Eating non-starchy vegetables is an important part of most diets. However, if you have a cucumber allergy, this may be challenging.
If you’re allergic to cucumbers, you’re not alone. Although cucumber allergy is not one of the Top Eight Food Allergies, some people do have to strictly avoid this popular vegetable.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the symptoms of cucumber allergy, how to avoid cucumbers, other reasons some people need to follow a cucumber-free diet, as well as easy alternatives.
What Are Cucumbers?
Cucumbers are a green, long cylindrical non-starchy vegetable with edible seeds and skin. The flavor is often described as mild, crisp, and cool.
They are grown commercially in many countries and are often grown in home gardens.
Cucumbers are sometimes called, Cukes, Gherkins, and Cowcumbers, although these names can get a bit confusing.
Gherkins are a different member of the gourd family, but they are sometimes called a mini cucumber, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
The term cowcumber is an older word for cucumber that is sometimes still used. Today the word cowcumber also refers to a type of Magnolia tree.
The scientific or Latin Name for cucumber is Cucumis sativus.
Cucumber Food Family
Cucumber is part of the Cucurbitaceae Food family.
The Cucurbitaceae Food family is also known as the gourd food family.
If you are allergic or sensitive to cucumber you may also be allergic or sensitive to other foods in the gourd food family.
The following foods are part of the Cucurbitaceae / gourd food family.
- Bitter Melon
- Winter Squash
- Wax Gourd
Cucumber Allergy Symptoms
Cucumber allergy is caused by a reaction to proteins in cucumbers. When the body comes into contact with these proteins, it releases chemicals that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction. These are generally IgE-mediated reactions.
Allergic reactions to Cucumber are likely to be similar to reactions to other food allergens.
Common food allergy signs and symptoms include the following.
Reactions may include one or many reactions and severity may vary based on factors such as amount eaten and other factors.
- 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 in case of difficulty breathing, difficulty 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.
Cucumber may also trigger other immune mediated, non-IgE hypersensitivity reactions.
Other non-IgE hypersensitivity reactions may also be triggered by XYZ. Food sensitivities may play a 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)
Food intolerances are generally defined as adverse food reactions that are not due to allergic or immune-mediated changes in the body.
Symptoms of Cucumber Intolerance may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loose Stools
These symptoms may be due to the presence of fiber and/or seeds from the cucumber.
Assessing for cross-reactivity, related allergic reactions, and cross allergenicity involve complex clinical decisions. The following information is intended to provide more information and is not a substitute for working with a qualified healthcare provider.
Patients who have adverse reactions to cucumbers may also have adverse reactions to foods and products made from closely related plants.
- Bitter Melon
- Winter Squash
- Wax Gourd
Oral Allergy Syndrome
Cross reactive pollen in foods and plants may cause oral allergy syndrome (OAS), also known as pollen fruit syndrome. Another name for this is pollen food allergy syndrome.
These cross reactions by the immune system can be challenging to identify. The most common symptoms are mouth and throat itching that occur soon after food is placed in to the mouth.
Reactions are usually mild and usually resolve quickly. However, some people have more dangerous responses.
Cucumbers are associated with oral allergy syndrome and related reactions among several foods.
If you have adverse reactions to cucumber, we recommend discussing cross reactivity with your allergist.
People with Ragweed allergy may also be allergic to cucumber, melons, bananas, zucchini, and white potatoes.
Patients with Grass allergy may have adverse reactions to peaches, oranges, celery, tomatoes, and melons. (Cucumbers are part of the melon food family.)
Clustered Food Allergies
People who are allergic to fruits and vegetables may experience a cluster of allergies to cucumber, celery, carrot, and watermelon. These foods likely have shared antigens.
Profilin is a protein present in many types of cells. It is responsible for the cross-reactivity between pollen, latex, and many plant foods.
This substance is involved in related adverse reactions between the cucumber family and ragweed, grasses, trees, weeds, banana, and goosefoot-fruit (in Southern Europe).
Profilin proteins are referred to as panallergens. They can cause allergic reactions between several groups of plants.
Latex Fruit Syndrome
People who are allergic to latex may also have adverse reactions to cucumbers, but research on this reaction is limited. Cucumber allergy may also be associated with latex sensitization.
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 are allergic to cucumbers, be cautious of foods that are prepared near cucumbers. Some examples may include salad bars, sandwich shops, and delis. Practicing good food hygiene may help prevent the risk of cross contamination.
Help For Cucumber Allergy, Sensitivity & Intolerance
Like most things in life, you can make better choices when you have more information.
In the case of known or suspected cucumber allergy, it is recommended to work with an allergist to determine an accurate diagnosis.
We 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. Blood and skin tests may be beneficial.
