When I met Christy, I knew I hit the jackpot of partners. When we married, I felt like the luckiest person on Earth. I’ve seen the torment, pain and embarrassment she’s suffered over the years, trying to deal with her eczema. When her doctor finally diagnosed her with a nickel food allergy, I was relieved but knew, she would need help. It was a long list of foods, many of which were healthy for me, but very bad for her. Here is a list of some strategies and attitudes that have helped both of us navigate the complexities of an obscure, readily dismissed, but serious food allergy.
Memorize The List of Food Containing High Nickel provided by your doctor.
This seemed almost impossible for me at first. It was only a 3×5 index card but holy hell, it was A LOT of things on that list. Some were easy to remember, common food allergens: nuts, soy, oats. Some items were very specific: raspberries, coconut, beans. Other items were larger, categories of food: legumes (peas and beans), leafy greens, chocolate. Some of the categories of foods have lots of variation with varying levels of nickel from item to item but generally, the darker the green, the higher the nickel… but not always. Sometimes the packaging (canned), growing season, pesticides or geographic location were factors. I had to watch Christy suffer through lots of very red, painful, inflamed and itchy trial and error. It was hard to watch. I took that feeling of uncertainty and strong desire to help and memorized that list. It was helpful.
Even if your role within the household doesn’t involve grocery shopping or cooking, you can help. Fantastic sites like: Allrecipes.com allow you to filter for ingredients. This includes excluding ingredients. If you want to eat well and healthy for you and your partner, find a few recipes that don’t contain well known high nickel ingredients or substitute. Strawberries for raspberries. Albacore light tuna for deli meat. If you eat, you’ve got a role to play in finding solutions. I really enjoy taking time every week, even after years and finding new recipes that will work with ingredients on hand for new and seasonal flavors. I subscribe to Allrecipes.com and use several food blogs like: https://natashaskitchen.com/ or https://www.food.com/. They don’t have explicitly low nickel recipes, but they can easily be adapted, if you’ve memorized the list (see above). If you participate, you can ensure you both eat meals your love and can put into the meal rotation regularly.
Go Grocery Shopping
Now that you have a meal plan and have a good idea what’s on the list, go grocery shopping with a grocery list. Even if you work long hours and don’t like the grocery store. If you’re ordering online for pickup, participate in that too. I ensure that I get items for my own health and well being, including treats (Reses anyone?). We actually enjoy grocery shopping. Well, we did before Covid. Now one of us masks up, runs in, avoiding all human contact and leaves ASAP. Supporting your partner means you’re involved in food choices. It’s stressful to provide for a household’s meals. It’s difficult and time consuming to read labels each and every time you go to the store. You do have to read the labels of products you buy because due to cost of ingredients and availability, food manufacturer’s change ingredients, all the time. By shopping with you partner, you can buy produce or team up to check labels, reducing the time and stress it takes to shop.
Sometimes, you just want to buy dinner and be done with it. Perhaps a special occasion or travel requires restaurant dining or take out. Memorize that list of nickel allergens. Do it. Seriously. Then, you can order out or take your special person out on an effortless date, knowing they can order off the menu. When your partner orders, reiterate that they have a food allergy to the server. If the server gets the order wrong, get it corrected or order something else. Always have your partners back. NEVER demean or make jokes diminishing the seriousness or importance of your partners allergy. The next person who comes along with a life threatening allergy will thank you. Your partner will thank you. You may even get a special dessert for your efforts.
Give Nickel Free Gifts
Cut flowers depress me. Seriously, you killed flowers and left their fragrant corpses on the table? Christy loves cut flowers. I cope with a bit of carnation carnage from time to time. Typical gifts and thoughtful mementos often contain nickel.
Jewelry: nickel. Chocolate: nickel. Fancy Restaurants: Nickel. Even the lotion professional massage therapists use has nickel. What’s a loving spouse to do? Make dinner. Clean the house, particularly the kitchen and bathroom. Take a trip with packed food. Buy a cooler or skillet to cook when on a road trip. Also, foot rubs and back massages using your partner’s lotion work well and don’t cost a thing. I bought a pickleball set for our tennis courts. Loving care goes farther than trinkets.
A major factor in managing a nickel food allergy and it’s symptoms is reducing stress. I know, I know, everyone says that. Yeah, because it’s true. I use an app called https://www.simplehabit.com/ to meditate. I enjoy walks during the day with Christy. We’re lucky enough to make time for hiking and walking during the day. She drags me out of the house a fair amount of the time. I find social interactions increasingly stressful with Covid and generally bad behavior by some bad actors in our particular culture here in Utah. Still, outdoors is best. Vitamin D is excellent for your body and sunlight really does kill many ills. I eat well and often. I’m blessed to have adorable fur kids to pet and snuggle. The last year (March 2020-April 2021) has been a particularly difficult for all of us. An attitude of hopefulness is beneficial for me. It’s also essential to help avoid carrying the burden of my stress, fears and frustrations into my marriage. Part of being a good partner is a bit of self regulating my emotions. I have friends to talk to outside the relationship (mutual friends). My insurance provides a Health Coach, which is really more talk therapy most weeks but does keep me eating leafy greens. It’s a free service.
I hope you are loved. I hope the people you love understand the challenge that this allergy presents and help you along the way. Offering understanding, compassion and snacks.