Salicylates are natural chemicals made by plants. They are found in fruits and vegetables and help protect plants against disease and insects.
Salicylate extracts have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Salicylic acid, more commonly known as aspirin, relieves pain and inflammation and lowers fevers. However, salicylates can also cause health problems for people who take them. Learn about what salicylate does in the body and when you should avoid it.
Why You Should Avoid Salicylates
For many, salicylates provide the same protective effects in your body as they do for the plants that produce them. Like the Mediterranean, vegetarian, or vegan diets, high salicylate diets have proven health benefits like lower risks of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Medicinally, salicylate derivatives like white willow bark, methyl salicylate, and salicylic acid provide anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving benefits. Aspirin is often used to manage heart disease and has contributed to lowering heart disease death rates.
However, for others, salicylates in the diet can lead to health problems. Such issues include insensitivities, allergies, and swelling of different organs.
Some people have developed an allergy to dietary salicylates. Those who are allergic to salicylates must avoid aspirin, white willow bark, methyl salicylate, and any medications that contain salicylic acid. Therefore, it’s important to read any labels for these ingredients before buying or taking medication.
Some individuals are particularly sensitive to the salicylates found naturally in fruits and vegetables. If you have any symptoms of a possible salicylate allergy, you should avoid foods such as:
- Pine nuts
It’s important to remember this is not a complete list of all of the foods containing salicylate. To know if a food contains salicylate, look up the item before you shop.
Allergy symptoms can include:
- Itching or hives
- Swelling of the hands or feet
- Nasal congestion
- Stomach pain
In some cases, people with severe allergies can go into anaphylactic shock (closing of the wind pipe). Get medical help right away if you experience any severe allergic reactions.
When people have a headache, they often take medication like aspirin to help ease their symptoms. However, studies have shown that some people who take aspirin for these problems — particularly children or teenagers — develop swelling in the liver and brain. Called Reye’s syndrome, this is a serious, yet rare, condition that requires medical attention.
Symptoms of Reye’s syndrome include:
- Breathing quickly
- Extreme tiredness
Foods With Salicylates
Many fruits and vegetables contain salicylates. Examples of top foods containing salicylates include:
Broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, mushrooms, radishes, spinach, and zucchini all contain high amounts of salicylates. Vegetables from the nightshade family, like eggplant and peppers, also contain salicylates.
Tomatoes are very high in salicylates. Avoid adding them to salads, sauces, or other dishes if you have a sensitivity to salicylates.
3. Fruit Juice
The salicylates found in fresh fruits are concentrated in juices. Apple, grape, orange, and grapefruit juices all contain high amounts of salicylates.
4. Fresh Fruit
If you’re looking to decrease your dietary intake of salicylates, you can do so by avoiding eating fruit. Apples, avocado, berries, cherries, grapes, peaches, and plums are all foods rich in salicylates. However, it’s important to still make sure you’re getting the right amount of nutrients that fruit provides.
5. Herbs and Spices
Many herbs and spices contain salicylates. Examples of salicylate-rich spices include thyme, rosemary, curry powder, paprika, and garam masala.
6. Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Black, green, and herbal teas all have very high levels of salicylates. Alcoholic drinks like wine, beer, rum, and sherry also contain a lot of this nutrient, so avoid them when possible.
If you’re looking for foods that have no salicylate in them, consider adding the following to your diet:
A recent study measured the level of salicylates in herbs and spices. As a result, chives were found to contain little to no traces of salicylate, making them appropriate for people with sensitivities to salicylates to eat.
Meat that is unprocessed and seasoned does not contain salicylates. That includes beef, fish, poultry, and lamb.
Cereals are also generally free of salicylates. That means you can enjoy many of your favorite breakfast options — but make sure to check the label before eating, just in case. Cereals that contain almonds or peanuts are high in salicylates and should be avoided.
Any kind of milk is free of salicylates, as are many other dairy products.
Before you start eliminating fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich foods from your diet, however, talk to your doctor or a dietitian. They will help you navigate food sensitivities and make sure you’re getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals if living a low or no salicylate life.