This next sentence isn’t going to surprise anyone: eating fruits and vegetables is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health and reduce your risk of disease. Even those of us who enjoy eating fruits and vegetables can often benefit from eating a wider variety more often. When we’re not quite hitting the mark on consumption, it’s important to ask ourselves why.
While folks might cite reasons like cost, not knowing how to prep or not liking the taste of fruits and vegetables, one reason I hear fairly often is that eating fresh produce causes uncomfortable, allergy-like reactions. Typically, these symptoms will be connected to melon, banana, avocado, apples or celery, but nearly any fresh fruit or veggie can cause issues if the conditions are right.
If you notice mild reactions from some fresh produce items, you may have oral allergy syndrome (OAS), also known as pollen-food syndrome. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology explains OAS as being “caused by cross-reacting allergens found in both pollen and raw fruits, vegetables or some tree nuts.” This means, the same pollen particles that float in the air and cause traditional allergy symptoms are also present in raw produce. When eaten, they can cause the same symptoms, except inside your mouth and throat. If you’re like most OAS sufferers, only certain foods will elicit this reaction, making the situation even more confusing for those that aren’t aware of this inside-the-food pollen predicament.
The nature of OAS can be explained by studying different groupings of foods that tend to be higher in certain types of pollen. If you’re most allergic to birch pollen, for example, you’re likely to have problems eating fresh apples, carrots and kiwi. For grass pollen, you may be unable to tolerate fresh peaches or tomato. You may have noticed that your trigger foods tend to gravitate toward one of the following three groups:
- Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear and plum
- Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches and tomato
- Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds and zucchini
OAS may be affected by many factors. Because pollen proteins are broken down by heat, you may be able to eat cooked forms of these foods, or even canned or dried versions since they are exposed to heat during processing. Though OAS rarely progresses beyond local symptoms in the mouth, tongue and throat, these reactions may be severe in a small number of individuals. If you think you may be suffering from OAS, make an appointment to speak with an allergist to help narrow down your individual sensitivities and conduct food challenges as needed. Once you have identified your triggers, make an appointment with a registered dietitian to further clarify your individual needs and help you plan healthy meals that still include fresh fruits and vegetables.