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The Surprising Reason Behind Your New Food Allergies

February 12, 2014

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On a recent visit, my sister and I joined forces in the kitchen and started to slice and dice an assortment of fruits and veggies for a simple raw salad. As we got to the apples, she made a confession. “I know this might sound strange, but I think I’ve recently become allergic to red and green, and basically all kinds of apples. Does that make any sense?” The fruit that she’s eaten for 28 years  with no problem now causes her throat to itch like crazy. Was  the culprit wax, pesticides, or something else?

Research shows that new food allergies tend to pop up in your twenties and thirties, thanks to life and body changes like hormone levels, stress, pregnancy, environmental irritants, and even chronic illness.  And, unluckily for us ladies, there’s a higher incidence of adult-onset food allergies in women over men.

Although gluten, soy, nut, and egg allergies get the most attention these days, the most common culprit of new food allergies in adults is actually pollen. Pollen-food allergy, also known as oral allergy syndrome, is triggered by traces of different pollens found on raw fruits, vegetables, honey, and even nuts that may cause reactions such as a burning in the mouth, itchiness, gastro distress, and, in serious cases, anaphylaxis. If you have seasonal allergies, there’s a 1 in 3 chance you may experience an oral reaction to pollen.

If you think pollen might be to blame for your tingling tongue and itchy mouth, try examining your diet to identify the offending foods. Here are some of the most common offenders when it comes to harboring pollen proteins:

You’re Reacting To:  apple, berries, plums, peaches, celery, or almonds

It May Be:  A cross-reaction to birch pollen, small proteins released from birch tree. This allergy may cause reactions ranging from eczema to hoarseness and a raw, scratchy throat. Apples are the most common carrier of this allergen, but other foods such as celery and carrots may also trigger a similar response, according to researchers from the University of Michigan. 

You’re Reacting To: honey bee products, such as bee pollen supplements, royal jelly, raw honey, or propolis lozenges

It May Be: An allergy to bee pollen. Unfortunately, eating these protein-packed, antioxidant-rich superfoods may set off a cross-reaction that triggers allergy symptoms like a skin rash or lightheadedness, or even full-blown anaphylaxis. 

You’re Reacting To: melons, kiwi, banana, zucchini, cucumber, or teas including Echinacea and chamomile

It May Be: Because of ragweed. Pollen from this flowering plant that may cause runny nose, hives, and swelling when you eat raw foods containing it. With produce like bananas and zucchinis, you may experience less of a reaction by cooking them.

You’re Reacting To: Tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, or oranges

It May Be: Grass-pollen-related. You might experience an itchy skin rash when you eat foods containing this fine, powder-like pollen. Consider experimenting with various forms of tomato, such as paste and sauce, as well as juicing these fruits or vegetables to see whether your reaction lessens at all. 

When pollen-related allergies strike, there are several ways to manage, treat, and prevent symptoms. Try to peel the fruit or vegetable before eating it, since most of the pollen proteins are found in the skin. You could also experiment with cooking your produce, because heat may reduce pollen proteins on food and has found to mitigate reactions in most cases (except for with celery and nuts).  You may also want to try an elimination diet, or avoiding the food altogether to see if symptoms subside, or start a food journal or log to better pinpoint the types of fruits, nuts, and veggies that are giving you the most trouble.  

Have you ever experienced allergic reactions after eating produce?