If you’re allergic to cucumbers, it can be frustrating to have to avoid them and be careful about what you eat. But with careful planning and attention to ingredient labels, you can manage your allergy and enjoy a wide variety of foods.
Safety – Eating Out – School & Social Settings
If you avoid cucumbers or any specific foods, it is good to have a safety plan. 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.
- Do not eat unknown food items.
If you’re planning to eat out, let your server know about your allergy and ask about the ingredients in the dishes you’re interested in. Most restaurants will be happy to accommodate your needs and make sure your food is safe to eat.
In addition to avoiding cucumbers, it’s also important to carry an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) with you at all times. An epinephrine auto-injector can provide lifesaving treatment in case of a severe allergic reaction.
Other Reasons to Avoid Cucumbers
Cucumbers are generally included in most therapeutic and lifestyle diets including autoimmune protocol and Low FODMAP diet. Cucumbers are considered a non-starchy vegetable.
Cucumber seeds are edible and generally healthy to eat. However, some people may need to avoid seeds due to digestive disorders.
Cucumber Seed Oil
Cucumber seed oil is sometimes used as a natural treatment in the management of blood sugar. Supplements taken to support blood sugar control have the potential to cause low blood sugar levels.
Some people are concerned about the wax coatings added to cucumbers during shipping. These waxes are food grade and considered safe. However, they may cause adverse reactions in some people.
If you purchase cucumbers that are waxed, you can scrub them with dish soap or peel them before eating.
Or, choose organic, non-waxed cucumbers.
Cucurbitacin is a naturally occurring chemical in cucumbers and related plants. It may be health-promoting but may also cause burping and gassiness in some people. “Burpless” varieties of cucumbers, cucumber seeds, and cucumber plants are an alternative.
Many foods contain salicylates. These are generally anti-inflammatory and good for the body.
However, some people are sensitive to salicylates and have adverse reactions after eating foods high in salicylates.
Cucumbers contain salicylates. Other foods high in salicylates include broccoli, mushrooms, and spinach.
Common Forms of Cucumber
To manage a cucumber allergy, the best thing to do is avoid cucumbers and foods that contain them.
This can be challenging, as cucumbers are a common ingredient in many foods, including salads, sandwiches, and smoothies.
Be sure to read ingredient labels carefully and avoid any foods that contain cucumbers or cucumber extracts.
Cucumber is often served as a fresh non-starchy vegetable.
Here are some common types of cucumber recipes and presentations:
- As a beverage garnish.
- As a main ingredient in various cucumber-based salads.
- As a salad ingredient, such as in tossed salad and other vegetable salads.
- As a sandwich topping.
- In dips and sauces such as Raita and Tzatziki.
- Pickled – either as commercial pickles or in a home recipe.
Hidden Sources of Cucumbers
Exposure to cucumber may happen in unexpected ways.
Be on the lookout for cucumber in the following:
- Blended Juices and Green juices.
- Chilled Cucumber Soup.
- Cooked as an ingredient in a recipe.
- Cosmetic products.
- Cucumber Seed Oil.
- Detox Waters & Infused Waters.
Substitutes and Alternatives
Cucumbers are a versatile and common vegetable. The good news is that there are many options available if you need to swap ingredients.
When selecting a replacement, be sure to consider how the replacement fits in to the meal you are serving, your taste preferences, and any other foods that you need to avoid.
All foods on these lists might not work for all people, especially when there are multiple food allergies and cross-reactive reactions.
When You Need a Green Vegetable
If your meal or recipe is pretty flexible and you need a non-starchy green vegetable to replace cucumbers, consider one of the following:
- Asparagus (If you can’t eat asparagus, check out this resource.)
- Bitter Melon
- Bok Choy
- Broccoli (If you can’t eat broccoli, check out this resource.)
- Brussels Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- Grape Leaves
- Green Beans
- Green Onions
- Green Pepper
- Mustard Greens
- Sugar Snap Peas
When You Need Another Ingredient in Your Salad
Cucumbers are common in tossed salads, side salads and larger main course salads.
The good thing about salads is that they are versatile and can include all types of ingredients.
Here is a list of often underutilized salad ingredients. Some are non-starchy vegetables like cucumbers, but not all are.
- Black beans
- Chopped chicken, turkey, or other meat – either cold or hot
- Chopped raw asparagus
- Chopped green onions or scallions
- Cherry tomatoes or diced tomatoes
- Green beans
- Green peas
- Sliced radishes
- Sliced onions
- Shredded carrots
- Shredded red or green cabbage
- Sunflower seeds
As a Sandwich Topping
Sliced cucumbers are served on sandwiches to give crunch, color, and nutrients. These vegetables are great on sandwiches also:
- Baby Spinach
- Lettuce such as arugula, butter, or iceberg
- Shredded Carrots
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.
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