BBC Food blog

« Previous | Main | Next »

What odd reactions do you get from food?

Post categories:

Stefan Gates Stefan Gates | 11:52 UK time, Friday, 15 April 2011

We all know that food provides core metabolic functions such as providing nutrients to power and constantly rebuild your body, but that’s all way too complex and involved for a 300-word blog piece. So let’s stick to low-hanging fruit: the weird and wonderful effects of various ingredients. I’ve been asking people about their weird food reactions for years, and here are a few to get you to open up and share yours.

‘Apples make my legs itch.’

Sounds weird, but apples can, indeed cause allergic reactions, although it’s usually OAS – Oral Allergy Syndrome, rather than anything leggy. 

Fir potatoes

‘I get nightmares after eating potatoes’
Dreams – or at least the ability to remember your dreams - are often associated with disrupted sleep. There may be many causes, but one amino acid protein known to stimulate the brain and so potentially cause that disrupted sleep is tyrosine, created in the body from tyramine in foods. It’s in alcohol, chocolate, cheese, and according to this unverified source, potatoes. 

‘Asparagus makes my wee smell awful’

The asparagus effect is pretty widespread – around half of the 500 or so people I’ve asked have experienced the same. There’s been a bit of disagreement on what causes the smell, but it’s likely to be mercaptan, a sulphur-containing compound. Interestingly, it seems that asparagus affects everyone’s urine, but not everyone can smell its effects. Oh, and while many people think the smell is grim, Proust claimed that it “…transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.” I think I agree.



Assorted others:
‘Cashews make me sneeze’
‘Golden syrup makes me cough’
‘Curry gives me smelly sweat’

Personally, cheese seems to make me dream, chillies give me hiccups, asparagus makes my wee smell, Jerusalem artichokes make me pump like that cheeky Icelandic volcano, and butter substitutes make me sad. What about you?

Stefan Gates is a BBC presenter and food writer.


  • Comment number 1.

    Soups in chinese restaurants make my head feel like there's internal pressure. Wears off very quickly, usually before end of the meal. I have read that this is one symptom of the widely debunked "chinese restaurant syndrome", due to high dose of MSG.
    Jerusalem artichokes? me too!

  • Comment number 2.

    It seems that plenty of our readers have strange reactions to food that you shared on the BBC Food messageboard over the weekend. You also pointed out the difference between sensitivities and allergies. Here are some of the highlights:

    coffee4you: Sunflower seeds make my throat itch... Pineapple gives me sores in the corners of my mouth (that is when I eat too much)... Onions make my eyes weep...

    Joanbunting: Very timely - we have been discussing the asparagus "problem" already today and Jerusalem fartychokes a few days ago! Apart from these two, flour makes me sneeze as I did this morning while making scones. So much so M thinks I should wear a mask; now how silly would that look? MSG makes me wheeze quite badly so I have to be careful in Chinese restaurants. My daughter always says that raw tomatoes make the soles of her feet itch.

    lusciouslush: MSG gives me massive heart palpitations and I can tell within half an hour whether the food I am eating contains it.

    bellehelene: Popcorn, fresh coffee and sugar puffs make my wee wee smell funny. Cold roast potatoes give hiccups. Hot curry with extra chilli makes me very, very happy.

    Rosie: There are true allergies which can be life-threatening, and there are food sensitivities. I am extremely sensitive to strawberries and turmeric, both of which cause my skin to turn crimson and itch like mad, but they are only sensitivities and not allergies. True allergies, which cause life-threatening angioedema attacks and anaphylaxis, must be avoided as they can, and do, kill. Skin turning crimson and itching, things making a person cough, sneeze, cause unpleasant smelling urine/perspiration are just sensitivities. They might be unpleasant/uncomfortable but that's all. Being truly allergic to certain foodstuffs is far more than unpleasant and uncomfortable. It is deadly.

    HarrisPilton: Peppermint tea gives me terrible nightmares.

    cooksalot: I am fortunate in that I can eat most things (I think!) without ill-effect. I did once work with a woman who couldn't eat kiwi fruit - even a small piece made her palms and the soles of her feet itch.

    Stokey Sue: Raw courgettes make my mouth pucker up - really nasty, I hate the fad for putting them in salads. I don't think that's even an intolerance really - just the texture of the very fine hairs on the skin.

    Pampy: Some reactions (eg smelly wee after eating asparagus) are due to chemical reactions between the components of the food and the body. Harold Gee's book on the science of food is very illuminating on topics like this.

    GillthePainter: Too much red wine gives me eye ulcers. Thank goodness for beer.

    David_W: Alcohol-free beer makes me wake up screaming. Not drinking it, just the thought of it. Very hot chilli con carne... when I eat it, I want more... and more... and MORE!

    Evita: Peppers give me indigestion, and ginger nut biscuits. Although I can eat as much fresh ginger as I please, so it must be something in the commercial biccie-making process that causes it.

    Denadar: Too much food makes me fat and too much red wine can give me a headache, as can white or pink. Seriously I find dried fruit in things like hot cross buns make for bloating, and as Joan has said (f)artichokes are best left alone.

    globetrotter: I'm lucky in that I don't have any food allergies/intolerances, but I've a friend whose eyebrows twitch whenever she eats onions - true, I've witnessed it, even when the onions are 'hidden' in a dish and not declared!

  • Comment number 3.

    Sensitive or allergic (haven't yet been tested) to vinegar. Instant closing of nasal passages, and I'm gasping for breath and doing that annoying mouth-breathing while eating a salad with a vinaigrette dressing, or even eating sushi--there's a little sprinkle of rice vinegar on the rice before rolling.

  • Comment number 4.

    Sauerkraut makes my mouth itchy. Peanuts makes me cough. And most canned food, specialy tomato soup I think should be made illegal. Expect for beans and sour beetroot.

  • Comment number 5.

    And yes I can't eat shrimps, prawns, lobster, crab etc. I am allergic and that is not fair.

  • Comment number 6.

    My hubby often gets the hiccups when he eats home made marmalade or anything really sweet - I keep telling him he's allergic to sugar but he won't have it .

  • Comment number 7.

    After eating olives or food cooked with olive oil I often get spots on the face which turn into hard bumps and last for a month. Most inconvenient for dining with friends because people are incredulous; olive oil is supposed to be healthy.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm a bit of a delicate flower, it seems. Alcohol (wine especially) makes my wrists and shoulders ache almost instantly. I wonder whether it's a gout type reaction? Potatoes used to give me terrible stomach aches but I rarely eat them now. When I do, I limit my intake, but they still make me feel bloated and sore. Also hummus SOMETIMES makes my tongue sting and swell up, and sometimes it doesn't. This suggests a sensitivity, but I keep eating it because I like it so much. Oh and finally- beer and soya both make my periods heavier. Apparently they both have the ability to mimic oestrogen.

  • Comment number 9.

    I have reactions to black pepper, garlic and a few others, it's causes hives and really itchy feet and hands. The doctors recommend I stay away from these foods but it is difficult.


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.