My Oil Intolerance

I wrote an article that was published in Living Without magazine, which came out this month. In it I mention that I have a food intolerance to oils.

I haven’t been diagnosed as having a food intolerance. In all the literature I’ve read about these kinds of food problems, allergies, celiac, food intolerance’s they talk about going to your doctor before eliminating something from your diet, but at the time I ‘discovered’ my intolerance I didn’t have medical insurance and even now I have yet to discuss it with my doctor because it seems to me, very little a doctor could tell me to do except what I’m already doing. Avoiding oils.

It started Christmas 2010. I felt awful. I had belly cramps, cold sweats, nausea and then I started throwing up. I thought it was the flu or perhaps I’d eaten some bad food. But it didn’t get better. The vomiting abated somewhat but the nausea continued. It was worse in the mornings, but if I didn’t eat I felt weak and faint. If I did manage to eat a few soda crackers it would be a few hours before the nausea abated enough that I could eat real food. This went on and on. All through January and then into February. People wondered if I was pregnant. The test came back negative. I didn’t worry that much I’d had a mysterious ‘flu’ a few years before and nothing had come of it. I hunkered down to weather it out.

The only thing was my parents were threatening to send me to the doctor or worse the emergency room. But when I’d gone to the doctor about the former ‘flu’. He had scratched his head, run some expensive tests and given me anti-nausea pills to help me get back to work. He’d had no clue and I couldn’t see what good it would do to consult another doctor except to spend lots of money. I was sure it would pass.

The solution came like many do, not with a blinding epiphany but with slow detective work. Many seemingly unrelated facts formed a pattern that up till now I had been unable to see.

I have known since I was ten or so that when I ate Crisco, canola oil, and vegetable oil I would have cramps, gas and diarrhea. I have no idea how my mom figured this out but she did. I thought that I was very good about avoiding those oils.  I used only butter and olive oil when cooking at home and avoided anything that listed canola oil, or vegetable oil as an ingredient.

I believe my first hint was when I got horrible gas after eating a bagel a few months before this illness started. My mom and I thought it was a terrible thing that something like a bagel that generally dose not have any oil in it would set off my ‘allergy’. I didn’t think too much of it. Then in the middle of February my mom read the ingredient list on the box of Bagel Bites that I had bought to try and tempt my appetite. Canola oil. It was right there on the box. I hadn’t checked. I stopped eating them. Soon after that I found the recipe I’d photo copied for the popovers my aunt had made for us all at Christmas. Shortening.  When I showed my mom we decided that it was very possible that she had used Crisco, and then we wondered: could my ‘allergy’ of childhood have gotten a thousand times worse? Could it have mutated into causing vomiting without the diarrhea? And could I without realizing it be consuming the very things that were making it worse?

I started reading labels religiously.  All the breads listed soybean oil, I wondered if I had a problem with soybean oil. After all it was a vegetable oil. I stopped eating store bought bread and started eating only bread I made at home. I read the label on the soda crackers: soybean oil, had I been unintentionally making my nausea worse by eating the very thing that caused it in the first place? After three weeks of avoiding all processed foods. (tortillas had shorting. Crackers soybean oil, bread canola oil) I started feeling better. Not just better, amazingly better.

I didn’t need a nap in the afternoon. I didn’t feel exhausted from waking up in the morning. It was as if I was a different person, a normal person. A person who could go for longer than two hours without eating. Someone who could make it through a whole day and feel tired at the end and get up the next day and do it again without being sick as a dog. It was amazing. Then I made a mistake. I went out for breakfast. Within hours I felt tired, my guts began to cramp, the cold sweat broke out, and I wanted to sit down and cry. It was clear to me that I’d been doing something right. It took two days to start feeling better. My next accident I was not so lucky, it took me five days to recover.

I’ve done some research and technically what I have is not an allergy. Allergies require the presence of a chemical IgE.  The classic signs of the allergic response are hives, itchy skin and/or throat, swelling, wheezing, trouble breathing, and sometimes blocked airways. It’s usually triggered within minutes of exposure. What I have seems more like what the medical world is calling a ‘non-allergic food hypersensitivity’. There are many reasons why my body could be reacting the way it is. Unless a doctor runs tests I may never know weather my response is due to an inability to digest the oils or because I have a non-IgE immunoglobulan response. Frankly I don’t care why I just don’t like being sick.

