As always, I like to start these articles with a disclaimer: no two people are the same. Individuals can be allergic to different items in any combination. Additionally, two people with the same allergy (or intolerance) can react differently. It’s important to keep that mind as the legume family is rather large. You can have an allergy to one legume, some legumes, or all legumes.
It’s possible to be allergic to only soy and nothing else. You can be allergic to peanuts, not soy, and three additional legumes. Allergies and intolerances come in all sorts of combinations and your diagnosis + reactions will be specific to you.
What Are Legumes? The Official Definition of Legumes
A legume is the seed, pod, or other edible part of a leguminous plant (member of the pea family) that’s used for food.
Interestingly, the Latin origin of the term legume (legumen) is from the word legere meaning to pick. This was because it could be picked by hand.
One of the key features of legumes is that they grow in pods. You’ll find that some foods are totally misnamed, such as coffee beans. More on that later.
Legumes are in the family Fabaceae and not all legumes are called legumes, depending on who you are talking to. In the case of 100% legume free, you’ll have to be extra careful when shopping, especially if you rely on packaged goods rather than raw materials.
In addition to humans eating legumes, there are many agricultural classes legumes can belong to. In my personal opinion, this is one of the many reasons its so important to understand HOW food is made.
Are Peanuts Tree Nuts?
Peanuts are NOT Tree Nuts. They are a legume, and are classified as one of the US top 9 allergens. You can be allergic to peanuts AND other legumes, or peanuts only.
Can I Have Peanut Oil If I’m Allergic to Peanuts?
You may have heard that if you’re allergic to peanuts you can still have peanut oil. This is a “loop hope” in labeling with the FDA. They state that if an oil is highly refined and there’s no protein left, it’s no longer a risk for those who are allergic.
Remember how I said no two people are the same? In some (and we’re not talking a lot) of cases, a person allergic to peanuts is able to consume HIGHLY REFINED peanut oil.
Two things to think about however. One: this isn’t very common. Two: most people allergic to peanuts aren’t willing to risk their life to test it out.
I don’t blame them. If you are managing a child with food allergies, please do not experiment on them to see if this is true. Should you as an adult want to test your own limits, work with your GP and allergist first. They can help you determine if it’s even worth trying based on your labs and medical history/reactions.
Is Soy a Legume?
Soy beans are a legume, and are classified as one of the US top 9 allergens. The US Top 9 allergens are wheat, milk, egg, soy, peanut, tree nut (including coconut), fish, shellfish, and sesame.
Soy has a lot of uses in the food world, especially in vegan and plant-based foods/recipes. This article on the hidden sources of soy will show you places to look for when reading labels and attempting to eat at restaurants.
A Few More General Notes About Legumes
Tiger Nuts are neither tree nuts or legumes. They’re a tuber root vegetable. Tiger nuts are an excellent substitution for people who cannot have tree nuts, peanuts, or other legumes. If you’re wondering why this note is here, it’s because I use tiger nuts in recipes and most people have never heard of them. I want to make sure you know the facts about tiger nuts 🙂
How Do You Know if You’re Allergic to Legumes?
So this is going to be an answer about food allergies and food intolerance in general, which of course, applies to legumes. Anytime you eat a food and it causes a negative reaction, that’s the sign that you’re possibly allergic or intolerant. In traditional allergy cases, the onset of an allergic reaction is from the moment of ingestion (sometimes even just contact) up to 4 hours after ingestion. After the 4-hour mark is usually when an intolerance is suspected.
Notice I said traditional. There are special conditions such as FPIES, and it’s a true allergy with a delayed onset of symptoms. With a food intolerance, many symptoms will be GI based, sometimes skin based, and unfortunately can affect a person for up to a month after ingestion. There aren’t many hard and fast rules because no two people are the same.
Here’s the real takeaway. When major organs are involved (eyes, mouth, throat, skin, stomach, GI tract) and it happens within the 4-hour window, you’re most likely looking at a food allergy. You’ll need to work with your GP and allergist to determine the cause.
If you have symptoms such as throat swelling, tongue swelling, difficulty breathing, hives, or other severe reactions, this is anaphylaxis and is life threatening. Get to the ER for medical treatment. FARE has a great resource on what an allergy is, and what an emergency care/action plan looks like.
It’s important to note that ANY food can cause an allergic reaction. Previous reactions do not determine what a future reaction will look like, and all allergies should be taken seriously.
