You’ve probably heard of people being allergic to things like peanuts or shellfish, but did you know that it’s also possible to be allergic to broccoli?
While it may seem strange, allergic reactions to broccoli and related foods have been documented.
So, what exactly is a broccoli allergy? And what are the symptoms? Keep reading to learn everything you need about this uncommon food allergy.
What is a Broccoli Allergy?
A broccoli allergy is a type of food allergy that occurs when your body overreacts to the proteins in broccoli. (The term allergy generally refers to Ig-E mediated reactions.)
Like other allergies, broccoli allergies can range from mild to severe. In some cases, people with broccoli allergies may only experience minor symptoms, such as an itchy mouth or a runny nose.
However, in more severe cases, broccoli allergies can cause anaphylaxis. This is a potentially life-threatening condition that can cause throat swelling and difficulty breathing.
Contact dermatitis due to broccoli exposure is rare but possible. It is likely that isothiocyanates found in broccoli (and other foods in the Brassicaceae family) are the cause of this type of allergic reaction.
Broccoli Food Family
Broccoli is part of the Brassicaceae food family. This food family is also known as the Cruciferous (Cruciferae) food family and the Mustard food family.
If you are allergic to broccoli, you might have adverse reactions to other vegetables within this food family as they may share similar proteins.
The Mustard Food family includes these foods:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Mustard Seeds
- Rapeseed (Used to make Canola Oil)
What are Broccoli Allergy Symptoms?
The symptoms of a broccoli allergy can vary depending on the severity of the allergy. For some people, eating broccoli may cause an itchy mouth or throat. Others may experience wheezing or difficulty breathing. In more severe cases, anaphylaxis may occur.
Some people with broccoli allergies may only experience symptoms when they eat large amounts of broccoli or when they eat raw broccoli. However, others may experience symptoms even if they only consume small quantities regardless of whether the broccoli is cooked or raw.
Allergic reactions to broccoli are likely to be similar to reactions to other food allergens.
Reactions may include one or many reactions and severity may vary based on factors such as amount eaten and other factors.
The following are common food allergy signs and symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Itching in the mouth
- Nasal congestion
- Swelling of any body part
- Swelling of the face
- Swelling of the lips
- Swelling of the tongue and throat
- Tingling in the mouth
- Trouble breathing
Call your doctor immediately if you or your child have symptoms of an allergic reaction. Call 911 for difficulty breathing, swallowing, or other life-threatening symptoms.
Anaphylaxis is a life threatening allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis can be caused by food allergy or other allergens. Reactions may be more severe if more than one part of the body is affected.
Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis include:
- Cardiovascular symptoms
- Constriction of the airway
- Difficulty breathing
- Fast pulse
- Loss of consciousness
- Sensation of a lump in the throat
- Drop in blood pressure
- Shock, including a drastic drop in blood pressure
- Swollen throat
- Tightening of the airway
These reactions require immediate medical attention.
Broccoli may also trigger other immune-mediated, non-IgE hypersensitivity reactions.
Food sensitivities may play role in many conditions, such as:
- Atopic Dermatitis
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Crohn’s Disease
- Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome
- Inflammatory Arthritis
- Interstitial Cystitis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Urticaria (Hives)
Broccoli is associated with salicylate sensitivity.
Salicylates are natural compounds found in many plants, foods, and personal care products. Salicylates may have some health benefits but may also provoke adverse food reactions.
Salicylates are present in numerous foods, beverages, personal care products, and medications such as aspirin. If you are sensitive to salicylates, we recommend working closely with a knowledgeable healthcare provider.
Food intolerances are generally defined as adverse food reactions that are not due to the immune system or immune-mediated changes in the body. Often, these intolerances cause digestive discomfort and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Symptoms of broccoli Intolerance may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Frequent bowel movements
- Loose Stools
These symptoms may be due to the presence of fiber and specifically raffinose, a type of soluble fiber that is fermented in the colon.
Low FODMAP Diet
The serving size of broccoli may be limited on Low FODMAP diets and for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. We recommend working closely with a Registered Dietitian to personalize these diets as they can be very beneficial but also very challenging.
Broccoli is associated with cross reactivity between lipid transfer proteins. This group of proteins is found in many foods including blueberries.
If lipid transfer protein allergy is known or suspected, we recommend working closely with your healthcare provider to ensure that food triggers are identified and also so that your diet doesn’t become unnecessarily restrictive.
Pollen Food Syndrome
Pollen-food allergy syndrome (PFAS) is a rare type of food allergy. It develops when people react to pollen from trees or other plants.
Mugwort-mustard allergy syndrome (MMAS) is a type of pollen food allergy syndrome. People with MMAS are allergic to mugwort and also have reactions to mustard.
