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.
2. 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.
3. 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.”
4. 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.
5. 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!