Since I stopped eating the oils I’ve noticed my joints don’t hurt all the time. This may be related to the fact that I can get more exercise and therefore can create more endorphins so I have a higher pain threshold but it could also just be that they aren’t as inflamed. I have fewer yeast infections, and I seem to heal faster from scrapes and bruises, actually I bruise less in general. I used to be black and blue all the time from barely brushing myself on chairs and furniture.

I’m not as anxious, and I have a lot easier time making decisions and handling stress. I learn faster and more thoroughly. Unfortunately this gos away the minute I’m exposed. It feels like having holes in my brain, information just leaks out.

I’ve had many screw ups since I figured out that I have this food sensitivity. But over time I’ve learned to avoid them most of the time. One of the more difficult to figure out exposures were from my boyfriend. I would get sick from kissing him if he had eaten oils in the past few hours. We’ve managed this by him not eating oils and having a Celina safe meal before spending time with me. I feel so high maintenance, but now I don’t get sick so I feel it’s worth it. Thankfully he does too.

It turns out the only oil I can eat without causing a bad reaction is peanut oil. Among the products that I have had a direct bad reaction to are butter oil, coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil, canola oil, soybean oil, Crisco, vegetable oil, hydrogenated oils, and mono and diglycerides. I also seem to have a problem with  milk that has been homogenized.

The fats I can eat are unprocessed lard, beef fat, duck fat, bacon fat, butter, and chicken fat.

I avoid all other fats including ghee that I haven’t made myself. I’m not willing to experiment with my health to find out if any other oils are ‘safe’. Its just too painful to be sick.

I chose to write about my food intolerance, because its something that I think about a lot. I’ll admit that the very fact of it confounded me, and to this day confounds me. I’ve learned to accept it as a fact of life but the fact that my body can react to something that everyone commonly eats is something my mind had a bit of trouble grasping, hence why I think about it.

In my mental  meanderings I contemplated the best way to talk about my allergy to explain it and how I deal with it to others, I must have written a hundred different articles in my head and discarded all of them. Finally I learned to cook mostly because of my allergy. Cooking gave me a handle on the food intolerance in a way that nothing else had. I started combining my thoughts about cooking and how cooking had changed the way I looked at my allergy how it had empowered me to take control of what I put in my mouth. The idea for my article was born.

The other reason I wrote it was I was hoping that at least one person who read my article and say “That’s me! I have problems with oils too!” and write to me here on this blog and prove that I am not alone in my problem.

Want to read another personal story about Canola Oil intolerance? Click here.

Would you like to know more about my experiences? I’m writing a kindle pamphlet! Sign up below and I will send you an e-mail when it comes out!


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235 Responses to My Oil Intolerance

  1. Angela Gariel says:

    Silver pen I was literally crying by the time I got to the end of this article. I’m so sorry for the pain you have and continue to go through but am so happy you are finding a path down this hard road. My 12 year old daughter, Isabella, has had a hard time these last two and a half years. It started before we moved here to Texas and has become dramatically worse as time goes by. Last night we had fried chicken and she wouldn’t touch it which has become normal for her and we make something else for her to eat. But this morning I made her her favorite peanut butter, chocolate syrup, banana, soymilk (dairy intolerance we believe she has but hasn’t been diagnosed), blended with ice breakfast smoothie. I told her drink the last of it before you go to school and she said it makes my stomach hurt. I told her I used your milk sweetie it is the chocolate syrup you really shouldn’t have it anymore and she said mom I think it is the peanut butter bc when I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich the same thing happens. I asked what happens? She said her stomach feels like someone is twisting it. More and more foods are closing the gap that was once a diet full of a variety of foods. Between the ever raging hormones and this difficulty with finding the exact culprit in her dramatically decreasing diet your article pulled at my heart strings. Everything from the bloating, excessive exhaustion to the pain in her joints you described what Bella goes through. What we all witness her go through, but haven’t been able to get a doctor to diagnosis or Bella to go through with a simple food journal to help us figure it out. She had given up before the fight really begun. I can’t wait for her to get out of school this afternoon and me read to her your story. I think she will relate and not only relate, but find hope in your tenacity! Thank you so much and I really hope to hear back from you. I am going to the market now to explore options and labels for her.

