It’s far from pleasant when a food you enjoy triggers an unpleasant reaction in your body after eating it. Of course, it can be tempting to eat it anyway and live with the consequences. After all, who can resist those jelly beans (or peanuts in my case)? A short trip to the bathroom or experiencing a runny nose afterward shouldn’t hurt much, right? Jelly beans (or peanuts in my case) are worth the trouble!
Well, sure they are, at least if the symptoms were caused either by food intolerances or food sensitivities.
Not so with food allergies.
What’s a food allergy?
In contrast to a food intolerance, a food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs after eating a certain food. This reaction releases chemicals like histamine to protect the body from the proteins it recognizes as harmful, causing severely unpleasant symptoms to occur. Food allergies are no laughing matter and they’re most definitely not just temporary inconveniences. In severe cases, a food allergy can lead to anaphylaxis, which could be life-threatening.
An allergic reaction can occur within minutes to several hours following the ingestion of the problem food. Symptoms vary not just in types but also in severity.
Mild symptoms include:
- Red, dry, itchy skin (hives or eczema)
- Runny nose, dry cough, sneezing
- Itchy, watery, red eyes
- Itchy mouth
- Weird taste in mouth
- Stomach cramps, indigestion, diarrhea
Serious symptoms (usually caused by allergic reaction to peanuts, nuts, fish, and shellfish) include:
- Swollen lips, tongue, or throat
- Wheezing, trouble breathing or swallowing
- Weakness, lightheadedness, passing out
- Chest pain
- Weak or uneven heartbeat
The symptoms above are more than good reason enough for every parent to be always on the lookout for foods that could potentially trigger food allergies in their children. It’s easier said than done considering the diverse amount of deceiving recipes out there.
But knowing which foods are likely to cause them is a big step in the right direction.
8 Common Food Allergies
Cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) is one of the most common allergies seen in infants and children (approximately 2-3% of them). According to NCBI, the allergy usually develops in children after being exposed to cow’s milk protein. There are numerous proteins in cow’s milk and any one of them could cause the abnormal immune reaction. About 90% of children who have cow’s milk allergy will grow out of the condition when they turn three.
Egg allergy is the second most prevalent food allergy affecting babies and children. This kind of allergy is often triggered by the protein found in egg whites, although some are caused by the protein found in the yolks. A significant amount of children with egg allergy (68%) eventually outgrows the immune response when they turn 16.
Peanut allergies are very common, affecting around 4-8% of children and 1-2% of adults. It’s yet to be determined what really causes peanut allergies, but the immune reaction is usually attributed to numerous proteins listed under four common food allergy superfamilies. For most, peanut allergy is a lifelong problem. About 20% of infants eventually outgrow the condition.
Tree nut allergies are common in both children and adults, affecting around 1% of the U.S. population. Tree nuts range from walnuts, almonds, pine nuts to brazil nuts and pecans. If you’re allergic to tree nuts, it’s highly likely that you’re allergic to other types of nuts as well. It is for this reason why doctors advise those who are allergic to tree nuts to stop eating nuts altogether. Allergens that cause tree nut allergies are diverse, but the most common culprits are vicilins, legumins, albuminsvicilins, legumins, albumins.
Tree nut proteins can be found in a wide variety of foods, including crackers, cereals, cookies, candy, chocolates, flavored coffee, marinades, and more. Some alcoholic beverages may contain nut flavoring as well.
Soy allergies are more common among infants and children under the age of three, affecting about 0.4% of them. Adverse reactions are triggered by proteins found in soybeans or soybean-based products. Unfortunately, those with soy allergies are advised to skip many foods, including tofu, soy sauce, and soy milk.
Wheat (and other grains with gluten, including barley, rye, and oats)
Allergic reactions to wheat are highly likely to develop in infancy and are usually resolved at the ages of 3 to 5. The allergies are triggered by at least one of the proteins found in wheat, such as albumins, globulins, prolamins, and glutelins (although some are allergic to wheat pollen instead). Avoiding wheat can be a challenge since wheat products are very common in American diets. Beauty products containing wheat have to be avoided as well.
Fish allergy can develop at any age, but 40% of people develop the allergy as an adult. According to FAACT (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team), allergy to finned fish tend to affect roughly 1% of the population and is more prevalent among adults (2%) than among children. The major allergenic protein found in finned fish that triggers fish allergies is parvalbumin (called Gad c 1).
Much like with finned fish allergy, shellfish allergy can manifest at any age but is more common among adults. According to a 2011 study by Chee K. Woo and Sami L. Bahna, approximately 0.5%-2.5% of the general population is afflicted with shellfish allergy. The major allergen that triggers the immune response is Tropomyosin.
Other foods that cause allergies
While it’s important for parents to pay attention to foods that are more notorious for causing food allergies, the less common ones shouldn’t be outright ignored. Other foods that can cause allergies include:
- Meat (beef, mutton, chicken, and pork)
- Seeds (sesame, sunflower, and poppy)
- Spices (mustard, coriander, garlic, and caraway)
Whatever the offending food may have caused the allergic reaction, the best treatment is to remove that food from your diet. As in all matters, it pays to be safe, so make sure that you have an EpiPen (a life-saving device that can reverse the symptoms of an allergic reaction) with you at all times.
If you have good reason to believe that you and your child may have a food allergy, consult your doctor about it as soon as possible for allergy testing.