Good and bad food for a nickel allergy

Nickel is a hard, silvery-white metal whose salts are present in all soils. Extremely small quantities of this element are required in the human body for optimal health but according to the MELISA Foundation, nickel consumption or exposure triggers more allergic reactions than any other element, and approximately 15% of the human population suffers from a nickel allergy.

Individuals can be exposed to nickel in a variety of ways, but most human contact is attributed to jewelry and food. Food? I hear you cry. Food? If you have a nickel allergy you will know that jewellery, watch straps, coins and almost anything metal in the home and workplace probably contains some nickel. Because it’s so hard it’s very useful to use mixed with other metals to produce a very durable end product. Great! but not if you are allergic to nickel.

Individuals who suffer from a nickel allergy should avoid foods rich in this element. (Ref Livestrong) But how do you know which foods contain nickel and why? I have tried to understand here for you why some foods are high in nickel content and others not. However just because you have a nickel allergy doesn’t mean you will necessarily react to these foods. But if you are still having skin problems it could be worth investigating these foods in your diet and noticing whether they make you worse or have no effect at all.

High content nickel containing foods – the ones to avoid!

  1. Chocolate/Cocoa Powder

    According to the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, chocolate is one of the foods with the highest nickel content. Bittersweet chocolate contains a nickel concentration of 2.6 ug/g, milk chocolate has a nickel concentration of 1.2 ug/g and pure cocoa powder has a nickel concentration of 9.8 ug/g according to “Principles of Food Chemistry” by John M. deMan. The nickel content of chocolate is high due to the extensive refining process and constant contact with stainless steel machinery.

  2. Cashews

    Cashews also contain a relatively high concentration of nickel. The nickel concentration of cashews is 5.1 ug/g according to “Principles of Food Chemistry.” The World’s Healthiest Foods website states that consumption of cashews can yield some health benefits, such as the prevention of gallstones, promotion of cardiovascular health and maintenance of healthy bones and muscles.

  3. Kidney beans

  4. Kidney Beans

    Red kidney beans are another dietary source rich in nickel content.

    The nickel concentration of red kidney beans is 0.45 ug/g according to “Principles of Food Chemistry.”

  5. Green leafy vegetables

    Spinach contains high levels of naturally occurring nickel, 0.39 ug/g according to “Principles of Food Chemistry.” Also avoid other green leafy vegetables e.g. kale, lettuce

  6. Legumes especially dried beans and lentils.
  7. Bean sprouts also have a high nickel content.
  8. Whole wheat and multigrain flours are high in nickel content. Avoid wheat and oat bran, oatmeal, brown rice, and flower seeds (such as sunflower and sesame).
  9. Nuts almonds, hazlenuts and peanuts
  10. Seeds
  11. Soya
  12. Canned meats and fish, such as tuna.

Other high content nickel foods

  • Shellfish (shrimp, oysters, mussels)
  • salmon
  • Canned vegetables
  • beans (green, brown, white)
  • sprouts
  • leeks
  • peas (including split peas)
  • All canned fruits
  • fresh and dried figs
  • pineapple
  • prunes
  • raspberries
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Oatmeal
  • wheat bran products (whole wheat breads and cereals)
  • multigrain breads
  • Chocolate and cocoa drinks, especially chocolate milk and raspberry or citrus yogurt.
  • Tea from dispensers
  • Sunflower seeds
  • sweets containing chocolate
  • marzipan
  • licorice
  • baking powder
  • lentils
  • linseed
  • soya powder
  • vitamin/mineral supplements containing nickel
  • fibre tablets containing wheat bran
  • Dates

Foods low in nickel content (nb. these CAN aggravate nickel allergy)

  • Raw tomatoes, onions and carrots
  • Apples and citrus fruits and their juices
  • Beer
  • Wine (especially red wine)
  • Fish such as herring, mackerel and tuna
  • Poultry, eggs and fish (except salmon)
  • Asparagus
  • corn
  • cucumber
  • dill
  • Aubergine or eggplant
  • mushrooms
  • parsley
  • peppers
  • potatoes
  • Yeast
  • Foods that you CAN eat on a nickel free diet

    • Fruits including peaches, pears, raisins, rhubarb, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and other berries. Any of these can be eaten fresh or cooked, but not canned.
    • Most vegetables are allowed on this diet. Recommended vegetables include: bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, and cruciferous greens (cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy). Vegetables may be fresh or cooked; canned items are discouraged.
    • All plain dairy products eg. milk, cream, cheese, butter, yogurt etc. are allowed.
    • Grains: Refined wheat and most corn products are permitted on this diet. Pasta, white rice, cornflakes, cornmeal, and white breads are all low-nickel foods.
    • Most kinds of animal protein are low in nickel content. Chicken, turkey, beef, and eggs are recommended. Do not eat canned meats and fish, such as tuna.
    • Alcoholic beverages, coffee, and tea (though not from urns or machines) are allowed, as are sodas, and juices from low-nickel fruits.

    Some other suggestions:

    You could take a vitamin C supplement with each meal to slow the bodies absorption of nickel from the food you eat. If you also eat food rich in iron this could help too.

    “Don’t drink or use in food preparation the first quart of water taken from the tap because your pipes may release nickel.”

    “Replace nickel-plated utensils. You may use stainless steel pots and pans but avoid using them to cook acidic foods, which may cause pots and pans to release nickel.”

