Pectin Allergy: Help for a Rare but Scary Condition

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In this blog post, we will shed light on an important topic: pectin allergy. 

Pectin is a common ingredient found in many food products. It can sometimes trigger allergic reactions in certain individuals. 

By understanding this allergy, you can make informed choices about your groceries. 

Read on to learn more about pectin allergy, its symptoms, and how to manage it effectively.

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What Is Pectin?

Pectin is a dietary fiber that naturally occurs in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. 

The fiber is made up of a complex set of polysaccharides and helps bind cell walls together. 

It is used as an ingredient in foods, beverages, medications, and supplements. It is similar in function to gelatin, but is plant based, not animal based. 

What Does It Do?

Thickening Agent / Gelling Agent

Pectin is used as a thickening agent. It is often used in making jams, jellies, marmalades, and other preserves. For these foods, it is usually cooked at a high temperature with acid and sugar in order to produce the desired texture. 

It is also used for tarts and fruit glazes that have gelatinous or gel-like textures. 

It can also be used to thicken foods such as yogurt, dressings, protein shakes and others.

Stabilizer

Pectin is added to foods to maintain a consistent texture. For example, yogurt that does not contain pectin may separate into solid and liquid parts. 

Health Benefits

Pectin is also used in some medications and dietary supplements for its potential health benefits. The following are some potential benefits and uses of pectin:

  • As a delivery vehicle for other medications or ingredients
  • Regulate the immune system
  • Improve blood sugar 
  • Improve gastrointestinal health
  • Lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Protect against cancer
  • As a prebiotic – an ingredient that is not digested and promotes growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract 

Where Does Pectin Come From?

This dietary fiber is naturally present in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables.

As a food ingredient, it is often derived from apples and citrus fruits. 

It is extracted from the fruit peels or pomace (the fiber that remains after juice is extracted from a fruit). After extraction, it is dried into a powder.

Photo of jams and jellies in glass jars with garnishes of red berries, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, and peaches; for blog post about pectin allergy for Single Ingredient Groceries.

Pectin Allergy

Pectin allergy is rare, but case reports indicate that it may cause severe symptoms in some people. This condition can be scary and stressful because it is difficult to diagnose.

Diagnosis

Due to the difficulty in diagnosing this condition, it is recommended to work with an allergist who can assess your symptoms, medical history, and perform allergy tests. Allergists can also help you formulate a safety plan. 

Identifying a pectin allergy may be challenging for several reasons. 

First, pectin can be sourced from several foods.

Second, food labels may not indicate what food the pectin is sourced from.

Third, it may be difficult to identify that pectin was the trigger of one or more adverse food reactions. This is because it can be used in many types of foods that appear to be unrelated. 

For example, if someone had an allergic reaction after eating yogurt then another reaction after eating toast with jam, it would likely not be obvious that there was a common food ingredient. 

Lastly, the adverse reaction may not be directly in response to the pectin fiber. It is possible that some people are reacting to proteins from the fruit seeds that are present during processing. 

Lipid-Transfer Proteins

Pectin is usually made from fruits that contain lipid-transfer proteins. These allergic reactions can be difficult to diagnose. 

Cashew and Pistachio Cross Reactivity

There are some case reports that indicate that people with IgE mediated cashew and pistachio allergy may be more likely to experience pectin allergy. 

The specific mechanism has not been identified. However, it may be a cross reaction between proteins in the tree nut and the fruit (or the seeds of the fruit) that the pectin was derived from. 

Occupational Hazard

There are some reports of pectin induced occupational asthma, rhinitis, and contact dermatitis among people who come into frequent contact with pectin. 

Pectin Allergy Symptoms

Allergy to pectin is relatively rare, but it can occur in susceptible individuals.

An allergic reaction to pectin happens when the immune system identifies pectin as a harmful substance and releases antibodies to defend against it. The symptoms can vary from mild to severe and may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Atopic Dermatitis
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness 
  • Eczema
  • Fainting
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Itching in the mouth
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • 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
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing    

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

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction. It can be caused by pectin 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:

  • Angioedema
  • Cardiovascular symptoms
  • Constriction of the airway
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Fast pulse
  • Lightheadedness
  • 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.

