Five Things I Wish I Knew When First Diagnosed

Discovering my nickel food allergy as an adult changed my world. Suddenly everything I ate was suspect. All the habits and training for planning and preparing meals, had to be relearned.
What is a nickel food allergy? For me, when I eat foods high in nickel I experience severe eczema on my face, neck and hands within 12-24 hours. Five of the top eight US food allergens contain nickel: whole wheat, shellfish, nuts, tree nuts and soy. Several healthy foods, like leafy greens, beans, raspberries and others are also high in nickel. Until diagnosed, I never realized how many different naturally occurring heavy metals, like nickel, are in our foods. The best treatment for my nickel food allergy is to avoid eating foods high in nickel and instead eat the “low-nickel diet.”
When I was diagnosed, here are five things I wish I would have known.

  1. Adjusting to a new food allergy takes time. Life gets better once you have an accurate diagnoses and course of action. Prior to having a diagnosis, I outright denied the severity of my eczema. Receiving a long list of foods to avoid was overwhelming at first. Years later I’m able to easily adapt recipes and grocery shop.
  1. Focus on what you can eat. First I had to familiarize myself with all the foods high in nickel and then all the other foods not high in nickel that I could enjoy. Gaining new perspective and focusing on what foods I can eat allowed me to think creatively about food. It’s easy to give up foods that cause embarrassing eczema or make me itch, even chocolate.
  1. Upgrade your cookware. Changing not only what I cooked, but what cooking tools I used were essential. Stainless steel and non-stick cookware are also high in nickel. When these cooking tools are used to heat what we eat, nickel can be released and leached into our food. My kitchen is now stocked with cast iron, ceramic, and glass cookware. I use wax and parchment paper instead of aluminum foil. All of these reasons are why my nickel food allergy blog tagline is “eating thoughtfully.”
  1. Planning ahead is essential. As a custom eater, I must meal plan and take time to grocery shop. Every morning I prepare my own lunches. Since, food is used as a celebratory event, create your own desserts and food indulgences so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.
  1. Listen to your body. My hyperactive immune system has identified nickel as a threat. I must take my food allergy seriously and care for my sensitive skin. When my skin itches uncontrollably or feels like it’s on fire, I evaluate whatever I recently ate or any cosmetics I used. Many “natural” skin products contain ingredients like oats, nuts, seeds or other foods high in nickel and should also be avoided.

We all benefit from each others experiences. Let me know what you wish you would have known when you were first diagnosed in the comment box below!

36 comments
  1. Easy to give up chocolate??? I am really struggling on this because I am a gluten free vegan. I actually LOVED my previous diet of healthy foods, and the fact that I was not promoting murder of animals. To me the low nickel diet represents the worst of what is commonly known as SAD, the standard American diet, full of refined white four (no nutrients and tons of gluten) and meat and dairy all of which are proven to be unhealthy. Because the low nickel diet has robbed me of all my favorite nutritious foods and my vegan protein sources are now off limits, I feel myself getting deficient in many nutrients. I had no problems becoming a gluten free vegan. I never got cravings. But this low nickel diet is a whole nother story. I am miserable but I am seeing reduction in symptoms so far so I am sticking with it. I am having so much trouble finding out how much nickel might be in my various supplements that I have temporarily given up most, but again I am sure I will develop deficiencies rapidly on this diet. I will never get over the loss of chocolate. Thinking I will never again be allowed a single bite makes me want to jump off a bridge. I used to look forward to meals, no more.

    1. Nicola,
      I totally understand and felt similarly at first. It truly takes time to adjust. If your symptoms are getting better on the low-nickel diet, you might be able to slowly introduce 1-2 foods in the future 1-2 times a week. It might be nice to meet with a nutritionist (if you can find one) that understands the low-nickel diet and the vegan diet to ensure your not hurting your overall health and getting enough protein.
      Christy

      1. I wish I have knowned that nutritionists know nothing about this!!!! It’s been a year since my diagnosis and have yet to find one that knows what a systemic nickel allergy is!!!! It’s frustrating!

