Food allergies have become an important topic in recent years for a variety of reasons. Their incidence is increasing, affecting 30% of adults and 40% of children. People can be allergic to anything, but there are 8 allergens that are most common.
What is an allergy?
When your body is exposed to an irritant (known as an allergen), like pollen, launches an attack against it. Most of the time when this happens, we don’t even notice it. Sometimes, if there is an overabundance of the allergen or your body is particularly sensitive to it, this immune response turns into overdrive. Your eyes are watering, your busybody becomes closed or burst into an itch. Some allergens cause life-threatening reactions, such as anaphylaxis, which causes a sudden drop in blood pressure and a narrowing of the airways.
Foods can also act as allergens. When someone is allergic to a food, they cannot eat it at all. Some allergies are so severe that people can’t even get close to the irritant, as inhaling or touching it could cause anaphylaxis. An allergy is different from a food sensitivity or intolerance. Intolerances, such as the inability to digest milk (lactose intolerance) are generally not life-threatening, although they can cause discomfort, such as bloating and diarrhea, if ingested.
The Big 8
Big 8 are the cause of 90% of registered allergies and labeling is required by the FDA to warn consumers of their presence or possible presence in food.
1. Peanuts: Peanuts are actually legumes, which as a group are responsible for a large number of allergic reactions. People allergic to peanuts are not likely to be allergic to other legumes, such as lentils. Children are more likely to develop a peanut allergy if they already have an egg allergy.
2. shellfish: Crustaceans can also cause serious allergic reactions. Crustaceans (prawns, lobster, crabs) are the most common, although allergic reactions to molluscs (clams, mussels, oysters) may occur. Shrimp is considered the most allergenic.
3. Fish: Pollock, salmon, cod, tuna, mackerel and red snapper are among the fish that commonly trigger fish allergies. The allergen in this group is fish muscle protein parvalbumin. These allergies are often developed during adulthood and are less likely to grow.
4. Milk: Milk allergy is the most common allergy in infants and young children. A milk allergy causes an immune response to proteins in milk. All milk, including that of cows, goats and sheep, can be a problem. Most children overcome milk allergy.
5. Eggs: Also common in children, both the yolk and egg whites can trigger a reaction, but in some cases the yolk is less allergenic. Eggs are not only used in food, but also in skin care products and cosmetics that contain eggs. Most children will overcome egg allergy.
6. Soy: Even in the legume family, soy is an allergy that children could grow too much. Here in the United States, soy is most often found in processed foods, such as soybean oil or soy protein isolate. People with soy allergies may be able to have soy lecithin without problems.
7. Wheat: Wheat allergies are quite common and generally resolve in childhood. A wheat allergy is different from celiac disease, where gluten causes the inflammatory reaction. Celiac disease launches a different immune response than other allergens. True wheat allergies are rare in adults.
8. Nuts: One of the most potent and common allergens, tree nut allergies affect 1.1% of the world’s population. People affected by nut allergy should avoid macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, chestnuts, hazelnuts and pine nuts. The reactions associated with nuts are often serious, with nuts and cashews causing most reactions. At least 90% of children who suffer from nut allergy do not exceed it.
Accuracy in food labeling is critical for people with allergies, but it’s not so easy to be sure when eating out. Don’t be afraid to ask your server or chef what’s on the dishes, including any allergens that food may have come into contact with. It is in your best interest to enjoy your meal safely!