Living With Legume Allergy
I have legume allergies and have dealt with severe allergy to peanuts, soy protein (tofu), chickpeas, lentils and some tree-nuts. I am moderate to severely allergic to green peas, lentils, guar gum and soy derivatives (like soybean oil and 'natural flavors'), all of which cause cumulative eczema on my hands along with other not so fun immune system responses such as yeast infection and candida overgrowth (I'll bet you didn't know food allergies cause that!).
I carry an Epi-Pen wherever I go, along with a bottle of Atarax (hydroxyzine) and one very strong corticosteroid lotion. I always have to know where the nearest hospital is in case of anaphylactic shock. Those closest to me know about my legume allergies and what to do in case of an emergency. I spend a quarter of my life reading food labels and researching soy derivatives to stay healthy, happy and productive. Does this sound familiar?
You're probably reading this for someone you love and care for, in the hopes that you can pass on some useful information. Or maybe you are one of the lucky few whose legume allergy symptoms are just a minor annoyance that gives you hives. Either way, I'm going to tell you what I went through, so that you don't make the same mistakes I did, because when it comes to food allergies, mistakes can cost you your life.
I remember it was gross and tasteless; thankfully, after a bite or two I was bored. A couple of minutes later, my throat started to madly itch and I started wheezing slightly. I took a double-dose of Atarax while mom monitored me; it was then that I realized I was allergic to all concentrated soy derivatives. My mom was upset at me for insisting on trying the tofu, but being the stubborn teenager I was, I had to learn the hard way.
I was lucky back then that the soy allergy wasn't extreme because those two bites could have caused anaphylaxis. However, since at the time I would eat soy sauce with no problem and my blood test numbers were low, I took the chance. I've included a video to the right so you can see some of the common visual symptoms of anaphylaxis, however, sometimes visual symptoms are not present.
For years growing up, it just seemed like everything contained legumes or was in the legume family. My doctors wanted me to try foods so that I had more variety in my diet. I know introducing new foods to me was not easy for my family to watch; the last thing they wanted to see was their only child suffering. Under my doctor's recommendations, I put myself through many risky food trials with my arsenal of medications at my side.
I even remember trying tofu (bean curd made from fermented soybeans) back in elementary school. I had an inclination towards trying strange and exotic foods at a very young age and I had heard of this new 'tasteless' low-caloric white food. We had just gotten home from Chinatown in NYC where my Filipino side of my family liked to make special trips once a month.
How Do You Manage Legume Allergies?
When I was little, my mom used to tell me I was allergic to all legumes and I was cautioned never to touch any nuts or beans of any kind.
I remember having pretty severe, oozing, itchy rashes and eczema as well as stomach problems from eating green peas, chickpeas or lentils. Being a food allergy kid in the 80s was not easy for me because my rare multiple allergies were still very new to the medical community, so much of my diagnosis' involved trial and error.
Back then, you had to write a list of all the foods you wanted to be tested for. You end up writing down the first foods that pop into your head, which are added to the top 8 allergens that they primarily test you for; peanuts, soy, tree-nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, fish and shellfish. It is usually assumed by the medical community that if you are highly allergic to one legume you will likely be allergic to others. For this reason, IgE testing (blood test for allergens to specific foods) administered by your allergist is an important step for diagnosis (although the only true test is by eating the food, under the supervision and advice of a physician.) Sometimes IgE tests show false positives for especially sensitive people, since their IgE levels are usually elevated even without eating an allergen.) You can check out my actual bloodwork results here to see what it actually looks like.
My uncle used to love soy milk, so we kept it in the fridge at all times. One day, I became curious and drank some without having any reaction. I drank it regularly for about a year until suddenly out of the blue, I noticed my throat got kinda itchy. Since there was no way to scratch the growing itch in my throat, I started making strange sounds in front of family and was immediately given some Atarax. That was when I added soy milk to my list.
It was also around this time that I discovered I was allergic to newspapers because of soy ink.
I am grateful nowadays we have more resources and education about allergen derivatives and food labeling to minimize mysterious skin reactions that sometimes are not detected by bloodwork.
About a decade ago, without prior warning, the soy allergy became much worse. I unknowingly ate pureed tofu that was mixed into the dressing at a Japanese restaurant. An hour later after walking about ten blocks, I started wheezing. My throat felt itchy and my face and chest started turning red with raised hives. I am grateful I was able to take a Benadryl while my date at the time hailed a cab to get to the nearest ER in time to be treated, although I most definitely should have had two Epi-Pens with me. Why two? Because I found out over the years Epi-Pens only work for 7-10 minutes each.
A Food Allergy Kid Becomes A Food Allergy Adult
Here I am, still in survival mode at age 32. My allergies to many things including walnuts, pine nuts, black beans, pink beans, chocolate, tamarind and milk have disappeared (although I'm still lactose intolerant). My allergy to all soybean derivatives got worse over the years and twelve years ago, I had anaphylactic shock from blenderized tofu that was in the salad dressing at a Japanese restaurant; I didn't realize it was tofu until later. That was probably one of the scarier times in my life I almost died from my food allergies.
So yes, my adult food allergy list continues, although there are some nuts I can have small amounts of; hazelnuts, almonds, pecans and pine nuts. If I eat more than one or two servings, I get mild to moderate symptoms.
Now, as an adult, I am my own food allergy advocate hoping to help others who suffer from multiple legume allergies, too.
Legume Allergy List
An allergy to legumes involves not only knowing about other legumes but also about specific legume derivatives. Each legume, such as soy or peanut will have a different derivative list. These are not derivatives; the list for derivatives is exhausting since more derivatives are added to Google every so often. This is the legume allergy list for the more commonly listed ingredients pulled from various medical sites and resources. If you have a soy allergy, here's the list I've developed and will continue to update with new information.
- Acacia gum
- Adzuki bean
- Beluga lentil
- Black-eyed bean aka black eyed pea
- Black turtle bean
- Borlotti bean
- Broad bean aka fava bean
- Brown lentil
- Cannellini bean
- French bean/green bean/string bean
- Flageolet bean
- Garbanzo bean
- Green pea
- Green lentil
- Guar gum
- Karaya gum
- Kidney bean
- Lima bean aka butter bean
- Locust bean gum
- Lupin or lupine (very close relative of peanuts)
- Mange-tout (refers to pea pods like snow peas, where you can eat the entire thing whole)
- Mung bean
- Navy bean
- Pardina lentil
- Pinto bean
- Puy lentil
- Red lentil
- Runner bean
- Split pea aka dried pea
- Sugar snap pea aka snow pea
- Talca gum
- Tonka bean
- Tragancanth gum
- Urd flour