        1. Hi Lis,
          I understand how frustrating trying to seek help from doctors and nutritionists who really don’t know much about the low nickel diet or systemic nickel allergies. You know or have probably adjusted over the past year to learn what does or doesn’t work for you. Trust yourself and seek assistance where you can.
          Wam regards,
          Christy

    2. Hi Nicola
      I have just come across a comment by another vegan who mentions nickel allergy, so I’m net searching to find more info. My facebook page is ‘Plant-based evidence / paleo diet (vegan)’. Please will you message me there with more info that can help?
      Thank you xx

  2. Thanks for this post! I just had the patch test done and found out I have allergies to nickel along with chrome, cobalt, biogene amines, and benzoyl peroxide. It basically feels like I can’t eat or use any of my normal products. Which is disheartening because I already follow a pretty strict diet. You’re right though, it takes time to get a handle on things and it’s better to look at the list of foods I can eat (cross referenced with all the other allergies) and go from there. 💪🏻

  3. Hi Monica,
    Thanks for commenting on my website and appreciation of my post! Undergoing a skin patch test can be stressful! However I was so relieve to find out what was causing my skin issues. I can understand how it would feel like your diet is becoming even more restrictive!
    I checked out your website and love all the pictures!
    Adapting to this allergy certainly is a journey. I’d enjoy staying in touch and hearing how it goes for you.
    Warm regards,
    Christy

  4. Great information. I take Biotin a couple times a day to try and prevent nickel absorption. Seems to help me and I can eat chocolate…just watch out for soy based ingredients. That’s what seems to aggravate my symptoms.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      Another reader told me he also takes Biotin to reduce his body’s absorption of nickel. I have never taken it. Both soy and chocolate cause me to react terribly! It’s amazing how some of our symptoms are so similar!
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  5. THANK YOU FOR ALL USEFUL INFORMATION
    I HAD THE PATCH TEST DONE.
    MY SKIN REACTED STRONGLY TO NICKLE.
    I SUFFER FROM TIME TO TIME FROM ITCHING AFTER MEAL AND NEVER THAUGHT ABOUT NICKLE IN FOOD!!
    I HAVE SEVER CHRONIC ECZEMA IN MY LEG FOR YEARS. NOTHING HELPS TO GET RID OF IT.
    I NEVER HAD SEVER REACTION TO NICKEL IN FOOD EXCLUDE ITCHING.
    MAYBE I SHOULD PAY MOR ATTENTION TO FREE NICKLE DIET.
    THANKS
    ZIVA
    ISRAEL

    1. Hi Ziva,
      Thanks for your comment. I experienced a similar disbelief when I first learn that nickel is in food and then in so many different foods! If you try the low-nickel diet, I hope it helps your chronic eczema, like it has mine.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  6. Thanks for your blog. I have found the most straight-forward, well-curated and honest info here. And keep coming back everytime I hit a roadblock adjusting to my new nickle-free life. I miss spinach, but would rather not be miserable with my skin on fire. Thanks for the good info!

    1. Hi Jessica,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. It’s wonderful to hear how sharing my nickel allergy adventures have positively impacted others, like yourself. I understand “missing” foods and having cravings, but at the same time not wanting to experience terrible eczema!
      All the best,
      Christy

  7. When I was first diagnosed with nickel allergy on a skin patch test 25 years ago I wish there had been information on it, I was told to avoid nickel, never told it was in food and didn’t have the Internet then. Last year I had the same skin patch test and the same things appeared, nickel and a few other things, it was only on reading from yourself and a few others stories I learnt nickel is in food, I solved 25 uncomfortable years in 2 weeks and now been clear for 6 months. The allergy nurse still doesn’t believe me!. Thank you for your write ups.

    1. Hi Victoria,
      Thank you for your comment sharing your life experience with a nickel allergy. I can understand your frustration not knowing about the low nickel diet or how to “treat” your nickel allergy. 25 years is a very long time to live without a solution! It’s wonderful to hear that my story and website helped you identify eating foods higher in nickel was what was causing your discomfort. If only more medical professionals knew about the low nickel diet and took their patients seriously!
      Warm regards,
      Christy

    2. My sentiments exactly! Have had severe eye swelling and facial/neck eczema stuff going on for the last couple yrs after confirming nickel allergy- breakouts were not from the jewelry I had quit wearing and the creams the prescribed never worked. It seemed cyclical to me but I couldn’t figure out why- nobody told me nickel was in food and cooking sources… I’m hoping I get some relief by following your diet suggestions- a lot of what I eat is listed as culprit which would make sense why I keep having issues!! Thank you for sharing!!! And glad I found your blog 😊

      1. Hi Vonnie,
        Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. I hope changing out your cookware and the foods you eat helps your eczema resolve.
        Warm regards,
        Christy

