Salicylates occur naturally in plants as a defence mechanism, to protect the plant against any threat such as disease or pests. Most people have no issues with eating plants containing Salicylates – but some people however can experience all sorts of problems from these natural chemicals, from migraines, hives, IBS, asthma and even sleep issues and ADHD. Since aspirin and NSAID’s are Salicylates, most people with these intolerances will react badly to these drugs.
If I eat a lot of foods containing high levels of Salicylates, my skin becomes itchy, swollen and covered in hives. Since I've been eating a Paleo diet I've not had a bad reaction and I'm conscious to reduce my consumption of the foods that I know are high in Salicylates – and seem to affect me the worst. Unfortunately (because they are a favourites) tomatoes seem to be a particular trigger. Other people with Salicylate sensitivity seem to react in different ways to different foods.
It appears that in those with Salicylate sensitivity, there is an acceptable level of exposure to foods containing high levels – but once “too large” a dose of the high Salicylate food is eaten the effects of the sensitivity kick in. I can eat a tomato based sauce with no problems, but if I eat several meals in a row containing high levels of these foods, my skin starts to break out in hives! People with Salicylate sensitivity seems to have very varied tolerance levels.
Salicylates and Paleo
As Salicylates are naturally occurring, this is one intolerance that a Paleo or Primal diet can’t solve. However, processed food often contains ingredients high in salicylates, so a Paleo diet enables you to control and know exactly what you are eating. It’s certainly possible to eat a low Salicylate Paleo diet as there are plenty of foods that contain negligible, low or moderate levels of Salicylates.
Food High In Salicylates
Broadly speaking, foods such as tomatoes, peppers, capsicum, cucumber, sweet potato and watercress seem to be high in Salicylates. Lots of fruits have high levels, particularly dried fruit. Coconut and olive oil are also reported to contain high levels of Salicylates, though I've never had a reaction from them and use these oils almost everyday. Fortunately meat (in a Paleo – i.e. unprocessed) capacity seems to contain very low levels.
A Low-Salicylate Paleo Diet
With some planning and substitutions, there’s no reason not to keep a Paleo diet low in Salicylates. One of the hardest things to replace is tomatoes (also a nightshade), as tomatoes are a common base for sauces and recipes. I've been experimenting with some tomato-free Paleo sauces and will share the recipe I've come up with tomorrow. It’s definitely possible to make a tomato-like sauce without tomatoes!
Do you have a Salicylate intolerance? I’d love to hear which foods you are sensitive to and how you incorporate this into your Paleo diet.