On this episode of things you probably didn’t know existed: last week was food allergy awareness week. And because it’s never too late to learn about what Nigerians could possibly be allergic to, eight people shared with us how they found out about their food allergies.
Mariam, 36, allergic to pineapple
I found out I was allergic to pineapples in secondary school. As a child, anytime I ate pineapples, I’d have weird rashes that looked like chickenpox. Because I loved the fruit so much..no one could figure out it was the problem. I’m asthmatic, so the day I went to a dermatologist, they told me the rashes could be an effect of my asthma. Apparently, asthma could also cause dermatitis. But none of the prescribed treatments worked.
When I had a random discussion with a school friend, she told me she explained was allergic to pineapples. I found it weird, but I told my mum about her. We never thought I could be allergic to anything until then. That’s when we decided to take an allergy test. We found out the issue was pineapples, and I had to give up my favourite fruit ever since.
Tito, 24, allergic to egusi
I remember never being allowed to eat egusi. My mum explained that when I was about two, I had it once and ended up in the hospital. When I got to boarding school, my parents informed the school of my dietary restrictions, so I always had something else when egusi was served at the dining hall. But someone dared me to try it one day, and since I like trouble, I went for it. What’s the worst that could possibly happen?
I took a piece of meat from the soup and ate it. Hours later, I had a severe skin irritation that looked like ringworms which lasted for weeks. Because of that incident, they changed the whole school’s food timetable. But later on, in university, I bought okra soup without knowing there was egusi in it. I took Piriton tablets immediately I noticed, but I still ended up at the clinic with my entire body covered in hives and red spots.
Now, I ask what’s in any soup before buying it.
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Timi, 25, intolerant to milk
I didn’t know I was allergic to milk until I was 24. It started out with stomach aches and bloating, but I didn’t realise it was a milk issue until weeks later. On a random day, I had only cereal to eat and then the aches and bloating started. That’s when I knew it was the milk. The truth is, I’m drinking milk right now, and I’ll probably never stop even though I’m clearly lactose intolerant.
I live in Nigeria, and plant-based milk is too expensive. I also dislike it, so God forbid that I’ll ever spend that much on oat milk. Taking milk is a risk, but the reward outweighs it. It’s called lactose intolerant, not lactose impossible for a reason.
Ope, 28, allergic to fish
I always hated the smell of fish as a kid. Whenever my mother was making a batch of her favourite mackerel stew, I made sure I wasn’t in the kitchen. She refused to make a separate stew just because I didn’t like fish. She sometimes added chicken to the stew sha, and on the days she didn’t, I boiled an egg to go with my rice.
But each time I ate the mackerel stew, I had a weird itch in my throat. There were no sores, but the itch was frustrating because I couldn’t scratch them. I never thought it was the stew since no one else reacted to it. I didn’t figure out it was the fish until I turned 12. I spent a month at my cousin’s house during a school break, and their mum never cooked with fish — she hated it as much as I did. I never had any itch when I ate her stew or soups, so I suspected it was better for me to stay away from fish.
I’m not sure it’s only mackerel that makes my throat itch, but I’ve stayed away from fish ever since. Of course, my mum didn’t like that, so I learnt how to cook my own meals to avoid wahala.
Lolade, 26, allergic to garden eggs
Garden eggs have never looked great to me. I was never excited by the idea of eating them whenever I saw them being hawked on the streets. I may have eaten them once or twice as a kid, but not enough to notice I was allergic. I didn’t find out until I went on a vegetable fast in 2019 for fitfam.
I typically bought cabbage, carrots and spinach from the mallams around my area at affordable prices. But I didn’t want to keep eating the same vegetables and wanted to try something new. So, I decided to switch things up with garden eggs. They were also easy to find, cheap and sold in portions that could last for days.
When I got to the office the next day, I chilled some in the freezer to have for lunch. I think I had two or three big ones with a bunch of carrots. The next thing I knew, my mouth and lips were covered with sores. You’d think that would be a sign to avoid garden eggs, but I thought all I needed was Vitamin C. The same thing happened when I bought them the next day, so I realised I was allergic. Staying away was easy since I don’t even like garden eggs.
Radiance, 20, intolerant of alcohol
When I was 14, I tried alcohol for the first time with my boyfriend. It was our high school prom, so we had some gin. I can’t remember what happened next, but I ended up at the hospital for three days. The doctors didn’t clarify what was wrong. All I saw was a drip on my arm and nurses going in and out.
I haven’t tried alcohol since then, but I recently found out that Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) deficiency can cause severe reactions to alcohol. What this means is that my body lacks the enzymes to digest alcohol. I’m not sure what exactly happens when I drink it, but I’m too afraid to try.
Unwana, 28, intolerant of cooking oil
For most of my life, I wasn’t sure why I threw up after certain meals. I didn’t think to observe what exactly triggered the pain afterwards because it happened with almost every food I ate. Whether it was stew, soup or just jollof rice, I’d vomit at least 30 minutes later.
I didn’t realise it was oil until 2011, and that was after I had some really oily rice I threw up instantly. I couldn’t sleep because of the pain I felt that day. That’s when I knew the issue was oil. Doctors kept recommending drugs that didn’t make me feel remotely better, and so I didn’t find anything that worked for the pain until I started taking Antacid in 2015 due to an ulcer.
It wasn’t exactly a great solution because I still experienced pain, but at least, it made the pain bearable and manageable. Oil isn’t something I can avoid, so I have to deal with this on a daily basis and limit my intake.`
Beatrice*, 27, Intolerant of eba
When I was 15, I found out I was allergic to heavily starchy foods like eba or semo. I used to eat them as a kid, but in secondary school, I began to experience severe pain when I tried eating them. The pain was similar to what you get from piles.
Eventually, I went to the hospital and it turned out to be a rectal pain caused by swallows. I’m not sure what changed in my body, but it’s like how we’re not intolerant to milk as babies and suddenly become lactose intolerant.