  8. Hello!
    Thank you for making this info about Nickel allregy available. I am just now learning all I can to prepare to start living/eating low Nickel due to skin conditions that have not improved despite trying other things. It feels like too much, having to remember which foods are low nickel and figure out what and how to eat all over again. I sure hope it helps me as it seems to help others who have gone Low nickel.
    Thank again for all the info here, helps to not be all alone in this. 🙂

    1. Hi Robin,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website! That would be great if the low nickel diet and trying to reduce your exposure to nickel improves your skin. Trying to live low nickel was overwhelming for me too. It takes time to adjust. I would be gentle with yourself and accept you’ll get better at it overtime.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  9. Hi,
    Thank you for the information you are sharing. I recently started to get a rash on my ring finger. Being a nurse, i thought it was the alcohol hand gel that i used all the time. I would switch the ring to the other hand and the itching would start.This is a ring i have worn for 20 years. I just thought the gel was sitting under the ring. It is my mothers wedding band, 60 years old, but discovered the silver actually wore off and the nickel is now exposed, which increased the allergic reaction. I went to my doctor with this problem, rashes all over my body that itched and were unsightly. I was miserable. She gave me steroids and a referral to a dermatologist. It was a 3 month wait to get into the dermatologist. Needles to say, being nurse, i started googling everything i could to learn more about what was going on. That was when it dawned on me that the ring finger rash was just part of the picture.
    I literally loved almonds and chocolate and every night, i would lay in bed and eat a ton of raw almonds and a granola bar with dark chocolate and almonds…..just writing this make me crave that special treat! Anyway, i would be itching and scratching until i finally got up and took a shower. That seemed to help with the severe itching along with a ton of antihistamines and steroid cream. After finding some websites and discovered that almonds and chocolate are high in nickel, i realized what was going on. I also love onions and have had reactions from those. I literally can eat a pizza and realize that the sauce came in a can because i am itching 30 minutes later.
    So, i was able to get a handle on most of the issues with food, or so i thought. I could eat some thing that were high in nickel and just get a little blotch that goes away with the steroid cream i have.
    The other day, my hands started to act up. Only thing different was i steamed cleaned a carpet and when using the hand piece for spots, ended up with the soap on my hands- could there have been nickel in the cleaning product. I also had sat out on my deck with suntan oil, from a spray can, with coconut oil. My rash on my hands continued to get worst. I do eat vit C a lot, but since everything appeared under control, got a little lax on taking them as often as i use to.
    My hands continued to itch, and started to swell (angio edema- had this happen to my airway, it would have been bad).. I called my doctor because i clearly recognized i needed steroids again. My doctor does not believe i have a nickel allergy and knows nothing about it. I have even told her i can eat something with nickel and end up with a rash a half hour later. Anyway, i called her for help and received one phone call back, stating Dr does not think you have a nickel allergy. I told the medical assistant how severe this was and that i have no doubt that i have a nickel allergy. I stated that if she is not going to call in a script for steroids, i need to know asap because would need to go to urgent care. I explained how miserable i was and that i would be waiting for a response from them. This was at 10am, at noon, i called the clinic for help again……then again at 4pm, but this time i was driving to urgent care. When i got to urgent care, they immediately gave me steroids to take and a script for steroids and and a epi pen. Yes, an epi pen……if that does not scare you to have to carry an epi pen for fear of hidden nickel, i don’t know what does.
    I have now changed out my cookware and bought nickel free silverware. I have stainless steel appliances, faucets, etc….it is everywhere….still hoping that once the nickel level in my body decreases, that i will not be as sensitive to this. I think it depends on the levels that have accumulated over time. When i first figured out what was going on, it took about 2 months of vitamin c tab and trying to stay away from nickel in general before i felt normal.
    I know sensitivities can get worse each time and that is my biggest fear….of a anaphylactic reaction with no forewarning.
    Years ago, i saw this same doctor, and she asked why my palms were so red. I never gave it thought, but in hind site, it was from all the nickel items that i touch on a day to day basis, not knowing the reaction i was having. I have covers on all my laptops, fire tablet and iPad. When i purchased the kindle, it was when i first realized the allergy, i did not think of a cover for it, even though my other electronics had covers. Within 3 days of using the fire tablet, my rashes started up again. I realized i needed to get a cover for it and the symptoms subsided.
    I never followed through with the referral the first time because by the time i was able to get in, i had everything under control and had no itching or rash to speak of. I figured i would go there and he would verify i had a nickel allergy and and would hand me a list of foods and i would be on my way.
    Anyway, i have been taking the steroid for 3 days now and the itching is resolved. The swelling is decreasing and overall, other than sheer shock and sadness, am improving. What a life changing experience. I am now waiting for the referral for the dermatologist or allergist and will follow up with them when i am able to get in now that it is this severe.
    I just want to thank you for your help when my own doctor did not take this seriously. Sharing your knowledge and experience with everyone is much appreciated and we can all live a safer life because of your efforts and dedication to educating those of us who feel lost and overwhelmed.
    Thank you for all that you do! It means more to everyone then you could ever realize.
    Sue

