Green-cabbageBy Pam Hodge
– Eating healthy takes effort and extra time, but we are worth it! So what happens if healthy eating actually appears to be dangerous to us? Is that even a possible scenario? Or are we just trying to get out of eating those healthy veggies?

YES and NO! YES, it is possible, and NO, we are not trying to avoid our veggies! Most people have heard of food allergies and sensitivities to wheat, dairy and peanuts, but not many know about salicylate sensitivity. This is a sensitivity to most fruits, many vegetables, nuts, oils, grains, spices and many, many household products and scents that are derived from plants. Salicylate is actually a chemical that is found in all plants. It is made by the plant to protect itself from environmental factors.

Are you suffering from asthma, rashes, migraines or irritable bowel syndrome? Perhaps you have a salicylate sensitivity and you may actually be intolerant to many fruits, vegetables and other foods. Research shows that about 20% of adults with asthma (1), 60% with of people with food-induced itchy rashes, headaches or migraines, and 70% of people with irritable bowel symptoms (2) may be sensitive to salicylates. In my experience, most people with salicylate intolerance have no idea what could be affecting them.

The diet
Salicylate sensitivity can make meal planning and eating healthy quite an obstacle. Thankfully, there are different levels of salicylates in different foods, which allow those of us with salicylate sensitivity some options – unlike a wheat allergy where wheat must be totally avoided. Salicylate levels fall into one of five categories:

Very High, High, Moderate, Low, Negligible

The majority of spices fall under very high or high. In addition, most fruits are also considered high to very high. Exceptions are peeled pears, golden delicious apples, lime, bananas and plantains, and if you are not too sensitive mangos and pomegranates. Thankfully, there are more veggies to choose from. For me, not all on my favorite list. Bamboo shoots and chokos are both veggies that are safe, but somewhat foreign to me. Other veggies to enjoy are white cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, celery, manioc root, iceberg lettuce and for those not too sensitive potatoes, kale and some green beans and fresh asparagus. If you are on a restricted diet and in need of extra calories edemame beans (frozen soy beans) could be an option as they are high in protein and potassium which can be lacking in a salicylate diet. Some also enjoy cooked and fried manioc/tapioka roots (same thing), as these seems low in salicylate and are high in calories. For those sensitive to plant based oils, ghee from butter can be an option, as this is without harmful milk proteins.

You might experience that your tolerance is individual, so you may not tolerate onions, but tolerate kale from the same group. Some people that experience salicylate sensitivity are also sensitive to histamine as histamine is involved in all intolerance reactions. Because some foods can be low in salicylates and high in amines, like limes and bananas (plantains are lower, so they should be OK), you should test these carefully. Other foods are not yet measured for salicylate content, so this should also encourage to some careful experimenting!

Sometimes in life we must be creative, and if you are struggling with salicylate sensitivity creativity is certainly needed. You can be on a very limited diet and still eat healthy; it does take a little extra energy because you can’t pick up a cookbook and just start cooking. You pick up the cookbook and start substituting! You can change any recipe to fit your needs; all you need is a good creative attitude and a bit of humor!

Salicylates are in many of the products we use on a daily bases. Most soap, lotions, shampoos, detergents, fabric softeners, artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives and products with fragrances contain salicylates. And most natural products are high in salicylates because they are made “naturally” from plants. But fortunately you can find substitutes for all of these products!

Aspirin and other NSAIDs (a type of painkillers) are salicylates because they are made of acetylsalicylic acid. So if you have an allergy to aspirin/NSAIDs you might consider if the foods you are eating and the products you are using could be contributing to any health issues.

Beside the diseases already mentioned salicylate sensitivity can cause many symptoms and unbalances such as headaches, tinnitus, breathing issues, polyps (Samter’s triad), effects on liver and kidney, behavior problems, cardiovascular effects including rapid heart rate, bloating and, very rarely, anaphylaxis. People with poor concentration and children on the autism spectrum have been helped by a low salicylate diet (3).

You should consult a skillful doctor or nutritionist when starting a diet very low in salicylate. As with any elimination diet take special care to slowly reintroduce the foods back into your diet. When reintroducing start with a low amount of salicylate, jumping to moderate, then high, finally to very high. Stopping where you see you symptoms occur. Reintroducing high salicylates too fast can be dangerous if you have a sensitivity.


During the transition from fresh food to a diet from the grocery store, our intake of salicylates increases because salicylates are consentrated in products such as jam, juices, sauces, tomato paste and dried fruit. Still there are consumers reluctant to consider a low salicylate diet. Some believe it is unhealthy to leave out greens from their diet, not realising that it is possible to eat many fresh vegetables and some fruit. Eating a low salicylate diet of unprocessed foods and fresh vegetables actually makes eating much healthier than if you follow the average Western diet.

Avoiding salicylates makes eating quite difficult and eating healthy even harder, but you are still worth it!

Learn more
Forum for salicylate sensitivity
Join others with salicylate sensitivity in a facebook group
Detailed list of salicylate in foods
Make up and body care without salicylate: Cleure
Supplements and therapies without salicylate
Difficulties finding toothpaste you can tolerate – might wanna try a water flosser, like this one from Waterpik
Science on salicylate
Samters Triad – the connection between nasal polyps, asthma and salicylate sensitivity

Pam Hodge has been salicylate sensitive for three years. Because it took over a year to identify the intolerance, she likes to inform people about salicylate sensitivity and make people aware of how hard it can be to identify. In her spare time she enjoys baking and painting.

Birgitte Rodh

(1) Jenkins C, Costello J, Hodge L. Systematic review of prevalence of aspirin induced asthma and its implications for clinical practice. Brit Med J 2004;328(7437):434.
This review found that many more adult asthmatics are sensitive to salicylates than are aware of their sensitivity. While only 3% reported aspirin sensitivity, 21% of adult asthmatics reacted to oral challenges.

(2) Loblay RH, Swain AR. ‘Food intolerance’. In Wahlqvist ML, Truswell AS, Recent Advances in Clinical Nutrition. London: John Libbey, 1986, pages 169-177.

(3) Swain A, Soutter V, Loblay R, Truswell AS. Salicylates, oligoantigenic diets, and behaviour. Lancet 1985;2(8445):41-2.