The curious world of food intolerance

So, here I am, 55 and a long way from vowing never to eat another tomato (and a long way from the last post on this blog). It isn’t just tomatoes, and it appears a lot more is causing my eczema than I thought.

One thing I did sort out was talking to my mother about foods she had craved when she was pregnant with me. They turned out to be tomatoes and oranges. So since 2008 I have broadened what I eliminate from or reduce in my diet and worked out what the following foods do.

Nightshades – tomatoes, peppers, chillis, aubergines and potatoes. All members of this plant family cause, within three to four days of eating, small red spots to appear under the surface of my skin at extremities – fingers and feet, particular just above the ankles. These reach the surface causing broken skin and lots of flakiness. The condition is eased by topical steroids, now right up to Dermovate in strength – it’s the weapon of last resort – in order to have any effect. Tomato and potato plants, by the way, make me itch if I touch them. Peeling a potato is a task that now requires gloves, although it never used to be. With corn starch being expensive, I have to watch ingredients for thickening agents and stock cubes, as potato starch is used as a cheaper substitute.

Citrus – lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit and so on. All cause my palms to split, quite painfully with deep fissures, and flake. Nothing seems to help this except not eating citrus. Citric acid gets shoved into all sorts of drinks and appears to be the culprit. I had a bad post-Ribena episode.

Dairy – milk, cheese and so on, whether cow, goat or sheep. Causes my palms to flake and crack, and digestive problems (wind and internal discomfort). I’ve always hated milk, to the point of vomiting, but loved cheese. Lactose-free milk or cheese makes no difference. Bio yoghurt, however, is survivable but I hate the smell – I’ve moved to soya yoghurts.

Onions. The most recent discovery – they cause terrible digestive problems (wind) but don’t appear to have any effect on my skin. I’ve just had an onion-free week and feel much better for it. Was worried about IBS up to this week, but this experiment has eased my mind considerably. I have to explore whether leeks and garlic have a similar effect. I explored this because despite cutting out dairy, digestive issues were getting worse.

I will say that these are intolerances, not allergies. I can eat any of the above without causing alarm except, the sure knowledge, that three to four days later they will have an effect (dairy and onions have a more immediate digestive effect, i.e. within 24 hours). Some foods, such as citrus, take several days of eating to have their effect, so I can risk, for example, a little mixed peel in cake, or lemon juice on fish, provided that I don’t do it repeatedly over a short period. I can risk a pizza, particularly a cheese-free one, once in a while; using a substitute for tomato sauce based on butternut squash, I can enjoy them more often.

I also make sure that if I eliminate anything from my diet as an experiment that I am sure to be responsible and take in the equivalent vitamins and minerals from other food. No one wants scurvy from lack of vitamin C, or brittle bones because of lack of calcium. So, to eliminate milk, for example, I use soya milk or coconut milk that has been fortified with calcium and such – not organic soya, which simply hasn’t got the replacement nutrients (I use Alpro, which isn’t GMO – cheap, fortified soya is usually GMO). I don’t use or cook with nut products (such as nut milks) because my wife is severely allergic to them.

Being careful with the above has greatly reduced my use of topical steroids: a tube of Dermovate typically now lasts 10 weeks instead of four and is used for firefighting outbreaks, not as a matter of routine, when I have been stupid about my diet. Emollient is now usually enough.

More experimentation, and some substitute recipes to follow.

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