Eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions. They are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
Some of these allergens may be outgrown, but others, such as peanut and shellfish, will remain lifelong allergies.
Allergy to peanuts appears to be on the rise. One study showed that from 1997 to 2002, the incidence of peanut allergy doubled in children. Peanuts can trigger a severe reaction. The severity of a reaction depends on how sensitive an individual is and the quantity consumed.
Approximately 2.5% of children younger than 3 years of age are allergic to milk. Nearly all infants who develop an allergy to milk do so in their first year of life. Most children who have milk allergy will outgrow it in the first few years of life.
Some Hidden Sources of Milk
- Deli meat slicers are frequently used for both meat and cheese products.
- Some brands of canned tuna fish contain casein, a milk protein.
- Many non-dairy products contain casein (a milk derivative), listed on the ingredient labels.
- Some meats may contain casein as a binder. Check all labels carefully.
- Many restaurants put butter on steaks after they have been grilled to add extra flavor. The butter is not visible after it melts.
Egg allergy is estimated to affect approximately 1.5% of young children. But it’s also a food allergy that is one of the most likely to be outgrown over time. Most allergic reactions associated with egg involve the skin, but anaphylaxis also can occur. Allergic reactions to egg are mostly IgE-mediated (involving IgE antibodies).
Some Hidden Sources of Egg
- Eggs have been used to create the foam or milk topping on specialty coffee drinks and are used in some bar drinks.
- Some commercial brands of egg substitutes contain egg whites.
- Most commercially processed cooked pastas (including those used in prepared foods such as soup) contain egg or are processed on equipment shared with egg-containing pastas. Boxed, dry pastas are usually egg-free, but may be processed on equipment that is also used for egg-containing products. Fresh pasta is sometimes egg-free, too. Read the label or ask about ingredients before eating pasta.
- Egg wash is sometimes used on pretzels before they are dipped in salt.
An estimated 2.3% of Americans – that’s nearly 7 million people – report allergy to seafood, including fish and shellfish. Salmon, tuna, and halibut are the most common kinds of fish to which people are allergic. It is generally recommended that individuals who are allergic to one species of fish avoid all fish. If you have a fish allergy but would like to have fish in your diet, speak with your allergist about the possibility of being tested with various types of fish.
Fish allergy is considered lifelong; once a person develops the allergy, it is very unlikely that they will lose it.
Approximately 40% of those with fish allergy first experienced an allergic reaction as an adult. To avoid a reaction, strict avoidance of seafood and seafood products is essential. Always read ingredient labels to identify fish ingredients. In addition, avoid touching fish, going to the fish market, and being in an area where fish is being cooked (the protein in the steam may present a risk).
Wheat allergy is primarily common in children, and is usually outgrown before reaching adulthood. Wheat allergy is sometimes confused with celiac disease, which is a digestive disorder that creates an adverse reaction to gluten. Individuals with celiac disease must avoid gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats. People who are allergic to wheat have an IgE-mediated response to wheat protein and may tolerate other grains. Symptoms of a wheat allergy reaction can range from mild to severe.
A wheat allergy can present a challenge for the diet as well as for baking, because wheat is the nation’s predominant grain product. Someone on a wheat-restricted diet can eat a wide variety of foods, but the grain source must be something other than wheat. In planning a wheat-free diet, look for alternate grains such as amaranth, barley, corn, oat, quinoa, rice, rye, and tapioca.
Read food labels carefully, even if you would not expect the product to contain wheat. Wheat has been found in some brands of ice cream, marinara sauce, play dough, potato chips, rice cakes, and turkey patties, and at least one brand of hot dogs.
Soybeans have become a major part of processed food products in the United States. Avoiding products made with soybeans can be difficult. Soybeans alone are not a major food in the diet but, because they're in so many products, eliminating all those foods can result in an unbalanced diet. A dietitian can help in planning diets get enough nutrients.
Symptoms of soy allergy are typically mild, although anaphylaxis is possible. Soybean allergy is one of the more common food allergies, especially among babies and children.