    Source: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

    Scientific studies into nickel in food

    Vegetables usually contain more nickel than do other food items; high levels have been found in legumes, spinach, lettuce and nuts. Certain products, such as baking powder and cocoa powder, have been found to contain excessive amounts of nickel, perhaps related to nickel leaching during the manufacturing process.
    Read more in “Human Exposure to Nickel” on Pubmed, IARC Sci Publ. 1984;(53):469-85. Grandjean P.

    Further reading and references:

    Is your healthy diet making you sick? Nickel allergy to foods on the rise.

    EHow – list of nickel free food.

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    About Ruth

    Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.


    1. Carolina says:

      Thank you Ruth for your helpful article. My daughter has just been diagnosed with nickel allergy and I did not know it existed, we are changing the way she eats and the way the whole family eats. She is just 5 years old and has had severe stomach pains for the past year. She ate beans every day and this was making her sick, but we had no idea. Articles like this helps us understand better what she can and cannot eat.

    2. Thanks for this although looking at this list it would just be better if I didn’t eat anything! What’s left when you cut out all of these things and most of them are healthy, too! Very depressing.

    3. It looks like you are remving almost everything but fruit and meats. Dark green veggies are very much needed in the diet.

      • Michael, recommendations for a low nickel diet is unfortunately not about nutrition. Greens and almost everything else contain levels of nickel harmful to people who have an allergy and hypersensitivity to it. This list is correct in that regard.

    4. I am vegan and I have a severe nickel allergy. I eat a lot of legumes. I have noticed a constant rash over my stomach and thighs. I don’t really enjoy a lot of the foods mentioned on a ‘nickel free’ diet. Will antihistamines control the rash or will I just have to live with it? I have never enjoyed meat, eggs or cheese and I hate aubergines.

      • Hi there Sarah, well the rash could be caused by anything but antihistamines may help relieve the itch. I would however be inclined to see if you can find out what is causing the rash. Is it any skin care products, washing powder, clothing, does it flare up when you’ve done certain things, or eaten certain things? You could try just reducing your legume intake or avoiding them for a week to see if the rash is related but it could have nothing whatsoever to do with it. It’s a long learning curve. Have you been to a dermatologist of consulted your doctor about it? It could be that you have eczema or other skin condition and some topical treatments may help clear it up. Good luck!

    5. Andrea Montour says:

      Hi… OMG!!! I’m so Itchy.. It started in June or July of this summer.. Had no Idea?? Now I know …My Dermotologist said I’m “High on the List” …Severe Nickel Allergy…(Contact). I Love Oatmeal…and a lot of other Foods mentioned…And I Love My Earrings,Bracelets,etc. I’am a Girly Girl…This is all new to Me.. Since I got the results yesterday.. :( Cobalt too..!!

    6. …at last I have found straight forward lists & clear information so I can plan my shopping/diet, thank you. Following an 85 patch test I have been confirmed as Nickel allergic, very positive, but as I do not wear any jewellery with nickel, all tested negative, I am starting a food diary and reducing the high offenders. Ate quite a few high content items last week only to have really bad reactions, flare ups on face and neck, over the weekend! Hoping some of my tummy/sleep/fatigue issue may also be resolved.

    7. I found out about my nickel allergy 7 years ago. I was a vegetarian for 8 years prior and it definitely was an adjustment. My nickel allergy causes anaphylaxis and swelling of my tongue and lips as well as hives and bloating. It’s awful. I have been trying to cut down on meat and dairy intake for personal reasons but it is really a challenge. I have 2 questions I would like help with.
      1) legume proteins like pea or nut proteins used in products like Daiya brand cheese, is it still high in nickel? I don’t know what the processing/extraction of the protein entails.
      2) what are your thoughts on chelation therapy for heavy metals/nickel detox?
      I wish there was something I could do to kick this allergy all together (I miss eating beans and lettuce!) but at least I could at least try to find some things to make it easier.
      Thanks for your help.

    8. This is really interesting! Someone has just left a comment on my site saying that perhaps I should try a low nickel diet. I have never heard of this! Presumably if I had a problem with nickel I would get it from touching nickel not just from eating things with it in??? I am pretty certain that dairy and or eggs are the cause of my eczema on my hands..but perhaps not!?

      • Yes you would most definitely have a problem with jewellery. It doesn’t always happen immediately but I can’t wear anything wit nickel for more than half a day before it starts to feel really irritated. If I wear it for longer the skin blisters and gets really nasty. Ear rings were not a good idea for me, really nasty. Dairy causes my eczema to flare up but now also causes anaphylaxis. Eggs could too but tests would not show up if it’s a delayed mild reaction like this. All very frustrating. All you can do is prove it by doing an elimination diet and maybe try to consume in moderation if you can to maintain tolerance. Depends how bad the eczema gets. Mine got so bad avoidance was the only answer.

    9. I just got diagnosed with the NICKEL allergy a few weeks ago after a patch test that caused blisters on my back along with an allergy to THERMIROSOL. I’m still learning what to eat. I tend to itch all over with no comfort. My Dr. said to take Benadryl at night only. Having to remove things and foods from home is a job in itself. It’s been hard to figure out what I can eat and how to make a meal out of it.
      Any meal suggestions, let me know?

    10. Hi,how much vitamin c do you use? I have had problems with high dosage before. Would really appreciate knowing what levels help. Thanks God bless


    1. […] best resources I can find so far for Nickel Free Diets are: Indian Journal of Dermatology What Allergy Athena Allrgy MELISA […]

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