An allergic reaction occurs in the body when the immune system reacts badly to a food being eaten. Food allergies are traditionally thought of as affecting a small number of people around the world, usually starting from childhood and continuing into adult life.
The most common types of foods that trigger an immediate allergic reaction include –
- nuts (especially peanuts)
- cow’s milk
- wheat / gluten
- and even citrus fruit, although it is possible to be allergic to any food.
These food allergies are commonly understood because once an allergic reaction has been triggered, an almost immediate immune response is shown on the body. It is unlikely that someone who has a true food allergy does not know the food that they need to stay away from. Swelling, itching, redness, shortness of breath, dizziness, pale skin, choking, vomiting, diarrhoea, Anaphylaxis and even death can happen after consuming the offending food (sometimes even in small amounts), and most people with allergies will avoid their triggers at all costs where possible.
However, before we go onto discussing in detail the main foods that cause allergies and why this happens, it is very important to understand that research has now suggested that almost 50% of the population suffers some kind of food intolerance. Most people with food intolerances literally have no idea that this is happening because a food intolerance is quite different from a ‘true’ allergy.
When a food allergy strikes, it is usually within minutes, causing a very real and serious reaction. Food intolerance’s however trigger a much slower reaction, with symptoms often occurring from anything between a day and up to 72 hours after eating an offending food.
Skin problems such as eczema, acne, under eye bags, blotchy cheeks and even lines and wrinkles can be made worse or even ‘caused’ by food intolerances and sensitivities. Weight gain, headaches, joint pain, bloating and gas that most people deem as ‘normal’ are actually all part of this hugely growing food intolerance nation that we are now very much a real a part of and the worst part of it all, most people simply have NO idea that food intolerance is the problem.
Food intolerances can manifest in almost every part of the body, from top (headaches and migraine) to toe (experts suspect that bunions can be aggravated by food intolerances). Because of this, many people with food sensitivities have no idea that they have one, believing symptoms such as loose bowel movements and a permanently runny nose to be normal because they have never really known anything different.
Because all food must be passed through our complex digestive system, research is now beginning to understand how food intolerances are manifesting. Modern diets are no-where near the food intake of our ancestors and consist mostly of farmed produce and processed products made in a factory. If our predecessors did have any form of food intolerance, they were probably as much in the dark as we are today because medical science a few hundred years ago was none existent, so over the centuries we have adapted to become a very unhealthy nation.
Modern diets consist mainly of sugar, red meat, gluten and dairy, with a glug of alcohol washed down for good measure. These food sources are showing up time and time again to be triggering more and more food sensitivity in the gut, creating illness and disease such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many more. Is it any wonder then that the population is becoming sensitive to the food ingredients that the human body struggles to digest properly?
Our Gut bacteria is as unique to every one of us as our fingerprints, and that means that each and every one of us will react to the food we eat in a different way.
Eating dairy for instance may cause acne symptoms to flare up in one person and cause nasal congestion in another. The food is the same, but our reactions are different because we are each so unique in our DNA structure.
So what is it about milk, wheat, shellfish and nuts etc that seem to create the worst type of reactions?
The body’s immune system normally fights infection. But, when someone is allergic to tree nuts or peanuts, the immune system overreacts to proteins in these foods. Every time the person eats (or, in some cases, handles) a peanut or tree nut, the body thinks the proteins are harmful invaders and the immune system attacks.
Milk is not actually very well tolerated by many people. Babies lose the enzyme needed to digest the proteins in milk after the age of 2, so developing problems into adult life including adult acne, mucus and throat problems, nasal and sinus trouble, aches and pains and stiff joints, can all be tracked back to dairy. However, in people with milk allergies, it is usually one or more of four proteins in milk which trigger a massive immune defence. These are lactose (the main culprit), casein (the protein which most people cannot digest), A1 protein and Whey. A person can have a problem with one of them, all of them or a combination of a few.
Gluten is found in bread, pasta, crackers, crisps and many processed foods. The main form of gluten allergy is called Coeliac Disease, a very common condition where the immune system reacts to the gluten in foods containing wheat, rye and barley. Bloating, abdominal pain and erratic bowel movements are common symptoms. However, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) also displays the same symptoms as IBS, yet IBS is treated NOT as a food allergy.
