Different legumes in a bowl of pho
Nickel Allergy

Nickel in Food


You guys appear to be enjoying my Nickel Allergy series and it is by now one of the things that I am found through search engines most often. So many people have reached out, and let me know how helpful this series has been. How much it changed their life, and also how alone they felt walking through the same or a very similar process to me. Thank you to everyone who has left a comment🙏🏻. From the bottom of my heart, I cannot tell you how much that means to me. So today, I wanted to dive more into nickel in conjunction and relation to food. Is nickel in food? And if so, can it become dangerous to those of us who have a nickel allergy?

A woman fighting with her body behind a plastic sheet
Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

Nickel in the Body

As we know by now, nickel is a mineral that can be found in the soil, water, and air. That means that we can absorb nickel through the skin, our respiratory system, and, of course, our digestive tract. In the body, nickel is involved with certain chemical reactions and may assist with the absorption of iron. It is a vital micronutrient, which plays a role in increasing hormonal activity, and lipid metabolism. It is also one of the key enzymes that supports the degradation of urea.The overall absorption of nickel in the body is low, and estimated to be less than 10%. The majority of ingested nickel exits the body through either your urine or digestive tract. Nickel is not stored in your tissue nor organs, except for the thyroid and adrenal glands.

A bowl of chickpeas in focus
Deryn Macey on Unsplash

Nickel in Food

The soil and water connection means that nickel is oftentimes found in plant-based foods. However, depending on said soil and water conditions, even when we are talking about the same food, it means that the nickel content can, still, greatly vary. What has been shown is that cooking acidic foods in stainless steel may well increase the nickel content above what it already is. The below foods have been shown to have a higher nickel content than usually:

  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Oats
  • Chocolate (from milk powder or candy)
  • Soybeans

Dietary Allowance of Nickel

There is not much to say on this topic, but I wanted to give it an honorary mention. There is no dietary allowance of nickel that has ever been set by any kind of agency. This is largely due to nickel not having been established as an important nutrient and/or its biochemical reaction studied at length.

This also means that nickel does not appear to be toxic to the human body

But, on the bright side, it also appears that there have been no proven harmful effects of people consuming nickel through their diet. There are a few cases of excess nickel intake, which have led to gastrointestinal upset (nausea, vomit, diarrhea). Those appear to be solely in conjuction with ingestion of contaminated water, rather than through food sources.

Crispy kale on a wooden background
Ronit Shaked on Unsplash

Nickel in Food and Nickel Allergy

If you are reading this, you likely have or had a bad reaction to nickel in the form of contact dermatitis, skin irritation or itchy rashes. I get you, because this has been the same for me. Be sure to check out the following posts as well, because with the right skin care and nickel-free make up hopefully your problems will largely (or completely) eliminate:

As said above, measuring nickel in food is almost impossible, and so is trying to follow a nickel-free diet. Trace amounts can also leach into foods when processed in factories. There are two things you can do in order to reduce your nickel content though:

  1. Do not cook acidic foods (e.g. tomatoes, vinegar, citrus fruits) in stainless steel cookwear, as it will increase the nickel content
  2. Be sure to keep your iron at an optimal level (you will have to do this in conjunction with a doctor and some blood tests). Nickel and iron compete inside the body for absorption, so keeping optimal iron levels should help with keeping your nickel absorption in check as well. Be sure to include some vitamin C into your diet, as this will also help with iron absorption

Plant-based foods that are high in iron include: Nuts and seeds, legumes, tofu, and dark leafy greens. Check out my Green Monster Smoothie or my Warming Winter Salad.

And that is it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this excourse into “Nickel in Food” and learned something new. Beautiful cover photo by Jennifer Schmidt on Unsplash.

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