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Why Does Eating Salmon Make Me Sick?

Everybody loves salmon. Seriously.

Name one person who’d turn down a crispy and flaky salmon fillet. It’s tasty, hearty, and filling—and makes for as good of a meal when grilled for lunch on a hot summer’s day as it does roast on a chilly winter night.

Nutritionists agree. An oily fish with high protein content and plenty of omega-3 fatty acids (a.k.a. the good kind), salmon is frequently touted as an excellent choice of food on any diet that allows eating fish.

Lately, despite my apparent appreciation of this delicious and nutritious fish, something started to change. An hour or so in after eating salmon, I’d start to feel dizziness and fatigue.

This comes from someone who prides himself on his ability to eat—and savor—any food, from any cuisine!

I am a food blogger without borders, someone who has a knack for understanding the principles behind any cuisine and mastering the art and craft of its tricky yet rewarding recipes.

What happened?

At first, I thought I was going berserk.

Perhaps I needed a change from leaning over the stove, then sitting on a desk to write about my experiences on a laptop?

But then, I started to do some research… as it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who had complained of regularly feeling sick after eating salmon!

You can generally have two types of adverse reactions to fish: fish allergy or less-intense fish intolerance, both triggered by your immune system’s response to the calcium-binding protein called parvalbumin.

Fish allergy appears early in life and generally lasts a lifetime; intolerance to fish can occur at any time and disappear just as suddenly.

Fish allergy is when your body physically rejects fish as food. It’s caused by a reaction to parvalbumin, a kind of protein that’s commonly and predominantly found in fish, and a potent allergen.

One study found that salmon had a relatively high parvalbumin content of 0.5-2 mg per gram, compared to less than 0.5 mg/g for mackerel and well over 2 mg/g for cod, carp, redfish, and herring.

As with most proteins, parvalbumins are heat stable. They’re as present in sashimi (raw fish, sushi) as they are in grilled, pan-seared, or roast salmon, and they can agitate an allergy just as much.

Fish allergies appear early in life and last a lifetime. To determine whether you have one, it’s best to consult with a medical professional who can help you conduct a skin and blood test.

So I could count that one out…

Fish intolerance, as described by yorktest, isn’t something you necessarily have for life. Scientists agree that it can appear at any point of time in your life right out of the blue—and disappear just as quickly.

The symptoms of fish intolerance are less severe than those of fish allergy. They generally include an upset stomach, bloating, nausea, headaches, and, in some cases, skin rashes.

Fish intolerance is also triggered by your body’s response to parvalbumin, the second-largest family of animal allergens. To determine whether you have it, the best thing to do is get yourself tested for allergies.

A few Redditors had another theory: salmon is very fatty and could make you feel dizzy if you don’t eat oily foods as much.

In a way, it makes sense.

Lately, I haven’t been eating fatty meat or oily seafood more than once per week. As regular readers of Home Cook World know, I’ve been diving deep into Italian cuisine—and its recipes that call for 00 flour and canned tomatoes on the stove over thick-cut steak and mushrooms on the grill.

That will, of course, change once I get to Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak) and the hearty wonders of Tuscan cuisine as a whole.

After getting myself tested and confirming that I absolutely don’t have an allergy or intolerance to the protein called parvalbumin, this is the best explanation I could possibly come to for myself as well.

Until then, I plan to limit my salmon intake and keep you posted if anything changes. After all, I could always attribute this to me getting old!

Curious to know if any of you have experienced something similar when it comes to eating salmon. And, if you have, what you found out about it/how you managed to deal with it.

Do let me know in the comments section below this post.

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Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.