Do you ever find yourself avoiding seafood because it made you feel sick in the past? Maybe you thought it was undercooked. But if you ever experience non-immediate symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain when consuming seafood, you may have a seafood intolerance.

A seafood intolerance is vastly different than a seafood allergy. Symptoms of a seafood intolerance come on gradually after seafood consumption. You also may only experience symptoms if you eat a lot of seafood at once or if you are eating seafood day after day.

People with seafood allergies often have severe and immediate reactions to eating or being around seafood. If you experience hives, difficulty breathing, throat and mouth swelling, abdominal distress, dizziness, or anaphylaxis when consuming seafood, you most likely have a seafood allergy and need immediate medical attention.

 Are there certain types of seafood that I could have issues with?

Yes! For both seafood allergies and intolerances, you may have reactions to one class of seafood and not others. Let’s take a look at the different categories of seafood so you understand which types give you the most distress (if not all seafood):

  1. Shellfish: Crustaceans (crab, lobster, shrimp, prawn, crayfish)
  2. Shellfish: Mollusks (mussels, oysters, squid, scallops, clams, octopus, cuttlefish, snails)
  3. Finfish (salmon, halibut, Mahi Mahi, Pollock, perch, snapper, herring, trout, anchovies, tuna, herring, tilapia, etc.)

 

Here are some not-so-obvious foods that may contain one of the 3 seafood categories above:

  • Fish oil
  • Fish sticks (i.e. freezer sticks)
  • Fish gelatin
  • Worcestershire sauce, BBQ sauce, Caesar salad dressing
  • Imitation fish, imitation crab, surimi
  • Fish stock
  • Glucosamine
  • Sushi
  • Ceviche
  • Clamato
  • Gumbo, jambalaya
  • Paella

Fish and shellfish are two of the top 8 allergens and must be indicated on the food label (except mollusks). That is helpful for someone trying to avoid seafood! Here are some keywords to look for on the food label:

  • Fish or shellfish flavoring
  • Mock crab or fish meat, imitation crab or fish meat
  • Fish oil

How do I manage my seafood intolerance?

Remember: A seafood allergy is life-threatening and seafood should never be consumed. You should always consult your doctor or registered dietitian to determine your personal dietary needs, however, some people with seafood intolerance may be able to incorporate a small amount of seafood occasionally into their diet. Here are some tips to manage and/or avoid seafood if you have a seafood intolerance:

  • Look for keywords and warnings on labels: Read all ingredients carefully. Fish and crustaceans must be identified on the food label, however, mollusks may not be.
  • Know the lingo: Make sure you understand words that mean fish or shellfish in other languages. Some cultural dishes inherently contain seafood, so you may have to do some research beforehand. Here are words that indicate seafood is used in the dish:
    • Scampi
    • Ceviche
    • Clamato
    • Etouffee
    • Nam prik
    • Mam tom
    • Cuisines than often use seafood in their dishes: Creole, Cajun, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian
  • Be aware of cross-contamination: Restaurants and deli’s may handle seafood on their equipment and counters. Talk with your deli staff or wait staff to see how they can accommodate your dietary needs. Be careful at home too! Make sure you and your family practice safe food handling practices to avoid seafood cross-contamination.
  • Keep a journal of your symptoms: If you have a seafood intolerance, you may be able to have small amounts of seafood every once in a while. At first, eliminate all seafood for several weeks or months. After a cleansing period, keep a journal that details the types of seafood you ate, how much, and what kind of symptoms you are experiencing. You may find that some seafood bothers you less than others!

 

As you can see from above, a seafood allergy is very different than a seafood intolerance. People with a seafood intolerance may be able to incorporate some seafood in the diet or choose to avoid it completely. Always consult your registered dietitian for your custom nutrition needs.