    1. Hi Sue,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. It can be terribly frustrating to not have an accurate diagnoses or treatment solution for what you’re experiencing. I hope changing out your cookware and perhaps the low nickel diet has helped. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of things to try to resolve your symptoms and investigating things like your mother’s ring that could be causing your nickel allergy symptoms. We all truly have to be our own advocates and it sounds like you’re winning in the fight. Keep up the good work.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  10. Hello – I’m yet another vegan who has learned about a nickel sensitivity from a patch test at the allergist -I did that test trying to chase down why I have had periodic itching with no rash for a few years. Allergist says no, it’s not a thing to have a sensitivity to nickel in foods. I appreciate seeing everyone’s testimonials here. It confirms that my experience is not too different from others’, except that I have not had eczema develop from this. Is it others’ experience, too, to have only itching with no rash? And, that it resolves with anti-histamine (zyrtec)? As with others before me, I am sad about the huge shift this will mean for my vegan diet. So many of my staples are now off limits.

    1. Hi there,
      Thanks for your comment. I am glad you’re finding my site and other’s comments useful. I have not heard from anyone who experiences itchy but no eczema rash. I do take the antihistamine claritin, but even still I have eczema, especially when I eat foods higher in nickel. It is hard to adjust to the low nickel diet, but hopefully it becomes easier over time. It would be really hard to be a vegan on the low nickel diet.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  11. Hi, Christy!
    I have recently learned about the nickel connection with diet. My issues are most severe around my eyes–swelling, red, scaliness, itching and also corneal swelling. Until recently, I knew I had contact dermatitis with nickel and carefully avoided it in jewelery, etc.
    I am confused by so much conflicting info regarding the amount of nickel in foods and the lack of basic reference info on seasonal foods. One site says corn is high and another says its safe–??? What about squash which is never mentioned? That would include zucchini, yellow, acorn, spaghetti, etc. Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are OK on one site and listed as “no” on another one. Watermelon is listed as low nickel, but what about canteloupe? Apples are OK on one site and bad on another! I could go on, but I bet you know the issue.
    Who do I believe? Is there a “good” reference? I’ve only found one that mentions nickel content and serving size and its on the Dermatitis Academy website.
    A seasonal list of food low in nickel would be wonderful, if someone had the time to compile it!
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Vicki,
      Thanks for your comment. Many of us had no idea about the connection between nickel and food until our diagnosis. When I eat foods higher in nickel, especially soy and chocolate, my eyes swell, itch internally and are super scaly.
      There are multiple different lists, partly because how and where the food you eat is grown can impact the amount of nickel in the food. There are some maps of nickel content in the US on my resources page and in my low nickel gardening post I discuss more about the different low nickel lists. My latest post about how to keep a food journal is also useful to identify what you can personally tolerate. I am able to eat all squashes, broccoli, cauliflower, apples, cantaloupe.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

    2. That is where I have a reaction – not where it contacts so it must be in the food even though I tested negative to the foods they tested.

  12. Hi Christy! Thank you so much for your website. I recently had a patch test done and found out I am allergic to Nickel, Cobalt and Gold. I am 39 and just finding this out. I believe I nailed the culprit down to taking a Vitamin B12 Supplement. It has Cobalt in it!
    I was breaking out in rashes in my arm pits and the inside of my legs and attributed it to detergent, fabric softener, deodorant, etc. Do you know if regular deodorant has metal in it? I know it has aluminum but have you had problems with regular deodorant? I’m hoping ceasing the B12 supplement will nip this in the bud.
    Thanks again for all the amazing info! My dermatologist never mentioned a nickel free diet?? So this is great stuff! Take care!

