steel is transferred during the manufacturing process. If my food is in direct contact, prefer using parchment paper over aluminum because time and time again, if I eat something (even with it’s low in nickel) directly out of aluminum it causes me to react. Parchment paper is also cheap than aluminum foil.
      The majority of canned goods are canned in stainless steel, which contains nickel. Whereas the majority of sodas are sold in aluminum cans and again there are those with nickel allergies that can’t tolerate soda from a can. Some of us maybe more sensitive than others, as so much of this allergy is trial and error, which is why using a food journal can be helpful.
      Warm regards,

  3. Hi Christy, I’ve recently been diagnosed with the Nickel Allergy. I found all the can/cannot eat items, but I was wondering what Condiments I can/ cannot use. Haven’t found anything on the Internet about this, yet. Maybe you can help me out
    Thanks, Ed Dyling.

    1. Hi Ed,
      I apologize for the delayed response. Your question inspired me to write my latest post about low nickel condiments. Let me know what you think and if it’s helpful in developing some delicious options for your low nickel meals.
      Warm regards,

  4. Hi! I was wondering if you could share your expertise on Thai food, aside from the coconut would Thai green curry be low nickel? I think I can tolerate coconut okay but I’m brand new to the diet and so I’m still figuring things out! Thanks so much for this website!!!

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. That’s great you know you can tolerate coconut. I am not sure how to answer your question about green curry. Perhaps the best thing is to use a food journal corresponding your symptoms in case you do react to some other ingredients when eating Thai food, as many of the meals can contain nuts and seeds that are higher in nickel.
      I avoid all Thai food and would rather enjoy northern Indian food from the Punjabi region that relies on dry rub seasonings than tomato or coconut bases.

      Warm regards,

  5. I was recently diagnosed with many allergies including nickel. My doctor gave me a list of foods to avoid but I have not yet gotten any rashes from nickel. My doctor suspects my allergy is new. Since I have not gotten any rashes I don’t know if my allergy is from eating nickel contained foods or from touching nickel. I think my allergy is from touching nickel because the allergy test was a patch test. On my list, it tells me not to eat bran. I know that most breads include bran but I noticed in this article you mentioned eating sandwiches. I enjoy bread very much and was wondering if you get allergy symptoms from bran.

    1. Hi Yein,
      Thanks for your comment. Many with systemic nickel allergies undergo patch testing to get an accurate diagnosis. However like you and me, they don’t experience contact eczema or outwardly react to nickel when coming in contact with nickel. That doesn’t necessarily mean there still isn’t a systemic nickel allergy and your body reacts when you eat foods higher in nickel.
      Bran and whole grains are known for being higher in nickel than plain white bread, which doesn’t usually contain bran. Also watch out for soy or soybean oil, which is often an ingredient in processed foods like store bread.
      Warm regards,

  6. Your site has been a real comfort after moving from contact allergy to suspiciously severe food allergy last year. In an attempt to go vegan I think I killed my immune response! If I’m having a flare up I don’t think I can tolerate soda from a can even if I pour it into a glass first and yours is the only site I can find that references this. Do you find yourself more sensitive during a flare up too?

    1. Hi Jayne,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. It’s wonderful to hear the site has been so useful for you! I avoid drinking fluids that come from can, as I do find it seems to aggravate my systemic nickel allergy and eczema. I do find that I’m more sensitive during a flare up. Some use the analogy that if your body or a bucket is full of nickel or water and when you add more, the reaction is worse or the water spills out and literally overflows. It takes time for the body to reduce the amount of nickel it has by limiting exposure so the reactions are less severe.
      Warm regards,

  7. Hi Christy,
    Thank you for your site! So much helpful info to relate to for my son.
    We tend to eat out a lot so this has been true meh trying to figure out what he can eat besides meat. So you eat bean burritos when you go out to eat? The beans don’t irritate you?

    1. Hi Amanda,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website! That’s wonderful to hear it’s been very useful for you and your son. I will eat beans on occasion, but beans always make me react. I do prefer meat enchiladas to burritos when I eat out at Mexican restaurants. One of my favorite low nickel burritos was made with sweet potatoes and/or butternut squash, onions/shallots, garlic and roasted peppers, which are lower nickel foods. I don’t know many restaurants that offer those types of burritos, so you might want to try making it at home with a seasoned yogurt/sour cream sauce. 
      Warm regards,

  8. I’m happy to have found this blog. I’ve long known I was allergic to nickel (I break out in a terrible rash that spreads rapidly over a large area where the nickel touched) and it itches so badly. Despite knowing this fact, my doctor and I could not figure out why it appeared that I had so many bad reactions to foods that seemed totally random. We ruled out celiac’s with a blood test and she said she suspected it wasn’t IBS. However, with the realization that food contains nickel (aside from shellfish as I knew about it containing nickel) and that might be what is setting my stomach off. In fact, I even told my doctor that I felt like soy was a trigger for potential issues, to which she said avoid it and that if I noticed any other things that tended to upset my stomach, avoid those too. Well, it seemed daunting and I could find no rhyme or reason, however, with learning of Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome, I realized why the foods seemed so random. I’m glad to be able to read your blog. Kind regards,


    1. Hi Autumn,
      Thanks for our comment and appreciation for my website. There are some folks who have contact dermatitis from nickel allergies and s/he never develops a systemic nickel allergy, like me and maybe you too. For many like yourself, their journey of identifying individual foods that affected them took too time and trial and error. It does seem very random the variety of foods that are higher in nickel. Hopefully the low nickel diet works for you.
      Warm regards,

  9. I’m so glad I found this site. After allergy testing and not having any food allergies I was diagnosed with systemic nickel allergy. After much trial and error I’m finding soy lecithin to be my biggest trigger. This was not mentioned by my drs so I’m going to make sure they tell other patients this. I have no allergy to soy but it’s a biggie for me causing large breakout areas.

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