How Eating Healthy Food Makes Me Sick

You won’t find many fruits or vegetables in my fridge. In the fruit crisper, you might see some golden delicious apples and a few pears. But both must be peeled before I can safely eat them. As for vegetables? I’m free to eat white cabbage, iceberg lettuce, celery and white potatoes — peeled. The reason? I’m have salicylate sensitivity. Just about everything else contains salicylates, particularly produce that has been picked when under ripe.

The good news is that meat, fish, eggs, baked beans, along with bread and some cheeses are trouble free. I’m on a basic, pale-colored, fattening-if-I’m-not-careful diet. No chocolate. Ditto for beer, wine, tea, soft drinks (although I can tolerate club soda), all alcohol except scotch (hooray!) and rye. 

Forget about eating at restaurants, and condiments are out. So is pepper and lemon juice, but what joy, limes are on the OK list. I won’t die of scurvy.

Before my allergist discovered the source of my sensitivities, I was a health-food nut. I had swapped butter for olive oil and ate fruits and veggies by the basket load, but my unexplained breathing and swallowing problems became so severe that I lost 30 pounds in just a few months because of an inability to get food in due to daily choking episodes.

These dangerous-to-me salicylates aren’t just in food. All of our chemical fragrances contain them, as well as grasses, flowers and weeds. One doctor even told me to “run the other way” from people who are wearing clothing scented with dryer sheets. This behavior, of course, is death on my social life. Some families have even told me this is all in my head because these substances cause no problems to them. 

Salicylate sensitivity (also called salicylate allergy) makes employment, school and social gatherings difficult. I try hard not to become a recluse, but many times I have arrived at the home of a friend only to turn around and leave because they have mopped the floor with a scented cleanser or invited other guests whose sunscreen, perfume or hair products initiate breathing problems for me. I wear a mask on airplanes, preferring to endure the snickers and stares than risk an asthma attack.

This might sound depressing, but I’m actually thrilled to have discovered the reason for my trips to the hospital for EpiPens, steroids and intravenous antihistamines. Besides, I haven’t told you what’s in my freezer: Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, the only commercially prepared treat that’s safe for me.

If you think you may have salicylate sensitivity, you can find an easy-to-follow list of the salicylate content of foods online at

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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