The immune system may identify a certain shellfish protein as harmful, triggering the production of antibodies to the shellfish protein and releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.
The same applies to all other foods that trigger allergic reactions such as soy, citrus fruit and .
So what type of foods should you avoid if you have the main types of food allergies?
- Tree nuts including:
- Brazil nuts
- Hickory nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
- Nut butters. Almond, cashew, peanut, and others
- Nut pastes. Includes products like marzipan, almond paste, and nougat
- Nut oils. Includes cold-pressed or expressed peanut oil, and others
- Hydrolysed plant or vegetable protein. These can have peanuts in them.
- Peanut flour
- Nut extracts, like almond extract
You may find peanuts or tree nut traces in things like these:
- Baked goods. Cookies, candy, pastries, pie crusts, and others
- Sweets, chocolate, nougat and marzipan
- Other sweets. Ice cream, frozen desserts, puddings, and hot chocolate
- Cereals and granola
- Trail mix
- Chilli and soups. Peanuts or peanut butter are sometimes used as thickeners.
- Grain breads
- High-energy bars
- International foods. Nuts are common ingredients in African and Asian cooking (especially Thai and Indian); also in Mexican and Mediterranean foods.
- Mortadella. This Italian ham may include pistachios.
- Veggie burgers
- Sauces. These may include barbeque sauce, hot sauce, pesto, gravy, mole sauce, glazes, or marinades.
- Pre packed Salads and salad dressing
- All eggs, cooked well or runny
- Some people with egg allergy may be 100% fine with baked goods containing eggs, but please ensure the person with the allergy is tested under specialist medical supervision first.
- Plain Cakes
- Homemade meringues
- Fresh Mousse
- Biscuits, e.g. Jaffa cakes, sponge fingers
- Lemon curd
- Dried egg pasta
- Quiche / flan / Spanish tortilla
- Some ice creams, especially fresh and deluxe types
- Prepared meat dishes and sausages containing egg
- Scrambled egg
- Some sorbets
- Boiled egg
- Royal icing (both fresh & powdered royal icing sugar)
- Egg glaze on pastry
- Fried egg, Egg fried rice
- Horseradish sauce
- Sponge fingers
- Tartare sauce
- Quorn or similar microprotein products
- Raw egg in cake mix and other dishes awaiting cooking (Children of all ages can’t resist tasting them!)
- Gravy granules (if they contain egg)
- Poached egg
- Some cheeses if they contain egg white lysozyme or other egg proteins.
- Shop bought pre-cooked frozen Yorkshire puddings
- Egg in batter, breadcrumbs e.g. Scotch egg
- Salad cream
- Manufactured meringues
- Homemade products where egg is used to make breadcrumbs to stick to fish/chicken etc ”Frico” edam cheese or other cheeses that contain egg white lysozyme
- Manufactured (shop bought) pancakes and Scotch pancakes
- Hollandaise sauce
- Chocolate bars containing egg in their filling e.g. Nougat, Milky Way and Mars Bar
- Egg custard, Crème Brulèe, Crème caramel
- Dried egg noodles, well-cooked fresh egg pasta
- Homemade pancakes and some Yorkshire pudding – especially those that contain any ‘sticky’ batter inside
- Some soft-centred chocolates
- Bread & butter pudding
- Fresh egg pasta
- Commercial marzipan
- Tempura batter
Cow’s milk Allergy
- Milk Powder
- Milk drinks
- All types of cheese
- Ice cream
Food labels that list any of the ingredients below also contain some cows’ milk or products in them.
- Hydrolysed casein
- Skimmed milk
- Skimmed milk powder
- Milk solids
- Non-fat milk
- Whey syrup sweetener
- Milk sugar solids
The following are examples of processed foods which may contain milk:
- Breakfast cereals
- Baby foods
- Processed meats, e.g. sausages
- Pasta and pizzas
- Instant mashed potato
- Sauces and gravies
- Baked goods, e.g. rolls
- Pancakes, batters
- Ready made meals
- Puddings and custards
- Cakes, biscuits, crackers
Avoid foods that contain shellfish or any of these ingredients:
- Crawfish (crawdad, crayfish, ecrevisse)
- Lobster (langouste, langoustine, Moreton bay bugs, scampi, tomalley)
- Shrimp (crevette, scampi)
- It is important to note that mollusks are not considered major allergens and may not be fully disclosed on a product label.