Legume Allergy Symptoms
Unfortunately, your symptoms will be unique to you. There’s no way to predict how a person will react to a food, or if they will, until they eat it. Even if you take a food allergy test and the test is positive, and then you do an oral challenge, no one can say what the response could be.
Reactions can be mild, all the way to severe and in some cases, cause anaphylaxis which can lead to death if not treated. I’m sure you’ve heard about kids allergic to peanuts and tree nuts who have died. That’s caused by going into anaphylactic shock.
Here’s what I can tell you: In the United States, there are nine foods that cause the most reactions and ER visits. They are: wheat, milk, egg, soy, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, and sesame. Both peanuts and soy are legumes and are on the list. However, other beans, peas, and lentils are not on the list.
Here’s the better news though. Most cases of anaphylaxis, whilst incredibly scary, are properly treated. Your chances of surviving a life-threatening allergic response IS HIGH, so long as you have your epi-pens and get to the ER for follow-up treatment.
Cross-Reactivity When You’re Allergic to Legumes (and Lentils)
You can be allergic (or intolerant) to one, some, or all legumes. Whilst cross-reactivity is an issue some people face, there isn’t a hard and fast rule that states an allergy to one legume means an allergy to more. Nor does this non-existent rule state that everyone with a legume allergy will be more likely to develop an allergy to other legumes. This is deeply rooted in the fact that no two people are the same.
There are stints of time where I meet loads of people who share they’re allergic to peanut, peas, and a few other beans. Then I’ll meet people who are allergic to peanuts only. In the same fashion, I’ll meet people who are allergic to just almonds. Other days I’ll meet people who can’t have a single tree nut.
For those who suspect cross-reactivity in their child, you have a few things you can do. One, avoid all legumes until your child is old enough to provide fully informed consent. This is usually around age 10. Some people think I’m a bit off with this statement, but here’s the thing, would YOU want someone to test foods on you, or with you? As someone who knows intimately the pain of allergic reactions, and even ingesting foods you’re intolerant to, I would NOT be OK with someone essentially experimenting on me. Not cool.
Second, you can seek out further allergy testing. Find a specialist you can work with that you trust. Third, for each new food introduction, start with the poison test (what you would do if you’re stranded in the woods and want to eat those berries). If your child has a skin reaction to a food before eating it, add it to the no-list until they’re old enough to consent to an oral challenge.
Legume Allergy or Legume Intolerance: Which Foods to Avoid
As you continue down this very long article, you’re going to see lists of beans, peas, legume derived gums, and other foods to avoid. At the end of this article, I’ll share diet types that omit legumes as well. This can be handy when you’re searching for recipes online.
Something important to note. When you’re calling a company about a food you’d like to try, or even a restaurant, one of your questions must be: “Does xyz contain any legume-derived ingredients?”
Avoiding legumes, depending on the types of food you like to eat is going to either be really easy, or really hard. This is one of those allergies where there’s no real in between.
Now, if you have a lot of other foods you avoid, then this certainly won’t make your life any easier. You may need to work with an RD to help create a meal plan that will meet all of your nutritional needs. You can also schedule a one-on-one consultation if you’d like hands on assistance.
If you’re looking for legume free recipes, RAISE has more than 450 legume free recipes that you can make at home. Cooking, baking, sweet, savory, and everything in between.
A Somewhat Short List of Legumes (Legume Allergy List)
Whilst I won’t list out every single one, here’s a nice list of legumes. More importantly, these are the common legumes you’ll see in grocery stores. There are others used in commercial applications, for example, pastry work.
- Alfalfa (hay in the pea family)
- (Gum) Arabic
- Bean Sprouts
- Gram Flour (derived from garbanzo bean)
- Green Beans
- Green Peas
- Guar Gum
- Haricot Verts
- Lentils (all colours)
- Locust Bean Gum
- Rooibos (found in tea)
- Senna/Cassia (common in laxatives)
- Split Peas
- String Beans
- Soy Beans (If you have a soy allergy, you may find this Hidden Sources of Soy article helpful.)
- Tamarind (usually found in sauces)
Wait, There Are Legumes in My Tea and Laxatives?
I’m sure a few items on the list above caught you off guard. The crazy thing is, I haven’t even listed out every single legume there is. As you continue on your journey, you’ll learn more and more about different types of legumes that are out there. The key is to research ingredients that are new to you to make sure they’ll be safe for you to consume.
This website has excellent information if you’d like to read more about rooibos tea. It will really help you see how different parts of plants are used in ways we don’t normally think about.
