Has anyone heard of a margarine allergy?
February 1, 2012 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone heard of a margarine allergy? I normally cook with butter. Occasionally I'll be out of butter and will have to use margarine (I don't buy - my friends do). The problem is that every time I use it, it ends-up badly. I used a teaspoon of it this past weekend to fry breakfast in a skillet. Shortly thereafter I had...well, let's call it an explosive reaction. One that caused such abdominal pain that I was pretty much incapacitated for the rest of that day (and half the next) and almost broke-down to go to the ER.

It also comes with nausea and a headache. I've ruled-out other food (doesn't matter what it's with, the few times I've used margarine this has happened). I have no dairy or other allergies. It seems the only thing I'm allergic to (or at least have a crazy high intolerance for) is margarine. Or perhaps more accurately something that is in margarine. Can anyone shed some light on this?
posted by metaJa to Food & Drink (21 answers total)
What's the margarine made of? Seems the stuff can be formulated from a variety of different oils and fats.

Same reaction using one specific brand, or regardless of brand?
posted by 2N2222 at 8:42 PM on February 1, 2012

I am personally very, very sensitive to margarine and blended oils. It's like my body can't process them at all and decides instead to just expel it really fast either through my skin or through my tummy. Hydrogenated and fractionated palm, coconut, vegetable, etc oils do the same thing. :(

That being said, is it just this specific tub of margarine you've been using or margarine in general?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To address both, it's margarine in general, regardless of brand. Most recently it was Shedd's Spread Country Crock. I don't have it in front of me but it had palm and similar oils...and of course a bunch of things I don't recognize or can't pronounce.
posted by metaJa at 9:02 PM on February 1, 2012

I do know of people allergic to soy, which is what a lot of margarines are made out of. Either way, you should probably check in with your doctor, who can let you know whether you should be seeing an allergist or not.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:03 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Soy is a common allergen. Corn oil is a less common allergen, but one that wreaks intestinal havoc like you describe. Both are present in many margarines.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:25 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have something like this problem, but only with plant oils.

Started with peanut oil, then walnut, then soy, then sesame, then coconut, palm, and olive, then safflower, then grapeseed, then pumpkin, then a bunch of fairly rare oils I can't bring to mind right now (Ben oil for one), then sunflower, and finally after a period of a year tolerating it, canola.

All this took about 7 years.

I can eat avocados, but not the oil from the seed. I still have no problem, as far as I know, with rice bran oil, but I'm saving it, though I'm no longer sure why.

I eat a high fat diet: pound and a half of butter a week, two of cheese, gallon of whole milk, 3 pounds fatty meat, pound of sour cream, and more.

I also have celiac disease and pernicious anemia, and I think celiac disease has a causal relationship to my plant oil intolerance.

I also have about a 2 sq. in. patch of skin pebbled like a football at the base of my neck on the back right side, described by my mother as a birthmark and by a doctor as "shagreen skin", which expands markedly when I make the occasional ill-advised foray back into the world of tasty, tasty plant-derived oils.
posted by jamjam at 9:57 PM on February 1, 2012

Does margarine have MSG in it? I am allergic to MSG, and that sounds pretty much like what my reaction to MSG is. But I don't eat margarine ever, so I've never researched its ingredients.
posted by vignettist at 11:18 PM on February 1, 2012

If what you're experiencing is a true IgE mediated allergy, it doesn't take much of the allergen to get things going. There are any number of things in margarine (both in terms of ingredients put there on purpose and trace impurities associated with those ingredients) that could be your problem child. A lot of people use the term allergy to mean a host of non-IgE mediated conditions - usually dietary intolerances, which aren't the same thing at all. This may seem academic when you're experiencing "an explosive reaction", but if you try and treat with an anti-histamine, nothing is going to happen because it isn't a histamine response like a true allergy typically is.

Looking at the ingredients in Shedd's spread, the "can't pronounce" ones are all pretty small physically to be immunogenic or are things that you'd be well and truly screwed if you were allergic to it (citric acid, for example, is a vital component of your metabolism).
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:33 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Does the same thing happen when you use Crisco?

If you plan to experiment (eww?), use a fresh container of margarine to rule out contamination from toast knives, etc.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:13 AM on February 2, 2012

If you're worried about an allergy, you should probably make an appointment with an allergist. They've got a pretty effective way of telling whether or not you're actually allergic to a wide variety of substances.
posted by valkyryn at 3:28 AM on February 2, 2012

Are you sure you're not lactose intolerant?
posted by Blake at 4:05 AM on February 2, 2012

I have a close family member who has a similar reaction to certain formulations of some vegetable oils (namely soybean oil and palm oil). She is ok with vegetable oil shortening but is wary of trying anything that isn't specific about what oils are used and of course ones that list her allergens specifically.

Have you had this reaction eating out? Any other foods?

In short, you can absolutely be allergic or sensitive (I think this qualifies as a food sensitivity) to margarine. If it hurts, stop doing it!
posted by sunshinesky at 5:40 AM on February 2, 2012

My mother loves to cook with margarine. Her most favorite dish is potatoes and onions in margarine. I forget sometimes and eat, then spend the rest of the day feeling like I'm going to die.

