Hidden connections: why I don’t eat apples.

Hidden connections are often the most interesting. Ideas that don’t seem to go together at first glance often do – once you dig deeper.

As a biology undergraduate, I was fascinated by the revelation that feral goats could be the cause of coral reef destruction. It conjures up an image of a herd of goats wearing snorkels, all munching on coral. Of course, that wasn’t quite it. The goats were destroying the vegetation up in the hills. This led to increased soil erosion, and more organic material being washed into the sea. This was then harming the coral. The thought of some government official having then to explain to the local population that goats (introduced by people a century earlier) had to be eradicated in order to protect the coral reefs also conjures up the image of some potentially bizarre conversations.

In a similar vein, I have had numerous conversations to explain why I can’t eat apples. In short, I don’t eat apples because I am allergic to birch trees!  Sounds nuts, but I am allergic to them too. Clearly I have missed out a few stages in the explanation here. So I have summarised the links in the map in the figure below:



Clearly this is too much to include in a casual conversation, and so I often just say that I am allergic to nuts in order to avoid the most likely invisible allergens that might get me. What is interesting to observe is how other people always ‘fill in the gaps’ of my brief explanation, based on their own prior knowledge. If I say I am allergic to nuts, people often assume it is peanuts that are the problem as peanut allergy often grabs the headlines in the papers. Actually, I can eat peanuts. Different allergen!

When I say that I am allergic to nuts in various situations, people are usually very understanding and try to accommodate my ‘difference’. Recently, at a meeting when I revealed I was allergic to nuts, clearly the catering staff were worried that the biscuits they were serving with coffee might contain nuts. I was given a ‘safe’ substitute – an apple!  I took it with a smile and said I would have it later.

Even when all appears safe, you can still get caught. A while ago a friend gave me a box of chocolates – certified ‘nut free’. I cautiously bit into my first chocolate and tasted marzipan (almond paste). I had an instant reaction. When my friend then complained to the shop about what they had sold her, they claimed “it didn’t contain whole nuts”. Again the level of misunderstanding here is quite alarming when public safety is at stake.

Sometimes a simplification of a complex problem (like oral allergy syndrome) just gets everyone even more confused. In the classroom situation we need to ensure that oversimplification of our content doesn’t lead to misconceptions among our students. Otherwise they will make the disciplinary equivalent mistakes of assuming that everyone with a nut allergy is allergic to peanuts (presumably whole peanuts), or if you can’t eat nuts you can always have an apple.

The links between ideas are crucial, especially when the ideas don’t appear to slot together logically. Concept maps help to make these hidden connections visible. Try it.  It’s safer that eating nuts!


Price, A. et al., (2015) Oral allergy syndrome (Pollen-food allergy syndrome). Dermatitis, 26(2): 78- 88.

Rentos, G. et al., (2014) Intestinal allergic inflammation in birch pollen allergic patients in relation to pollen season, IgE sensitization profile and gastrointestinal symptoms. Clinical and Translational Allergy, 4:19.

Skypala, I.J. et al., (2013) The prevalence of PFS and prevalence and characteristics of reported food allergy: a survey of UK adults aged 18 – 75 incorporating a validated PFS diagnostic questionnaire. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 43: 928 – 940.





One thought on “Hidden connections: why I don’t eat apples.

  1. Denise Mills

    I grew up eating fresh fruits and nuts. I had no reactions to them as a child. What I did have was terrible seasonal hay fever. The kind of hay fever that would swell my eyes closed on a farm trip in the spring, or make me sneeze so much I was gasping to breathe as I hiked with my family.

    As a pre teen I began to avoid raw fruits such as apples, peaches and cherries as they caused my throat and ears to itch like crazy when I ate them. Especially apples. By the time I was an adult, the only raw fruits I can eat are bananas and citrus, grapes and berries, but not blue berries.

    Not a big tree nut fan, but any tree nuts that I eat either raw or cooked cause a reaction in my mouth. Burning tongue and or itchy throat. Except for Almond milk. In small increments I tolerate it better than cows milk. I used to love pistachios. But now if I ingest more than 2 or 3 raw, my tongue swells on the sides and my throat is crazy itchy. Peanuts are no problem for me either raw or cooked. Love PB, but rarely eat peanuts on their own. But when I do (once in a blue moon), no problem.

    I do raw spinach/greens, radishes, beans, legumes no problem. Raw carrots…no. Celery. ..no. cilantro is okay so far. I have not grown up with the herb so it’s rather new to me. I am fine with tomatoes. I avoid melons because I naturally detest their texture and smell. Pumpkin and squashes I love! Cooked of course! Potatoes no problem either raw or cooked.

    Oddly enough I have noticed that my throat feels tight when I drink sodas such as Cherry Dr . Pepper or Coke Zero Cherry.



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