    1. Hi SmcBell,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. I don’t know much about cobalt allergies, except that many with nickel allergies also have cobalt allergies like yourself. Often gold contains nickel, especially white gold. As you mentioned, many deodorants contain aluminum. Also if you have a systemic nickel allergy, possibly foods higher in nickel you’re reacting to, such as oats, coconut, nuts, seeds. Anything with coconut or shea butter causes me to react terribly!
      I hope that helps. Warm regards,
      Christy

  13. HI, I was diagnosed with a nickel allergy a few days ago. My excema was getting worse and no one was able to clear it up. A new dermatologist gave me creams and pills to stop the itch and clear it up. I also had a patch test and was tested positive for nickel allergy. Funnily enough years and years ago, i had a patch test and was told i was allergic to nickel and to just avoid anything nickel on my skin, no one said anything about food. This time around the Dr just said to me packaged foods have nickel. I eat a healthy diet, use a vegan product line and am a vegetarian and allergic to soy!!! so here i was thinking great, i eat pretty well, i exercise well and now I have been reading about Nickel food allergies and what I cannot eat and I am feeling rather overwhelmed that I cannot see exactly what I can eat!! I stumbled on your website and would appreciate some advice on where to start. Thanks

    1. Hi Michaela,
      Welcome. I’m glad you found my website! As this post mentions, it takes time to adjust to living low nickel. Many of us with systemic nickel allergies ate healthy foods which are also higher in nickel.
      I wouldn’t know how to be vegetarian or vegan on the low nickel diet. I rely on so much meat and dairy to ensure I get enough protein. There’s a lot of great useful stuff on my website. My nickel food allergy story is a great place to start and lists other relevant posts when you’re first diagnosed.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  14. Hello! can not imagine the excitement I feel when I found this site, thanks for creating it, for a moment I thought I was alone with this problem. I did the patch test after a trip to Rome in which the consumption of tomato paste clearly led me to a very uncomfortable situation. I started with an inflammation in eyes including cornea, headache, general inflammation and of course the exzema in hands and feet mainly. the patch test tested positive for allergy to Nickel and Palladium and the allergist told me that I honestly did not know how to orient myself, but that there was clearly an association between allergy to contact with nickel and the consumption of some foods rich in nickel. Since then everything has been a trial and error. I would like to know if you can guide me on the following: Is the patch test sufficient to affirm that I am allergic to Nickel or should I have a blood test?

    1. Hi Eliana,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website! I underwent a skin patch test and then did like you trial and error on the low nickel diet, which pretty much confirmed my systemic nickel allergy. When I eat foods higher in nickel I still break out with eczema symptoms. I don’t think a blood test would provide any additional insight to what you already have, but only you can decide what’s best for you. You could also look into histamine intolerance, as tomatoes are very high in histamines.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

      1. I appreciate your answer, I consider it important to clarify that I live in Colombia but lately I have to travel a lot to different countries for study and work, this complicates things a bit but at the same time it has been a good thing because I have been applying your advice: “concentrate more on what that maybe what you cannot,” I would like to think that this is something temporary or that if I take care for a long time, you can go desensitizing the allergy, I do not really know if this is possible. I have taken the time to read the comments of the people who write on your blog and I am amazed to see how we agree on symptoms and situations. Anyway, everything seems to indicate that the situation changes a lot in each country depending on the soil and in that sense, what harms me the most is the food with a high nickel content, especially if it is processed.
        Thank you very much for doing this work, it is very important for those of us who need guidance in this process, many blessings and I hope we can keep in touch.
        A big hug! Eliana

        1. Hi Eliana,
          Thanks for your comment. There have been some nickel desensitization studies conducted in Italy. I don’t think the results have been positive for all participants and then it has worked well for some.
          Warm regards,
          Christy

  15. In your case, how long did it take between rating suspected culprit foods before you noticed a reaction?

    1. Hi Vonnie,
      Thanks for you comment. I had a skin patch test where I tested positive for a severe nickel allergy and my dermatologist suggested I try the low nickel diet for 4-6 weeks. It took about that long and strict adherence for my symptoms to resolve. Even though it’s been nearly 10 years, everytime I eat something higher in nickel, I still continue to react. The eczema isn’t as bad as it was prior to my living a low nickel life, but I still react. My eczema tends to be around my eyes, lips and on my neck, but I still sometime have reactions on my hands and elbows.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

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