When it comes to laxatives, and all supplements if I’m being honest, you’ll need to really know what you’re getting if you can’t have legumes. Like corn, there’s a long list of legumes, and they can be used in a range of applications.
Let’s Expand on the Word Beans
There. Are. SO. Many. Beans. In fact, I’ve made a list for you, but this isn’t all of them. If you’re avoiding all legumes, be sure you know all of their names. Thankfully, they’re relatively easy to avoid in grocery stores if you’re sticking to basic raw materials. Also note that sometimes, beans and other legumes are called pulses.
- Adzuki Beans (sometimes sold as Aduki Beans)
- Baked Beans
- Black Beans
- Black-Eyed Peas
- Black Turtle Beans
- Broad Beans
- Brown Beans
- Butter Beans (Baby Lima)
- Cannellini Beans (White Kidney Beans)
- Fava Beans
- Garbanzo Beans aka Chickpeas
- Great Northern Beans
- Haricot Verts
- Jack Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Lima Beans
- Mongo Beans
- Mung Beans
- Navy Beans
- Pink Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Red Beans
- Refried Beans
- Small Red Beans
- Snap Beans
- Soy Beans
- Tonka Beans
- Wax Beans
- White Beans
For those who may be intolerant to beans and want to eat them anyway, Eden Foods has a great article about the proper preparation of beans here.
Hidden Sources of Legumes in Your Food
Legumes can hide in many different types of foods you may purchase, given the wide variety of names for legumes. Here are products you should be extra cautious with:
- Baked Goods (especially gluten free)
- Egg Substitutes
- Dairy Free Frozen Desserts
- Protein Powders
- Snack Bars (especially those with health claims and buzz words)
- Toothpaste and Other Bathroom Products
- Vegan/Plant Based Foods
Bulk bins at your grocery store should not be forgotten. It’s so easy when everyday people, not trained with the merits of food safety, are involved. Someone can accidentally transfer one food to another bin rather easily. I’ve seen this a lot in the rice and flour bins especially. It’s my personal opinion that people with food allergies should not shop bulk bins but get 5/10/25/50-pound bags instead directly from the manufacturer.
This is not an exhaustive list, so make sure you’re calling companies if needed. Alternatively, working from scratch at home is an easy (and sometimes exhausting) way to make sure you always know what’s in your food.
Need a starting place? Get five delicious recipes emailed to you, including legume free chili.
Common Legume Questions & Answers
I’ve been asked these questions over and over when people are new to a legume allergy diagnosis.
Are Legumes Used as Cover Crops?
Legumes contain a symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria which makes them perfect for crop rotation. You may also hear the term cover crop. This means a particular crop is grown in the off-season to protect and enhance soil. If you have a severe peanut allergy and peanut was the cover crop, there’s a small chance that peanut fragments can be in the harvest of the on-season plant. A great example of this is hibiscus.
Another fantastic example is soy being used as a cover crop for chickpeas (garbanzo beans). One company that sells a product free from the top 9 allergens used to tell customers about this due to their supply chain at the time. I found this level of transparency to be amazing. It’s a shame not all companies are like this.
Are Legumes Used In Baking?
It is SOOOO common to see legumes in gluten free baked goods. They’re also cropping up quite a bit in grain free products such as cereal. I regularly see a whole host of gums used in gluten free baking AND dairy free ice cream. If you are 100% legume free, there are very few brands that will be able to serve you in these departments.
The top three legume-based gums found in food:
- Gum Arabic (has a long list of alternative names)
- Locust Bean Gum
- Guar Gum
What Foods Fall Under Legumes?
If you scroll up a bit you’ll see the lists of beans and legumes (and gums too). Print that out and carry it with you if you’re newly diagnosed. This will help you as avoid legumes when shopping. It will also give you a starting point if you’re trying to eat out at a restaurant and need to ask about ingredients.
Can a Person be Allergic to Beans?
Yes, a person can be allergic to beans. You can be allergic to one bean, some beans, or all beans. It’s possible to be allergic to two beans and all lentils. Allergies (and intolerances) come in all sorts of combinations. If you’ve tested but the results are inaccurate, keep a food journal to track any reactions you may be having.
Is Coffee a Legume?
Coffee beans are not a legume, or a fruit. Although they’re called coffee beans, officially coffee (beans) as we know them are a seed inside a fruit. A good way to think about it is if we were to make something from the pit of a nectarine or plum. The seed of a fruit. Remember, to be called a legume, the item usually needs to grow in a pod.
