This is very simplified information about salicylate intolerance – there are more resources available at the end of the page for further reading for those who are interested in knowing more.
What are salicylates?
Salicylates, also called salicylic acid, are natural chemicals produced by fruit and vegetables as a defence mechanism against insects and disease. Extracts from these chemicals are used in medicines like aspirin in much larger quantities, so are more likely than food to cause symptoms.
What causes a salicylate intolerance?
Other food intolerances are usually the result of a lack of metabolic enzymes. You can read more about them on the Food Intolerance Page
. The most likely cause of a salicylate intolerance is an enzyme deficiency of cyclo-oxygenase, which regulates the production of leukotrienes. Leukotrienes are lipid mediators, when they build up in the body they can cause gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms including worsening of asthma symptoms.
Can you be allergic to salicylates?
The simple answer is no, salicylates are a group of related chemicals, not proteins, like a true IgE food allergy. However, the symptoms of this intolerance are more similar to IgE allergy symptoms than other food intolerances, affecting the skin and mucous membranes. They affect people with asthma, rhinitis (hayfever) and nasal or sinus problems more than the general population.
Which are the symptoms of a salicylate intolerance?
As these chemicals irritate mucous membranes as well as irritating the gastrointestinal tract, symptoms may include:
Worsening of Asthma Symptoms
Itching, Hives and Swelling
Which foods contain salicylates?
family of plants are the most strongly associated with salicylates, these are generally legumes and beans. They include:
Black Gram Beans
Black Turtle Beans
Locust Bean Gum
This list of legumes containing salicylates is not exhaustive. You can read more about Legumes
on the dedicated page.
Another family of plants which contain moderate amounts of salicylates are the Nightshades, also called the Solanaceae
family of plants. These include:
You can read more about Nightshade
foods on the dedicated page.
Other foods containing moderate or high amounts of salicylates include:
Again, this list is not exhaustive, check the references at the bottom for food lists or you can read more about any of these foods from the dedicated Food Allergy Index
or you can download a salicylate factsheet from the Allergy Resources Kofi Shop
for just $0.50 (£0.40 or €0.45).
Are there salicylates in animal products?
No, salicylates are chemicals made in defence by plants, so are not found in meat, eggs or dairy products. These are excellent foods to reintroduce back to your diet if you are doing an elimination diet to determine whether you have a food intolerance and suspect a salicylate intolerance. You can read more about keeping a food diary
on the dedicated page.
Which medications do I need to avoid?
Salicylates are found in aspirin, cold medications and toothpaste, you also need to avoid any medications that contain methyl salicylate or salicylic acid. If you are allergic to aspirin you may not have any problem with foods containing salicylates
Are salicylates bad, do I need to avoid them?
No, foods containing salicylates are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. You only need to avoid them if you are sure they are causing problems.
Can we inactivate salicylates in the food we eat?
Some food allergens can be destroyed by processing, high heat or freezing. Studies have shown that cooking foods containing salicylates reduces the amount in the food, but does not eliminate them completely.
ATP Science - Salicylate Foods
WebMD - High Salicylate Foods
Allergy UK - Aspirin Intolerance and Salicylates
Drugs.com - Salicylates
Articles and Journals
Effectiveness of Personalized Low Salicylate Diet in the Management of Salicylates Hypersensitive Patients: Interventional Study, 2021
Prevalence and characterization of severe asthma in Hungary, 2020
Food and food products associated with food allergy and food intolerance – An overview, 2020
The Role of Leukotrienes as Potential Therapeutic Targets in Allergic Disorders, 2019
Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) and nonallergic food intolerance: FODMAPs or food chemicals? 2012
Salicylate intolerance: a masquerader of multiple adverse drug reactions, 2009
The Differential Diagnosis of Food Intolerance, 2009
Salicylate Intolerance, 2008
Significance of salicylate intolerance in diseases of the lower gastrointestinal tract, 2005