Fruit and veg allergies escalating

Posted by Isobel Drake on 21st April 2009

Immunologists in the UK have reported fruit and vegetables are slowly replacing the peanut as the major cause of allergies in children, with doctors in Australia also noting a rise in reactions to some fresh produce. Despite the rise, allergies are more mild when it comes to fruit and veg and doctors stress that fresh produce remains a key to a healthy diet.

George Du Toit, an allergist and immunologist in London, reports that fruit and vegetables allergies are around five times more common than reactions to peanuts, but the symptoms are normally much, much milder.

“This doesn’t cause anaphylaxis, but causes a tingling and a discomfort in the mouth; a metallic taste in the mouth,” he told ABC radio.

The reactions can be muted by cooking or freezing produce, according to Du Toit.
“People who classically react to apple in its fresh form will tolerate apple pie or tart, or even commercial apple juices that have often been sterilised to increase and prolong their shelf life,” he advised. “Freezing can do the same thing as well, so people who would take berries out the freezer to make a smoothie, who would react to those foods when they’re fresh, will classically tolerate them when they’ve been frozen.”

The rise in allergies to fruit and vegetables is an issue that immunologists are yet to understand.

“People are so aware of the obesity epidemic that we’re all encouraging young kids to eat these healthy foods,” Dr Du Toit noted. “Then as the kids get a bit older suddenly they start complaining and saying to their mother, I really don’t want to eat this apple, it, you know, tingles in my mouth; it feels fury and prickly and makes me uncomfortable.”

“And, of course, the parent thinks that the child is just being fussy and would prefer to eat nonsense food. And as soon as we do these tests I’ve actually had some parents, you know, near to weeping because they’ve really scolded their children for altering their behaviour.”

Dr Graham Solley, a consultant physician in allergic diseases in Queensland, also told the ABC that the numbers allergic to fruit and vegetable is growing.

“A long time ago I never, I hardly ever saw anyone allergic to bananas. But banana in particular is one that I’m seeing more and more patients with,” he said. “The other fruits I’m seeing a lot of, incidentally, are melons; so, rockmelon and watermelon. But I think it’s a fairly minor problem and I think it should be put in that context.”