Oog, I feel sick
November 1, 2010 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Is this a food allergy? What might be causing it? And "can I eat this"?

Years ago, my new-ish boyfriend's parents took us out to dinner at a Greek seafood restaurant. When my food arrived, it wasn't quite as described on the menu, but I ate it anyway because I didn't want to make a fuss in front of boyfriend's parents. I became nauseated, developed a massive headache, and had stomach cramps, all night. (The boyfriend sat with me, eventually falling asleep on the floor holding my hand. Awww.) I thought maybe I was allergic to the diced green peppers that were so liberally spread over top of my fish ("chopped vegetables" indeed...) since I don't like those and don't ever eat them.

So, that boyfriend and I have now been married more than 10 years, so it's been a long while. We went back to that restaurant for the first time. We had some really good food (Greek salad, stuffed shrimp and mushrooms and flounder and spaghetti with meat sauce--no green peppers in evidence). This time I started feeling nauseated before I'd even finished it. As before, I got more and more miserable through the night, though it never progressed beyond nausea, headache, and stomach cramps.

I've never had this experience anywhere else, including other seafood restaurants and other Greek restaurants. Both times it was just me, no one else got sick (and last night hubby & I had the same food). So is it likely to be something they're putting in their food that's pretty unique? Any idea what it might be, at a Greek/seafood restaurant--or just plain something I have never eaten anywhere else? If I call the restaurant and ask "what do you use that no one else does," will they have any idea?

Is this an allergy or a food intolerance? Or not even that?

...and to make this a "can I eat this" question: should I avoid my leftovers? It was so GOOD.
posted by galadriel to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like an allergy of some sort- I'm guessing a seafood allergy (some people get strong reactions to certain types of seafood...I have a friend who can't eat shrimp or "bottom dwelling fish" but is fine with tuna. Or maybe a certain spice or flavoring they use? And for heaven's sake, don't eat the leftovers.
posted by emd3737 at 7:35 AM on November 1, 2010

I wonder if they use MSG--sounds like the symptoms I get when I eat it.
posted by 6:1 at 7:46 AM on November 1, 2010

Well, if it's an allergy, it could become life threatening, so I wouldn't listen to us.

To me, it looks like a restaurant intolerance. But what do I know.
posted by tel3path at 8:13 AM on November 1, 2010

Response by poster: Just to reiterate: never had this experience anywhere else, including other Greek or seafood restaurants. I've had shrimp, flounder, seafood stuffings, etc many times elsewhere with no problems. It's been 11 or 12 years since I ate there last, so lots and lots of opportunity to encounter whatever-this-was again elsewhere, but haven't.

If it were MSG, shouldn't I have had this reaction at a multitude of Chinese restaurants, or even with the packets of ramen I make pretty frequently when I'm craving salty food?

I figure if this is an allergy, I should get it pinpointed since it came on faster this time than last time; maybe next time will be worse. But if it's a food intolerance, then it probably won't ever lead to, say, anaphylactic shock.
posted by galadriel at 8:16 AM on November 1, 2010

why on earth would you want to eat MORE something that your body is clearly rejecting? was it so good you want to go through the cramps etc again? nothing's that good, IMHO!

I'm wondering if maybe, could it be something in a beverage you drank? Did you drink wine? specifically, Retsina?
posted by ChefJoAnna at 8:25 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, I don't drink alcoholic anything; never developed a taste for it. I had sweet tea, which tasted, anyway, about normal for sweet tea. Sometimes I can taste a slight ...mildewy?... flavor in tea like it's been sitting out too long or maybe they need to clean their teamaker, but not this time. When I started to feel unwell, I did switch to water and took more water with me to drink on the way home.

why on earth would you want to eat MORE something that your body is clearly rejecting?

Well, well, well... I think I mostly need people to remind me that the delicious food in my fridge is not for me to eat. Hubby will, I am sure, be delighted to have it. I will now make a sad face.