- Clams (cherrystone, geoduck, littleneck, pismo, quahog)
- Limpet (lapas, opihi)
- Sea cucumber
- Sea urchin
- Snails (escargot)
- Squid (calamari)
- Whelk (Turban shell)
Shellfish are sometimes found in the following:
- Cuttlefish ink
- Fish stock
- Seafood flavouring (e.g., crab or clam extract)
- Soya protein isolate
- Soya shortening
- Soya protein
- Soya albumin
- Soya bean
- Soy sauce
- Soya flavouring
- Soya flour
- Soya gum
- Soya lecithin (E322)
- Soya milk
- Soya nuts
- Soya oil
- Soya starch
- Soya infant formula
- Soya margarine
- Soya yoghurts and desserts
- Kinako (roasted soy flour)
- Kouridofu (frozen tofu)
- Teriyaki sauce
Terms that may indicate the presence of soya
- Vegetable broth
- Vegetable oil
- Vegetable protein
- Vegetable paste
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
- Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
- Hydrolysed Plant Proteins (HPP)
Wheat / Gluten Allergy
- All Bread and baked foods
- All loaves, including pumpernickel, and rolls unless specifically stated. Many “rye” and “corn” loaves contain some wheat. Pitta, crumpets, muffins, tortillas, and tacos (should be corn but mostly wheat in UK), doughnuts, cakes, cookies, biscuits, crackers, croutons, packet snacks, rusks, waffles, pancakes, crepes, pizzas, pretzels, breadsticks, communion wafers, pasta and pastry. Also Yorkshire pudding, suet pudding and many other puddings.
- Most cereals will contain some wheat. The exceptions are porridge oats, corn flakes, rice krispies and granola. Always read the labels.
- Flour and pasta. All of these will contain some wheat unless stated to be wheat free or buckwheat, which is not from the wheat family.
- Burgers, rissoles, salami, sausages, corned beef, luncheon meat, liver-sausage, continental sausages, pates, meat and fish pastes and spreads, ham, fish and scotch eggs coated with breadcrumbs.
- Vegetable pates and spreads, vegetables coated in breadcrumbs, e.g. onion rings, vegetables tempura, tinned beans, (also tinned spaghetti, often grouped with vegetables), soups and tinned and packet snack or ready prepared foods.
- Sauces and condiments
- Gravy, packet and jar and bottled sauces, casserole and ready-meal mixes, stock cubes and granules, ready prepared and powdered mustard, stuffing, baking powder, monosodium glutamate, some spice mixes (check label).
- Most puddings, pastry, yogurts containing cereal, ice cream, pancakes, cheesecakes and others with a biscuit base.
- Malted milk, chocolate, Ovaltine and other powered drinks. Beer, ale, stout, larger, Pils lager, whisky, malt whisky, gin and most spirits.
- Confectionery, Liquorice, chocolate, chocolate bars and most wrapped bars. Other sweets (check labels).
- Medication. Many prescribed and over the counter drugs contain wheat. Check with your pharmacist. Do not stop prescribed medication without discussing with your doctor.
- Glue on labels and postage stamps.
And what about food intolerance?
You might not have a full on food allergy, but you may still have a food intolerance.
Discovering which food product is the main cause is not easy. You may have more than one food intolerance depending upon how imbalanced your gut bacteria and hormones are.
The best way is to keep a food diary over a period of 3 to 6 weeks. On the first week, keep a note of all food eaten, and when food intolerance symptoms arise. You should then eliminate a possible offending food item from your diet for 1 week. If symptoms do not return, you can re introduce the food. If you then do not notice any symptoms, you know that this is not the offending food. You should do this will all suspect foods until you have found which foods your body is unable to tolerate.
It is not a quick fix and should be done with the help and support of your GP and health specialist / nutritionist.