Sniffles, sneezing, itchy eyes: Many of us have experience with the suffering of allergy season. But an increasing number of Americans are developing potentially deadly allergies to common foods. In fact, according to the CDC, between 1997 and 2011, the prevalence of allergies in children increased 50 percent. And it’s not just peanuts that are to blame. A whopping 90 percent of allergic reactions are attributed to milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, and, of course, peanuts.
Below, we provide more information about these common allergens — and a few of the less familiar ingredients that may contain them — to consider when developing a meal plan, or even just when dining out.
Whether you’re lactose intolerant or have a full-blown milk allergy, a big jug of the white stuff — and nearly everything beginning in “lact-” — are obvious ingredients to avoid. But did you know that milk or milk proteins may also be present in such products as Recaldent, found in some toothpastes; tagatose, a natural sweetener; high-protein flour; and even some natural flavorings?
In fact, in some instances, milk is even used on commercially available shellfish to reduce the fishy odor. It can leave traces on deli meat slicers — which are often used to cut both meat and cheese — and may be present in canned tuna fish in the form of casein, a milk protein used as a binder.
For many people with egg allergies, the egg white is the portion that causes their reaction. However, it’s nearly impossible to separate the egg yolk and white completely, meaning even egg yolk preparations can pose a danger. Ingredients beginning in “ovo” almost always contain eggs, but they may also be present in foods such as surimi, a paste found in many Asian dishes that is made from ground meat and other ingredients; simplesse, an egg and dairy whey protein used as a fat substitute in many commercially available low-fat foods; and globulin, a blood serum protein found in some medications and many high-protein foods, such as red meat, leafy green vegetables, and some whole grains.
Fish is not as pervasive in our diets as milk, eggs, and soy — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hiding in some commonly seen ingredients. As the Western diet adopts more lean proteins such as white fish and salmon, the risk of cross-contamination through cooking oil or stove-tops increases, especially in restaurants. Worcestershire sauce, Caesar salad dressing, gelatin, and many Asian dishes — which often are seasoned with fish-based oils and spices — may contain fish byproducts.
People with fish allergies should be particularly careful in the case of gelatin. Because it rarely is a major ingredient, gelatin may require a little bit more attention to the ingredient list, and a discussion with a medical professional, to determine whether it is safe to eat.
Crustacean shellfish tend to be more common in our diet than other types of fish when dining out, but reactions to this food group are known for being particularly severe. Although not everyone is allergic to both, the crustacean shellfish group encompasses both crustacea (including shrimp, crab, and lobster) and mollusks (such as clams, mussels, and oysters).
Individuals with shellfish allergies — regardless of the type — should take care with Worcestershire sauce; any seafood flavorings or imitation seafood products, which can contain traces of real mollusks or crustacea; and Asian foods, which tend to use fish sauces, dehydrated shrimp, and other sea-based flavoring agents that may not be immediately identifiable on a menu or ingredient list.
As vegetarianism, veganism, and Asian-inspired diets are more widely adopted by Americans, soy has become an increasingly popular part of our diet. And, correspondingly, soy allergies are becoming increasingly common, particularly in children, who can be more susceptible to accidentally ingesting dangerous allergens.
For those with soy allergies, some common ingredients to avoid are teriyaki, soy, and tamari sauces; edamame; tempeh and tofu; and Supro, which may appear in dry blended beverages such as protein shakes. But soy may also be hiding in other places, such as in natural flavorings; baked goods; vegetable gum, starch, and broth; and hydrolyzed plant and vegetable proteins (HVP).
Between celiac disease — which results from the body’s improper response to gluten — and wheat allergies, millions of Americans must restrict these proteins from their diets.
However, wheat allergies primarily affect children, 65 percent of whom outgrow it by age 12. Wheat is present in many of the most popular foods in our diet, including pasta, bread, and baked goods, and forms the staples of a lot of restaurant fare. And these potentially dangerous proteins can also be found in items you may not expect: dairy products, such as ice cream; jelly beans, licorice, and other candies; soy sauce and condiments such as ketchup; and even some meat products, like hot dogs and cold cuts.
Of allergies, especially those in children, reactions to peanuts have received the most coverage in the media. Although only about 0.6 to 1 percent of people have this allergy, peanuts are present in a wide variety of foods, especially those consumed by kids. Not to mention, peanut oil is an increasingly popular option for frying, making cross-contamination a serious issue.
In addition to peanuts themselves, peanut proteins also can be found in enchilada and mole sauce; many ethnic foods, including Thai, Mexican, Vietnamese, and African; graham cracker crusts; and marzipan. Many individuals with a peanut allergy also react to lupine, a legume that can be found in both seed and flour form, which is not required to be listed on labels by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FACLPA).
But it’s not just legumes that are dangerous. Tree nuts are also among the most common allergies, and one children are significantly less likely to outgrow. Avoidance of everything from cashews, chestnuts, and butternuts to pecans, walnuts, and dishes commonly made with nuts, such as pesto, is an obvious step to avoid a potentially life-threatening reaction.
But these nuts may also appear in dishes and beverages that are not subject to the FACLPA — such as many alcoholic beverages including some beers, wines, champagnes, and liqueurs — making them a particularly difficult ingredient to track. When in doubt, talk to a doctor, or order a non-alcoholic beverage that you can verify does not contain nut products.
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This article does NOT provide medical advice. For medical advice and medical treatment, always contact your licensed medical providers. Do not substitute information or content on this website for medical advice and medical treatment from health care professionals.