I can eat small amounts of margarine, but more than a tiny pat and I'm in pain.

The local hospital fries everything in something that is supposed to be healthy. The few times I have eaten there I end up on the floor with severe cramps for hours. It is excruciatingly painful.
posted by myselfasme at 6:07 AM on February 2, 2012

Yeah, I can't eat hydrogenated palm oil anymore (since sometime in my twenties) without getting a big fat stomachache. Processed ingredients like hydrogenated oils aren't generally covered by allergy tests, or at least weren't by the ones I've had done, and having a sensitivity diagnosed probably wouldn't tell you anything besides "yup, that's the thing your stomach hates, lay off it." So I'd suggest (1) laying off it and (2) reading the labels on processed foods you eat, especially if something else gives you the same reaction. FWIW I often forget about this because hydrogenated oils are pretty easy for me to avoid.
posted by clavicle at 8:26 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Different idea here ... how fresh is that margarine? (you say you use it if you're out of butter, indicating it could just be a stick of margarine you have sitting around in the fridge) could the oil in it be rancid and you just did not notice before using it?
posted by kuppajava at 8:30 AM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've noticed some purified hokum above. Let's go with what is actually in the stuff, and consider what you could genuinely be allergic to. Ingredients:
Oils: If you have a soy allergy, the soybean oil and soy lecithin would get you. There are rare instances of allergy to cottonseed oil. The Mono and Diglycerides are usually soy based as well. It's possible your stomach really hates one of those hydrogenated oils. Do any other foods made with hydrogenated oils make your stomach flip?
Whey, Milk: You stated you eat butter all the time. If you eat butter then neither of these should have an effect.
Preservatives: This is borderline stuff as well, and I don't think I've ever seen any conclusive science on sorbate or EDTA. I'm betting you eat the crap out of these in other foods.
Everything else: If you are allergic to any of the following then you are dead: salt, water, Vitamin A, Beta Carotene, Citric Acid.

If you had an allergy to soy or had lactose intolerance you likely would have already known this. Occam's Razor in my mind says you had some rancid margarine, and rancid fats will make your system flip out in no time. Throw out that margarine.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:06 AM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Whey, Milk: You stated you eat butter all the time. If you eat butter then neither of these should have an effect.

Not so! Whey and milk contain milk protein, to which many people, including me, have a sensitivity or are outright allergic. Butter, on the other hand, contains only the fat. I can't eat margerine, but I can eat butter with no ill effects.
posted by Dolley at 12:31 PM on February 2, 2012

Butter, on the other hand, contains only the fat.

Umm... no it doesn't. There's about 1g of protein per 100g of butter. Clarified butter is another story.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:57 PM on February 2, 2012

A person can still have a problem with margarine but not with butter. A person like me, for instance.
posted by Dolley at 1:47 PM on February 2, 2012

Response by poster: OK, going to try to hit on a lot of the points above...

- First: It's not an issue of old, rancid, or spoiled margarine. This happens with multiple margarines, regardless of freshness or source. This is not a last-couple-of-months thing, but a longer-term, but occasional thing. Occasional because butter tastes more awesome and margarine is the devil.

- To be technical, yes, this is probably more accurately described as a food sensitivity, as opposed to an allergy. That being said, this arena is not always clear-cut or as simple as the 'classical' reaction, though if there's an allergist or MD who will weigh-in, cool. I'm just trying to narrow-down potential causes. In short, whatever it is, it is excruciating and I want to narrow things down to help avoid future problems. Three days later and my GI-whatevers still feel sore, like someone kicked me in the stomach.

- I don't know if I have a soy allergy. I don't keep an eye out for soy in my diet. I don't eat products that're primarily soy-based, but that's not to say it's not an ingredient.

- I don't think I have a dairy allergy. I do use butter all the time, and can chug a glass of milk without problem. (I imagine that's got more milk than a little margarine.) Some ice creams will upset the stomach, though. So...no? Maybe?

- I don't generally eat-out. When I do, sometimes I have problems, sometimes I don't.

- This makes me think it's certain oils. Some oils I have no problem with (olive, sesame). Some I may have a problem with...potentially those in the margarine and whatever some restaurants might use on the occasions I eat out and have problems. Incidentally, the ingredients list someone posted above is not the same as the margarine in the fridge. I don't think I have problems with things like Crisco, but to be fair I don't remember the last time I may have had something made with that.

In general, I don't have major problems, though my GI tract has always been a bit loopy.
posted by metaJa at 3:15 PM on February 2, 2012

Response by poster: Ingredients of the most recent margarine...

Water, vegetable oil blend (soybean oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil), tricalcium phosphate, salt, whey (milk), mono and diglycerides, lactic acid, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, (potassium sorbate, calcium disodium edta) used to protect quality, soy lecithin, xantham gum, vitamin e acetate, vitamin a palmitate, beta carotene (color), natural and artificial flavor, cholecalciferol (vitamin d).

Perhaps not much different than listed above, but a bit different.
posted by metaJa at 3:20 PM on February 2, 2012

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