When I was 8 years old, I had a reaction to kiwifruit. As a child I was already diagnosed with multiple food allergies, but kiwi would be the first tropical fruit to go on my extensive list, which already included peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. After that reaction, they tested me for other tropical fruits, and found I was also allergic to avocado, banana and pineapple.
In fact, I was highly reactive to the skin-prick test for avocado. The hive that emerged raised high and spread around my arm, defying any measurement – and suggesting I was even more allergic to avocado than peanuts.
I thought for sure I would never eat avocados. Then when I was 16, my mum and I traded in our snow boots for sandals, as we moved from Switzerland all the way to California – the state famous for its avocados.
It was while living in Monterey, California that I first went to a Chipotle, which was my first experience with a restaurant that takes allergies seriously. Their food was delicious, however, I was always watching out for their coveted guacamole, in case of cross-contamination. I spent years in California watching other people eat their Chipotle guacamole, which costs extra. They would swoon over it, mix it in to their rice – and I watched the joy on their faces when they would take that first bite.
I have always been very good at not having FOMO (fear of missing out). My philosophy is to focus on the foods that I can eat, rather than those I can’t. But I confess, I really wanted avocado.
Retesting for Avocado
As I got older, I’d visit the allergist less and less. However, when I was 26 and back living in the U.K., I wanted to see if my allergies could have changed. My new allergist was not convinced that I would react to all of my many allergens. My food allergy list had grown to include peanuts, all nuts, sesame, shellfish, lentils, chickpeas, peas, beans, and the afore-mentioned avocado, banana, kiwi and pineapple. We did the skin and blood tests, and they came back positive, with two exceptions – I tested negative to avocado and banana. I was shocked, the last time I’d done tests, those allergens were the most reactive!
The allergist asked if I wanted to do a supervised oral food challenge, and I could not say “yes!” fast enough. I was nervous, but I’d passed an egg challenge when I was a child, so I knew the procedure. Plus, I’d never had a reaction to avocados or bananas, I just avoided them.
Avocado Stress and Joy
I did my avocado challenge and passed. Result: I could eat avocado. But now what?
The good news was interrupted by an unexpected level of fear the first time I set out to eat avocado in my own home. I was by myself, and about to eat a food that I had been avoiding most of my life. For the first few weeks of introducing avocado into my diet, I was terrified. I became hyper-aware of my body, checking my face every few seconds for hives or swelling. I feared that I would have a delayed reaction to it and, bam, I would be allergic again.
The allergist said I would need to eat avocado regularly – almost every day – to prevent a return of the allergy. That message played on my mind, I stressed about becoming allergic again. Slowly, and with no reactions, that fear was replaced by hope. It was exciting to eat the food I had long dreamed of – and I now understood why everyone likes this creamy and versatile food so much.
One Year Later
The banana challenge was also successful – another key fruit to enjoy. Today, I feel overwhelming gratitude to be able to include these foods in my diet. I sometimes forget my life before avocado became a staple in my diet. It doesn’t seem real. The experience has also made me want to do more challenges, to other foods I have been avoiding.
It’s not to say that every food challenge goes successfully, which is why we are challenged under the guidance of an allergist. The risk of anaphylaxis is too high to test on your own. My supervised challenge to shellfish/prawns at the end of 2019 was not successful. But at least I know for sure that shellfish remain dangerous for me.
When you can add an allergen back into your diet, it is incredible. If I had let my fear of the first tests for avocado hold me back, I wouldn’t be eating it right now. For reasons nobody understands, my allergies have ebbed and flowed, but having two new foods back in my diet is a gift – especially as I get to create more recipes!
The best thing that happened after I passed my avocado challenge, was going to a Chipotle in London. After I made my meal, I got to the end of the counter and asked for guac. When the server replied that “guac is extra,” my reply was: “You have no idea.”
Lindiwe Lewis is a writer and allergy advocate based in London, England. Visit her website TheAllergyTable.org to see more of her work.