    • Rosa says:

      You do realize that most peanut butter has canola in it, it is called rapeseed oil, I use only the kind that is ground in the store organic or natural, they do not contain canola, or rapeseed oil.

      • I actually have gotten quite sick from peanut butter. My favorite brand for years was jiff which contains palm oil. Also I got sick from peanut butter in a candy once. Since then I have been very careful. I have found the brand Adams all natural that lists only peanuts and salt to be good. Be careful not to buy their no stir brand. If you have a Costco membership the Kirkland brand of all natural peanut butter again only listing peanuts and salt has been safe for me as well. There are several co-op brand’s that only list peanuts and salt, but I haven’t felt safe consuming them because the label said “made on shared equipment with soy oil”. Good luck.

    • Maureen says:

      Angela, have just read your item regarding Peanut Butter. In New Zealand, we have Pic’s Peanut Butter. I have just checked their website, and it looks like their peanut butter contains only peanuts and salt. I also see that it can be delivered to the U.S.A., so that may be helpful; for you. As far as oils go for cooking I have found coconut oil and olive oil are the only ones I can tolerate. Haven’t had symptoms for a few years, as I am always checking labels, and asking questions in restaurants. Good luck with finding the right foods for your daughter, I’m sure you are well on the way to doing this, even without a doctor’s diagnosis!

  2. Sarah says:

    That’s me!!

  3. Jamie says:

    I have to tell you, this is kind of freaking me out. I thought for years I had a gluten intolerance, but the stomach bloating, pain and joint pain would reoccur seemingly randomly. Especially after eating at a restaurant. I did a whole30 and then ate a potato chip (made with canola oil) and the bloating was almost immediate. Then it happened again a few times with items not cookedntainijg gluten but containing vegetable oil. I told my husband that it sounds insane, but I think I have a vegetable oil intolerance. He sent me your article. I had no idea this was a thing!!! I’m so very confused, because it seems olive and coconut oil are fine. I also seem to have similar symptoms with desserts and was thinking it was the processed sugar but maybe they’re also made with oil? Do sweets have the same effect on you? Wow. This is something brand new I’ll have to explore. I’m so thankful you’re wrote about this. I don’t feel silly!!

    • Sally says:

      I have self diagnosed I’m rapeseed intolerent – I had the bloating for years then the bloating added panics attacks, sickness and feeling close to death – bread and fried foods nearly kill me .
      Look out for rapeseed in bread , veg oils , in the U.K. Most foods and sweets contain this – if I avoid this I live like a normal person – eating out is almost impossible.
      Good luck read every label on every food

    • You are definitely not silly. I thought my trouble with oils was weird at first too but the more I learn and read about these oils the more I come to realize that my body is actually trying to protect me. I’m glad that you were able to pinpoint what was bothering you and your husband was willing to support you. Hopefully you can avoid the oils that really make you sick and feel better. Thanks for commenting. I’m always glad to hear that my story helps people.

    • Sherry says:

      Non-stick spray uses canola oil. So even if they don’t use vegtable oil actually in the baked good, the non-stick spray will. I do not eat at any restraunts or any processed food. It’s a pain….but I feel so much better, so I choose an entire diet of homemade by me. 🙂

    • I forgot to say that a lot of sweets have oils in them, even hard candy and other ‘pure sugar’ items. It’s possible that your reactions could be just from oils, but I have actually read that people can be intolerant of sugar too. For myself I find that I am always attracted to sugar when I am exposed to oils.

    • Berni says:

      An amazing eye-opener for me too!
      Been avoiding gluten and lactose since forever, but even when I ate at our factory canteen I would bloat and be in the most horrid of pain. The only thing I could think of was the sunflower oil they cook EVERYTHING in.
      Stopped eating in the canteen and viola! NO bloating “happy dance”…
      My boyfriend made fries in duck fat the weekend and no reaction at all! So only non-processed fats and oils for me.
      Thank you so much for sharing and keep up the good work and the sharing.
      With love from South Africa xxx

  4. Melissa says:

    My son seems to be intolerant to most oils too along with many many foods. I thought it was due to his pollen allergies or because it is in the same family as another of his food allergies but now I am not so sure. Anyone found any info on what could be the route cause of this?