There is at least one case of a person having MMAS and reacting to broccoli in addition to mustard. (Both broccoli and mustard are in the same food family.)
Cross contamination is a risk for people with food allergies. Cross contamination can occur on farms, in processing, in manufacturing, as well as in homes, restaurants, and food service settings like hospitals and schools.
If you have a broccoli allergy, be cautious of foods that are prepared near broccoli. Some examples may include salad bars, soup bars, pizza shops, cafeterias, and deli counters.
Practicing good food hygiene may help prevent the risk of cross contamination.
Help For Broccoli Allergy, Sensitivity & Intolerance
If you’re not sure whether or not you have a broccoli allergy, we recommend consulting an allergist.
An allergist will be able to determine whether or not you have a true allergy and will offer guidance on how best to avoid triggers and manage your symptoms. You may need an allergy test.
We also recommend working with an Allergist, Registered Dietitian, Certified Nutrition Specialist, or Certified Leap Therapist to identify which foods are safest for you and which foods you should avoid.
If you avoid broccoli or any specific foods, it is good to have a safety plan for when you eat out at restaurants, in social settings, or at school. The following strategies may be helpful:
- Always check ingredient lists and read all food labels.
- Be aware of common ways the trigger food is used.
- Be aware of possible hidden sources of the trigger food.
- Ask your doctor if you should carry an EpiPen or other medication in case of accidental ingestion.
- Have a support system such as friends, family members, school nurse, teachers, coworkers, and your health care providers.
- Ask questions about how food is prepared and handled.
- When in doubt, choose safety first.
Other Reasons to Avoid Broccoli
Broccoli is generally included on most therapeutic diets due its nutritional profile.
However, broccoli may be avoided for the following reasons:
Broccoli is high in Vitamin K and may be a concern for people taking warfarin (Coumadin) or for people with medical conditions related to blood clotting. Generally speaking, people who take Warfarin should eat a consistent amount of Vitamin K.
Some people just don’t like broccoli! The taste might be too intense and some people dislike the texture.
Cooked or pureed broccoli may be better tolerated by people with dental problems.
Bariatric Surgery & Other GI Surgeries
The fibrous texture of broccoli may not be tolerated after bariatric surgery or other GI Surgeries.
Common Forms of Broccoli
Broccoli is commonly found in the following foods:
- As an ingredient in frozen vegetable blends.
- As a main ingredient in broccoli cheese soup.
- As a main ingredient in stir fry dishes.
- As part of a vegetable platter.
- As a side dish.
- In casseroles.
- In salads.
- Dried broccoli – such as in soups, noodle mixes, and other prepared foods.
It is often sold as:
- Broccoli Florets (fresh or frozen)
- Fresh broccoli
- Frozen broccoli
- Head of broccoli (fresh)
- Stems and pieces (frozen)
Hidden Sources of Broccoli
Broccoli may be found in less obvious foods as well. These include:
- As a pizza topping.
- Dietary supplements (broccoli powder, greens powders,Sulforaphane).
- In salad mixes or as a salad ingredient.
- In a quiche.
- In cole slaw or vegetable slaw.
- In vegetarian burgers.
If you are cooking a recipe that calls for broccoli and you need a substitute, consider the following options which will replicate some of the texture and flavors of broccoli:
- Cabbage – Shredded cabbage can easily be substituted for shredded broccoli.
- Cauliflower – this vegetable is in the same food family as broccoli and will cook similarly.
- Brussels Sprouts, Kale, Collard Greens, Mustard Greens – these vegetables will provide a strong flavor and beautiful green color.
If you need to avoid the broccoli food family, you may choose other vegetables based on color, preference and availability. Some ideas include carrots and green beans.
If you can’t eat broccoli you might want to find alternative foods that provide nutrients found in broccoli.
Broccoli contains soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can also be found in these foods:
- Beans and Lentils
Broccoli is a source of Vitamin C. Other sources include:
- Bell Pepper
- Chili Pepper
Broccoli is a source of Vitamin K. Other sources include:
- Green Leaf Lettuce
- Green Peas
How Common is a Broccoli Allergy?
There is some anecdotal evidence of IgE-Mediated allergic reactions to broccoli but limited published data on the prevalence of broccoli allergy.
Can You be Allergic to Broccoli?
Yes, IgE-Mediated allergic reactions to broccoli are possible. Other adverse reactions to broccoli are also possible.
Choosing groceries when you have food allergies can be challenging. This is why we recommend choosing groceries made with a single ingredient and focusing on what you CAN eat, not just what you have to avoid.
Have you had an adverse reaction to broccoli? Tell us about it in the comments.
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