(Are we sure that's what made me sick? I mean, certain?)
posted by galadriel at 8:36 AM on November 1, 2010

Have you ever had green peppers between those two incidents? Were there green peppers in your dinner the second time?

Well, try the leftovers and see if you get the same reaction.

Really though, you should go to a doctor and get tested for allergies.
posted by reddot at 8:51 AM on November 1, 2010

Certain? No. It could be really anything. The cheapo oil they use, the cleaning agent they don't properly rinse off, or the individual brand of a lack of hygiene in that particular kitchen, in combination with your specific disposition. I'd just stay away from that place.

(Personally, I'd also start monitoring any vague, less violent, discomfort after certain foods, but that's just me. Or what reddot says).
posted by Namlit at 9:02 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is there any possibility that this isn't some kind of food allergy or intolerance and possibly some sort of anxiety attack?

The last time you were there you got really ill. If it were me, I would have anxiety about eating from the same place again. Anxiety causes me to feel like I'm sick.

Just a different seed for thought.
posted by royalsong at 9:11 AM on November 1, 2010

Response by poster: I don't like green peppers, so the first incident was the first time in my life I'd ever knowingly eaten a fair amount of them. I've avoided them since, as I blamed the 1st incident on the peppers, and I don't think there were any in last night's dinner. I do know I've had foods that were made with green peppers, and just didn't eat the peppers themselves, so there was some green pepper flavor in the food (but I try not to do that, either, since I really just don't like them). So if I am indeed allergic to green peppers, a small amount of them doesn't seem enough to make me sick. Based on last night, I'm going to guess that it's something else anyway.

I doubt it was anxiety. See, I didn't even realize it was the same place when we got there. It's in a town several hours from here, and we went there because it was the first place we could find along the road home that looked like it had padded seats. (So it's also not likely to be a place we'll visit again any time soon.) We were exhausted and starving and not exactly on the lookout for it. It wasn't until I started feeling the same way that we realized that it was, in fact, the same restaurant where I'd had this reaction before.

It's been a long time; for all I know, it's changed hands a couple of times, closed, reopened, renovated. I have no idea.

I'll go ahead and talk to my doc about allergies next time I see her.
posted by galadriel at 10:25 AM on November 1, 2010

I got violently ill from bad scallops, and the next time I faced them, I had some twinges of stomach cramps--before I ate them. I wonder if you got food poisoning the first time, and then were sensitized when you encountered the Greek food again. Scent is a powerful trigger.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:42 AM on November 1, 2010

There are a lot of different kinds of food intolerances. You might find it interesting to read John Emsley's Was it something you ate?: food intolerance, what causes it and how to avoid it. (I got it out of our local public library.)
posted by Ery at 10:45 AM on November 1, 2010

I have a reaction to some shrimp. And here's the thing: it's not the shrimp I'm reacting to at all.

This took me *years* to work out, but I have a reaction to a particular antibiotic, and it's used in shrimp farming. My sensitivity varies, as does the quantity in whatever batch of shrimp happens to be on offer - but to be safe, unless I've seen it wild caught in front of my eyes, I don't eat it any more at all.

Any chance that could be it?
posted by ysabet at 1:29 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That's fascinating, ysabet. I don't *think* it's the issue here; last time I was there I had only fish, no shrimp, and the restaurant in question on the coast near a lot of fishing industry. I usually get my delicious shrimp from chain restaurants inland. So if anyone is going to be feeding me antibiotic-laden shrimp, I would *guess* it's the local Red Lobster.

Still really interesting to know.

I'll check out that book, Ery. Thanks.

Ideefix, this wasn't my first visit to a Greek restaurant since the last time, either.
posted by galadriel at 3:19 PM on November 1, 2010

I bet if you contacted the restaurant and explained you were trying to figure out a food allergy, and asked for a list of all ingredients in the dish you ate, they would help you out. Then you could see what the ingredients are that you don't usually eat, and test them one by one until you figure it out - or discover that none of them are the culprit.
posted by lollusc at 3:52 PM on November 1, 2010

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