  5. Jess says:

    I cheated with half a donut yesterday and I am in severe pain today. Found your blog seeing if anyone else had the same issues. Sorry about your pain. Other vegetable oils I can eat are white sesame oil and rice oil (I live in Japan). When I start to feel sick I take an antacid (Tums do not work) called Ohta Isan, Tylenol, and royal jelly. It used to takes a few days but now sometimes I am over it in a few hours. I am a middle aged male, but one thing I noticed is that our hair is remarkably similar. Brown, curly and a little brittle looking. (Maybe you have changed it though?) So I wonder if our condition is genetic or perhaps we lack something to convert oils properly.

  6. Michelle says:

    I cannot tolerate many of the oils used in processed foods at all. If there is even a small amount of palm oil in food I get sick with terrible night sweats. I mean 5 changes of pajamas and sheet thru the night. Breathing is affected and skin. I had to figure it out thru trail and error because my doctor ran every test out there with no results. I have to read every label every time I shop and have found food items I was safe to eat on day had palm oil in them my next grocery shopping trip. Peanut butter has to be Costco brand bcuz all commercial brands have palm oil now. I can’t even eat top ramen noodles that are now made​ with palm oil.

    • I always sweat heavily when I am exposed to oils. It’s a very acidic sweat that smells unpleasant too. If your breathing is effected be really careful. It very well could get worse and become anaphylaxis. I hope you are doing well. Thank you for commenting.

  7. Carolyn Dodd says:

    I have been suspicious of cooking oil for a while. Feeling faint, heart racing, then me racing to the loo after eating SOME fried foods. Thank you for your article it has confirmed that I am not imagining it and I can start the process of elimination. Carolyn

  8. Spinner says:

    I read all your comments. I know I cannot digest oils – any of them. I saw a naturopathic Dr because a Western Medicine Allergist Dr laughed at me when I told him I was reacting to sulphites. I also cannot have alcohol and the birth control pill shut my liver down for 7 weeks. The Naturopath said I am missing an enzyme in my liver that processes these things. I wonder if any of you also have trouble digesting these other items.

    • I took birth control for several years and I think it was actually quite bad for me. But I wasn’t aware of how bad until later. It didn’t do anything as spectacular or obvious as shut down my liver. Just depleted my nutrition to a level where I developed emotional problems and messed up my immune system. As for alcohol, I was always a light weight but eventually came to realize that even a small drink gave me a hangover the next day. Sometimes the bad effects could last a week. It wasn’t worth it. I don’t know if I have a problem with sulfites. It would not surprise me if I did. I am sorry you had a bad experience with that allergist. If it helps any you are not alone. Many people have the same difficulties with foods that you do so you are not crazy. Take care.

  9. Katherine says:

    I found your article very interesting. I have found that I have trouble with foods prepared with too much oil. I can’t eat much chocolate because the oils cause diarrhea within a short period of time later. I can tolerate a bit of oil with butter to saute meats but usually can’t eat fried eggs nor French fries and can only have shrimp once a year.
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Stacey says:

    Wow everyone thinks I’m crazy when I tell them all oils make me feel like dying. My naturopath even said it’s in my head and my brain manifests the reaction because I’m nervous about eating the oil. One drop of flax will put me on the floor. My guts feel like they are being torn apart. It’s mostly right after my stomach empties. For two hours then. I have no idea what to put in my mouth. I’m always in pain or hungry. I stopped going out. I’m always at home massaging my belly looking miserable.

    • It can be really hard to avoid oils. You aren’t crazy, don’t listen to the naturopath. You might need to do a bit of investigation to see what oils you have a problem with then you can be sure you are eating safe food. Feel free to email me if you have questions. Don’t guarantee that I will know the answer but I can tell you what I know.

  11. Nita Jain says:

    Hi Celina, I have many oil intolerances too. I recently discovered I had a carnitine deficiency, which makes it very hard to break down fatty acids. Although I am working to correct this through supplementation, many fats are still problematic, so we are investigating fatty acid oxidation disorders, such as MCADD.

  12. Stan Koren says:

    THANK-YOU !!!! Wow; right on. I cannot eat Crisco without getting extremely bad heart burn. I get a reliable heartburn type reaction from certain restaurants. I asked one of the restaurants what oil they use and BINGO; it was CANOLA. CANadianOilLowAcid or Rapeseed oil. Very very interesting!!!! Check this site for more info. I wouldn’t be surprised if CANOLA is added to other oils and not to mention all kinds of processed foods. Eat local – eat fresh – eat organic – good luck all. Stan

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