Can Babies Be Allergic to Legumes?
Yes, babies can be allergic to legumes. In fact, anyone can be allergic to anything. What’s important to note is that if you’re a nursing mother, you can pass on allergens via your milk. In many cases, nursing mothers need to completely eliminate whatever their child is allergic to, in order to feed them safely.
This is extra important if your child cannot have cow’s milk or legumes, as most formulas will contain one or the other.
Can You Be Allergic to All Legumes?
Yes, you can be allergic to all legumes. For some people, based on test results, their allergist may advise that they skip the oral challenge and simply avoid all legumes.
Other times, they may test for a range of legumes, and have you do an oral challenge only for legumes that you’ve not tested allergic to.
I can’t stress this enough: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE PART IN AN ORAL CHALLENGE. Some doctors get really pushy, especially when children are involved. Personally, I’m not OK with this as children can’t give fully informed consent. As someone who knows first-hand the pain of an allergic reaction, hard pass.
Medical freedom means the freedom to say no. You can also find a new specialist if you’re working with someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries. I say this a lot: doctors work for you. Hire and fire as you see fit. But also, if you have a good one, tell everyone about them.
Can You Be Allergic to Some Legumes and Not Others?
Yes. If you’ve read all the way to this point in the article, then you can say it with me: no two people are the same. You can absolutely be allergic to one, some, or all legumes. You can be allergic to green peas and lentils only. Or maybe soy, kidney, and white beans only. Your diagnosis will be unique to you.
Is It Necessary to Avoid All Legumes with a Legume Allergy?
I wish I could tell you the answer, but it’s maybe. It depends on your test results, your medical history, your gut health, and several other factors.
Let’s say you’re allergic to soy, peanut, and lentils. It’s up to you if you challenge the long list of other legumes. Now let’s say you started challenging them one at a time, which is the safest way. If after 5 tests you’ve failed each one, personally, I’d stop. There’s a good chance you’re going to keep failing.
If your challenges are hit and miss, then it’s up to you if you keep going. It’s clear that you are able to have some legumes, and you won’t know which legumes until you’ve tried them all.
Now, here’s the thing about that. If the challenges cause anxiety and stress, is it really worth it? Only you know the answer to that question.
Can I be Allergic to Lentils But Not Beans?
This is entirely possible. Like I’ve mentioned before, you can be allergic to one, some, or all legumes, and in any combination. Once you know what you can’t have, be sure to avoid those foods. Additionally, carry your epi-pen if prescribed, and have an action plan.
Are Lentils and Chickpeas in the Same Family?
Yes, lentils and chickpeas (garbanzo beans) are in the legume family, together. Like two peas in a pod. 😂😂😂 Get it. Pod? Legumes? Should I keep my day job?
On food labels you’ll see the term chickpea and the term garbanzo bean interchangeably.
I Have a Pea Allergy, What Do I Avoid?
If you have a pea allergy, you’d need to avoid all forms of peas and pea protein. The latter is found in lots of vegan and plant-based products, as well as in protein powders.
Types of peas you’ll see:
- English Pea
- Field Pea
- Garden Peas (a term that encompasses about 15 other less-common types)
- Pea Sprouts
- Snap Peas
- Snow Pea
- Split Peas
- Sugar Peas
Can You Eat Chickpeas if You Have a Pea Allergy?
Chickpea is another name for garbanzo bean. Chickpeas are beans, not green peas. If you are only allergic to green peas, and you consume other beans safely, there’s a very good chance you’ll also be able to consume garbanzo beans (chickpeas) safely. Remember, no two people are the same and your diagnosis + reactions will be unique to you.
Cuisines and Diets That Include or Omit Legumes
Tamarind is a great example of a food that doesn’t sound like a legume that’s widely used in sauces and stews. It’s commonly found in Indian and African cuisine. Traditional Chinese cuisine also includes a fair amount of legumes. Soups, stews, and chilis usually include legumes too. There aren’t many cuisines around the world that exclusively omit or avoid legumes, however, there are some special diets that do.
Click the links to see recipes on RAISE for that particular diet type. You can also use the Advanced Recipe Search to filter out some legumes, all legumes, and more than 85 other options including special diets.
Remember, legumes are vegan, and most are not a top 9 allergen. You’ll need to read labels carefully as many beans are commonly found in gluten free and allergy friendly products. Don’t forget to have five free legume free recipes emailed to you.