Managing Pectin Allergy:

If you suspect that you have a pectin allergy, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis. They can help confirm the allergy and guide you in managing it effectively. 

Here are a few key strategies for managing pectin allergy:

Reading Labels

Always carefully read ingredient labels before purchasing any food products. Look for terms like “pectin,” “fruit pectin,” or “modified citrus pectin.” Being vigilant about labels will help you avoid products that contain pectin.

Dietary Changes

Avoid consuming foods known to contain pectin, such as jams, jellies, fruit preserves, and certain processed foods. Opt for whole, fresh fruits and vegetables instead, as they do not contain added pectin. 

Be aware of other food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances and avoid those foods as well. 

Medication and Supplements

If you have a pectin allergy, it’s important to check the ingredient list of any medications or supplements you take. Speak with your healthcare provider to find suitable alternatives if necessary.

Allergy Emergency Plan: 

If you have a severe allergy, consider carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen) with you at all times. Ensure that your family, friends, or colleagues are aware of your allergy and know how to administer the epinephrine in case of an emergency.

Help is Available

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. 

Pectin Sensitivity

Other non-IgE hypersensitivity reactions may also be triggered when pectin is consumed as an added ingredient. The reaction would most likely depend on the source of the pectin and if the person was sensitive to the food it was extracted from. 

Food sensitivities may play role in many conditions such as:

  • ADD/ADHD
  • Atopic Dermatitis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Colitis
  • Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • GERD
  • Inflammatory Arthritis
  • Insomnia
  • Interstitial Cystitis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Migraine
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Psoriasis
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Urticaria (Hives)


If you suspect that you have a sensitivity to XYZ (or other foods), we recommend working with a Certified Leap Therapist who may recommend Mediator Release Testing. 

Intolerance

Food intolerances are generally defined as adverse food reactions that are not due to allergic or immune-mediated changes in the body.

Symptoms of Pectin Intolerance may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Gas 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Flatulence 
  • Loose Stools 

These symptoms would most likely be due to the fiber content and its effects on the GI system. 

Hidden Sources of Pectin

While pectin is commonly found in products like jams and jellies, it can also be present in unexpected places. Here are some hidden sources of pectin to be aware of:

Processed Foods

Pectin can be used as a stabilizer or thickening agent in a variety of processed foods, including baked goods, canned fruits, fruit juices, yogurt, and certain desserts. Always check the ingredient list or look for products labeled “pectin-free” to avoid hidden sources.

Medications and Supplements

Pectin is sometimes used as an excipient in medications and supplements. It can be present in chewable tablets, gummies, or as an ingredient in certain oral suspensions. Be sure to read the labels or consult with your healthcare provider if you have concerns about specific medications or supplements.

Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

Pectin can also be found in cosmetic and personal care products, such as creams, lotions, and hair products. Individuals with pectin allergies should carefully read the ingredient lists of these products or opt for pectin-free alternatives.

Infographic for Single Ingredient Groceries blog post about Pectin allergy, with title "hidden sources of pectin." Images of and text: juice, yogurt, canned fruit, medication, supplements, desserts.

Pectin Substitute

If you have a pectin allergy or prefer to avoid pectin for other reasons, there are several alternatives and substitutes you can consider for thickening and gelling purposes:

Agar

Agar is a gelatinous substance derived from seaweed. It can be used as a pectin substitute in recipes, especially for making jams, jellies, and desserts. Agar is available in powder or flake form and provides a similar thickening effect.

Cornstarch

Cornstarch is used as a thickening agent and may be used as a substitute for pectin. (Read this blog post if you can’t eat corn.)

Gelatin

Gelatin is a common alternative to pectin in recipes that require a gelled texture. 

However, it is derived from animal sources, so may not be suitable for everyone, including those who are vegan and vegetarian. Not all gelatin is kosher or halal, but it can be made from kosher and halal sources.  

Sugar

Some jams and jellies are made by cooking for longer periods of time and using more sugar. 

Final Thoughts

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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