I discovered last weekend that I don’t react to vinegar! I cut vinegar out of my diet almost two years ago when I began to notice symptoms after ingesting food items that contained vinegar. Recently, I really began to question if I truly reacted to vinegar. I’ll share how I decided to reintroduce vinegar and what I think is truly the cause of my reactions that I thought were being caused by vinegar.
After I eliminated vinegar from my diet, I started feeling better after a few days and got to the point where I was feeling better than I had in a long time. While I hated having to eliminate another food item, I was happy to have found the cause of unexplained symptoms I’d been having. I wasn’t entirely sure of the cause of the reactions, whether they were from an allergy, intolerance, or something else. I decided not to reintroduce vinegar for a while and thought to be on the safe side that I would wait a couple of years before trying again.
About seven months after I eliminated vinegar, I decided to see an allergist to see if she could give me any clarity on what I’d experienced with vinegar or could even perhaps test me. I’d corresponded with someone who said her allergist skin-tested her with acetic acid. She didn’t seem to think the symptoms I’d described could lead to anaphylaxis, so she didn’t think testing was necessary. She suggested I try a small amount of something with vinegar in it to see if it caused a reaction. I thought about trying during a period of time off that was coming up if things were stable enough with my gluten reactions. That time never came. I was more or less continually dealing with issues mainly from cross-contamination as I kept uncovering more and more things that were causing me to become inadvertently exposed. At the time, I was still consuming guar gum in cooked foods, and I found out that I needed to eliminate those as well. I stopped consuming guar gum altogether. There was just too much going on, and things were just too unsettled for me to feel confident reintroducing vinegar into my diet.
Around this same time, at Easter, my mom brought some ham to have with lunch. It may have been Oscar-Meyer brand, but I can’t recall. I ate it and didn’t notice any problems with it. My mom let me keep the leftovers. I put them away to have later in the week. I had made cookies for dessert that were also fine at lunch. I didn’t notice any problems. However, that evening, I had some and noticed symptoms soon after. I wonder if the cookies had become contaminated somehow. I ended up giving the rest of the batch away. When I decided to have the ham again a few days later, I decided just to check the ingredients list on the package out of curiosity. I saw vinegar listed near the end. I couldn’t believe it! I ended up giving the package back to my mom. I then wondered if the symptoms I had that Easter evening might have been due to the vinegar in the ham rather than the cookies.
Over the next year and a half, I had other supposed run-ins with vinegar. Some calcium supplements that caused a reaction had an ingredient in them called triacetin, which I discovered online is made using acetic acid. Was this ingredient the cause of my symptoms, or was the supplement contaminated with wheat/gluten? One day at work, I happened to breathe in some fumes from distilled/white vinegar being used to clean a coffeepot. I noticed symptoms shortly after. Could inhaling the fumes from the vinegar have caused my symptoms? There was really no way I could definitively pin the reactions on vinegar. Other things could have been an issue. Like I said concerning the calcium supplement, it could have been contaminated with wheat/gluten. There could have been wheat/gluten contamination that caused my symptoms that day at work as well.
A couple of months ago, I discovered that xanthan gum derived from wheat was a problem when I made pancakes using the xanthan gum and was certain that they could not have been contaminated some other way. I decided at that point to eliminate xanthan gum because the source isn’t listed on ingredients labels, and if the information is not on the companies’ websites, I would end up having to e-mail or call the manufacturer, which is time that I don’t want to waste or spend. It’s easier and safer finding alternatives free of xanthan gum or finding a safe xanthan gum (checking one product instead of many) to make things myself. Around this same time, I found out that a lab offered a wine vinegar IgE test. I thought that might be a good way to discover if a have an allergy to vinegar. Since it’s a wine vinegar, any issues that wheat/gluten might present should be eliminated. I requested the test from my current allergist, not the same one I saw about vinegar initially, and he ordered the test for me. It came back negative.
After this whole sequence of events, and especially in recent weeks, I began questioning my reactions to vinegar. Considering the way I reacted to xanthan gum, I wondered if I could have similar issues with distilled/white vinegar, which can be made from a variety of starters. The most common one is corn, but it can be made from other things as well, including gluten grains. Xanthan gum is much the same way. It’s mostly derived from corn but can be derived from other sources like soy and wheat. One thing that made me think I had an issue with vinegar itself rather than vinegar derived from gluten grains was a dill pickle I ate that was made with vinegar derived from corn, which I found out by checking the company’s website. However, what if the pickle was perfectly fine? What if something else had caused the symptoms? I’d had a honey mustard dressing at lunch that day which contained white vinegar. I know the balsamic vinaigrette dressing that I thought upset my stomach previously was Annie’s brand, but I can’t remember if it was organic (does not contain distilled/white vinegar) or not (does contain it). Of course, with it being almost two years ago, ingredients could have changed. With all these questions and the negative IgE test, I decided to take the plunge and try something with vinegar in it.
When I went to the store to find something to try, I left with an Amy’s Kitchen entree that contained brown rice vinegar and ume plum vinegar. I decided to try it for lunch on Sunday. I had my epi-pen ready to go, with the plug at the top removed so all I would have to do is press it into my thigh if I felt a serious reaction occurring. I cautiously took a few very small bites and noticed no symptoms. After that, I continued eating the entree and never noticed a
reaction. Later that day, at the grocery store, I purchased a Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar beverage that I drank without issues. I found a couple of salad dressings that did not have distilled/white vinegar or xanthan gum. I treated “vinegar” by itself on labels the same as distilled/white vinegar. If I saw it on the label, I put the product back on the shelf. I’d read on multiple sites that “vinegar” by itself on the label is apple cider vinegar, but I don’t buy that at all. That would mean that the vast majority of processed foods containing vinegar would be using apple cider vinegar. That just didn’t ring true to me. To me, it could be distilled/white vinegar or any type of vinegar that the manufacturer just did not disclose. It would be safer not to consume such-labelled products. A few days later, I decided to buy a bottle of apple cider vinegar and a bottle of distilled/white
vinegar that disclosed its source as corn to keep on hand for recipes. I would continue to make my own ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and pickles as before to make sure they were safe for me to consume. I tried a bit of the white vinegar I purchased in a salad dressing recipe and ended up being fine with it.
I was very happy to discover that vinegar itself was not a problem for me, although it doesn’t open up too many food options since I’m choosing to avoid unspecified vinegar or distilled/white vinegar where the source isn’t
disclosed on the label. Since distilled/white vinegar could be derived from gluten grains and since “vinegar” by itself on the label could very well be distilled/white vinegar, I find it’s safer to avoid such products. Since I react to the traces of wheat/gluten left behind in xanthan gum and in probiotics, it makes sense that vinegar derived from gluten grains could potentially pose a problem as well.
I will end this post with a word of warning. Reintroducing a food into your diet that you may have reacted to previously is very risky. I had previously talked to an allergist and had an IgE test done that came back negative, and other research I had done led me to believe that an oral challenge would more likely than not be successful. Do not undertake to reintroduce a food into your diet that could cause a reaction without first consulting with your doctor or allergist. He or she may want you to do a supervised challenge or may caution against a challenge altogether.
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