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Legume/bean allergy and intolerance

Legume/bean allergy and intolerance

Legumes are a versatile food that is packed full of nutrients.They are a rich source of protein and are an important part of a healthy and balanced diet. Eating legumes can be especially beneficial for people who avoid eating animal proteins or have a restricted diet and need food alternatives (like soy milk). However, legumescan cause problems for some people. Legumes like soy, peanuts and chickpeas, can cause uncomfortable digestive issues after they’ve been eaten, or they can be the cause of an allergic reaction. This article will look at how to tell if you have an allergy or intolerance to legumes, the types of legumes you can react to, and what foods you may need to avoid if you have a legume allergy or intolerance.

What is a legume allergy?

A legume allergy is an allergic reaction to any legumes, such as beans, peas, lentils or peanuts. If you have an allergy to beans or peas, your immune system reacts to them as if they are a threat. Your immune system then records this food in its ‘memory’, and it reacts to the food any time you smell it, touch it, or eat it.

Allergy symptoms

If you have a food allergy, like an allergy to peanuts or other legumes, you may experience symptoms like:

  • itching or tingling of your skin
  • skin rashes or welts (known as hives)
  • swelling of the face, throat, or mouth
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain or cramps
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can come on quite quickly and can occur within seconds or hours of being exposed to a food. If the allergic reaction is severe, it is known as anaphylaxis. This type of reaction can cause a significant drop in blood pressure, leading to fainting and loss of consciousness. Although rare, an anaphylactic reaction can be fatal if medical attention is not sought immediately.

What causes a legume allergy?

When the body has an allergic reaction, the immune system reacts to a protein – this may be a protein in the air (like dust) or a protein in the food. As we previously discussed, legumes are rich in protein. If you have an allergy to legumes, your immune system captures these proteins and triggers the release of inflammatory chemicals to attack these protein ‘invaders’. The inflammatory chemicals, like histamine, cause the symptoms of allergy (note: this is why you may have heard of ‘anti-histamines, a medication that is used to reduce histamine and, by doing so, reduce allergy symptoms).

What is legume intolerance?

A legume intolerance is different to a legume allergy. While an allergy involves the immune system, and intolerance does not. Intolerance is an unpleasant reaction to eating legumes. You may have experienced this after you eat legumes and you feel bloated, gassy or uncomfortably full. This is because legume intolerance is caused by an issue with how you digest the legumes.

Intolerance symptoms

If you have an intolerance to legumes, you might experience:

  • indigestion
  • heartburn or reflux
  • burping
  • tummy aches
  • nausea
  • bloating
  • excessive gas or flatulence
  • belly distension (e.g.looking like you’re ‘pregnant’)
  • changes in bowel motion (e.g. having loose motions, or constipation)
The symptoms of food intolerance happen after eating a food and can occur over 1-48 hours. The reaction does not lead to anaphylaxis and is not life-threatening. However, the symptoms can cause discomfort and lead to symptoms outside of the digestive tract, including headaches, tiredness, and brain fog.

What causes legume intolerance?

Legumes are full of fibres, known as resistant starches or oligosaccharides. Some people do not easily digest these starches. When they are not properly digested, these starches are broken down by bacteria in the intestine. While the bacteria feed on the starches, the bacteria produce gases. These gases can cause your belly to feel distended and ‘gassy’. The poorly digested starches also draw water into the intestines. This water can make you feel full and heavy or give you watery or loose bowel motions.

Types of legumes

Legumes are a large family of plants that include beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts. One possibly surprising plant of the legume family is the herb fenugreek.

Sometimes legumes are called ‘pulses’. The term ‘pulse’ refers to the legume seeds that have been dried. This is often the case when you buy raw chickpeas and lentils. Pulses include green peas, kidney beans, tamarind, and other dried peas and beans.

If you have an allergy or intolerance to legumes, you may react to any of the legumes. The most common legumes to cause an allergic reaction are peanuts, soybean, lentils, chickpeas, peas, mung bean, and red gram. If you have an allergy to one legume, such as peanuts, you may also react to another legume.

The legumes that you can be allergic to or intolerant to include:

  • peanuts
  • soy
  • lupin (often ground into a flour-like wheat flour)
  • lentils
  • kidney beans
  • green peas
  • snow peas (also called mangetout)
  • sugar snap peas
  • black-eyed beans
  • haricot beans (also called navy beans)
  • adzuki beans
  • chickpeas
  • tamarind
  • butter beans (also called lima beans)
  • cannellini beans
  • pinto beans
  • broad beans (also called fava beans)
  • flageolet beans
  • borlotti beans

How to test for a legume allergy or intolerance

If you think you may be allergic or intolerant to legumes, then it’s important to test for it. Knowing what legumes you are reacting to is essential for managing your reactions and getting the help you need to reduce your reactivity.

To test for an allergy, you need to see a doctor or allergy specialist (called an allergist or immunologist) who will organise allergy testing for you. Allergy testing includes either a blood test, skin prick test, or both.

To test for intolerance, you need to do a food intolerance test. You can test for legume or bean intolerance through our food intolerance test, which can be ordered online HERE. Our food intolerance test looks at over 350 different foods, and the results can take as little as three days from when our lab receives your sample.

Summary

Today we took a good look at legumes – the beans, peas, and ‘pulses’ – that can cause our gut and immune system to react. We looked at how legumes can cause an allergic reaction and what symptoms you might expect if you have a legume or bean allergy. Then, we compared a bean allergy with an intolerance.We learnt that an allergy involves an immune reaction, while intolerance is an unpleasant response to poorly digested legumes. Expanding on this, we discovered that an allergy is a reaction to the food protein, and legume intolerance is a reaction to the fibre (or starches). We explored all the legumes that can cause an allergy or intolerance and then looked at what testing you can do to find out which legumes you are reacting to. We learnt that an allergy test can be done through a blood or skin prick test, and a food intolerance test can be ordered through our lab online HERE.

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