The Rise of Food Allergies in the US and What You Should Know about It
Whoever thought that a person could possibly die from food? Isn’t food supposed to be something that sustains us? Well, in America, research shows that up to 15 million of the population suffer from food allergies. This is actually a potentially deadly disease that affects 1 in every 13 children. Now that’s scary.
Food allergies is a growing epidemic. The number of people who suffer from this condition is growing, as well as the number of people who die from it. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control don’t keep track of the number of deaths caused by food allergies. And in many cases, when the cause of death is actually written down, what is used is often what happened during the allergic reactions, like loss of oxygen or the inability to breathe.
So the question is: are we allergic to food, or are we allergic to what’s been done to it?
Food Allergies Defined
So what does it mean if you have food allergies? It is an immune system reaction to the proteins of a food that happens soon after you eat a certain food. Even just a minuscule amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms. Some examples are digestive problems, hives, or swollen airways. For some people, food allergies can cause severe symptoms and even anaphylaxis.
Signs and Symptoms of Food Allergies
For a few people, an allergic reaction to a certain kind of food may just be uncomfortable and not life-threatening. For a few unlucky ones, the reactions can be severe and frightening. Symptoms to food allergies usually develop as soon as a few minutes to as long as 2 hours after eating the allergy-causing food.
Here are the most common signs and symptoms of food allergies:
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Hives, itching, or eczema
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat, or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, some nasal congestion, or having trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Dizziness, light-headedness, or fainting
Some people experience a very scary reaction called anaphylaxis. You have to watch out for the warning signs because if left untreated, anaphylaxis can cause coma or even lead to death.
Here are the signs you should be aware of:
- Constriction and tightening of the airways
- A swollen throat or the feeling of having a lump in your throat that makes it hard to breathe
- Shock with a notable drop in blood pressure
- A rapid pulse
- Dizziness, light-headedness, or unconsciousness
If you notice these signs in yourself or in people around you, immediately ask for professional help.
Types of Food Allergies
According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), there are 8 specific foods responsible for 90 percent of the food allergies in America. Let’s go ahead and discuss each type of allergy.
Milk is one of the most common food allergens. Individuals who are allergic to cow’s milk will most probably be allergic to milk from other sources as well, like goat’s milk and sheep’s milk.
You should avoid milk, other dairy products, and any other product that contains milk protein.
Milk is one of the eight allergens that require specific labeling under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. This law requires manufacturers of food products sold in the US that contain milk or milk products to explicitly say so in the ingredients label. That’s why it’s important to read labels carefully. You’d be surprised where milk products can show up. Some can be in canned tuna, meats, and sausage.
Also, take note that milk allergies and lactose intolerance are completely different. People with milk allergies have reactions because of how their immune system reacts against milk. Those who are lactose intolerant experience reactions because they cannot digest the sugar in milk as they have a deficiency in lactase.
Egg allergies develop when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to the proteins in egg whites and egg yolks. Aside from chicken eggs, you may also be allergic to duck eggs, goose eggs, quail eggs, or turkey eggs.
If you are allergic to eggs, make sure to avoid eating eggs at all cost, use alternatives to eggs in certain recipes, and when you get vaccines, be sure to inform your doctor about your allergy first. Some flu vaccines and the yellow fever vaccine contain some amounts of egg protein.
There are some people with an egg allergy who can sometimes tolerate baked goods or other foods containing eggs, as long as they have undergone heating for a prolonged period of time under a high temperature. However, there is still no way to predict when or if someone allergic to eggs can safely tolerate any product with this allergen.
Also, there are ways to substitute eggs in recipes. When a recipe calls for the use of 3 eggs or less, you can substitute one egg with a mixture made up of 1 tablespoon of water, 1 tablespoon of oil, and 1 tablespoon of baking powder.
The common triggers of a soy allergy are soy, soy products (like some infant formulas), soy milk, and soy sauce.
Other products that may contain soy include canned broths, soups, canned tuna, hot dogs, other processed meats, energy bars, baked goods, and most processed food. It’s also a very common ingredient in Asian cuisine and may also be in chicken nuggets, low-fat peanut butter, nut butters, and even vodka. So that’s goodbye to soy milk, soy yogurt or ice cream, miso, edamame, tofu, and tempeh.
If your family has a history of having allergies and allergic diseases (like asthma or eczema), you have a greater risk of developing allergies to any food, including wheat.
It’s going to be hard to avoid food with wheat as it is in plenty of food. These include cereals, pasta, bread, crackers, and cookies. They may also be in hot dogs, sauces, and ice cream. Wheat may also be in nonfood items, such as Play-Doh, certain cosmetics, and specific bath products. Though wheat is another allergen that has strict labeling rules, this only applies to the food items. If you have some doubts about certain products, it’s best to check the manufacturer’s website or contact the company directly.
To go wheat-free, you have other options for grains. Some examples are corn, rice, quinoa, oats, barley, and rye.
Tree nuts are one of the allergens that usually lead to anaphylaxis. The other two are shellfish and peanuts.
Tree nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, shea nuts, and walnuts.
As with the other allergies, it’s best to avoid all kinds of tree nuts and nut products. These include nut butters and certain types of milk. These nuts are often used as garnishes in salads, as ingredients in Asian dishes, and as ice cream toppings. They are also in baking mixes, breading, sauces, desserts, and baked goods. There are also some alcoholic beverages that contain nuts or nut flavoring.
And finally, tree nut oils, which contain nut proteins, may be in some lotions, hair care products, and soaps.
In recent years, awareness about peanut allergy in children has risen. Along with this rise include the number of peanut allergy cases reported. Peanut allergies is one of the food allergies that is life-threatening, and this is alarming.
If you suspect you have a peanut allergy, be sure to avoid peanuts and peanut-derived products. Peanuts and peanut products are usually in candies, cereals, cookies, cakes, and pies. Peanut products may also be used in certain recipes, in sauces, or in marinades. Asian and Mexican cuisines are known to incorporate peanuts in their fare.
Even some food that doesn’t contain peanuts can be contaminated by peanuts in the manufacturing process or during food preparation. To be on the safe side, people with peanut allergies should just avoid products with precautionary statements that say “May contain peanuts” or “Made in a factory that uses nut ingredients.”
Keep in mind that being allergic to shellfish is different to being allergic to fish. If you are allergic to shellfish, you don’t necessarily have to avoid fish and vice versa. Also, shellfish allergies most often develop during adulthood.
In the shellfish family, the crustacean group that causes the most allergic reactions. This group is made up of shrimp, crabs, and lobsters. However, there are some people who are allergic to shellfish who can tolerate the mollusk group. This means they can eat scallops, oysters, mussels, and clams.
Shellfish is in fish stock, seafood flavoring, surimi, and of course, sushi. Also, be careful with vapors as well as they have the ability to carry very small particles of shellfish protein. That means just walking into a room where shellfish is being prepared may cause dangerous reactions to certain people.
The last in this list of food allergies is fish. If you are allergic to a specific type of fish, it doesn’t mean you’re allergic to all types of fish. However, some doctors advice to avoid all types of fish completely. To be sure, check with a professional allergist to determine what other varieties of fish may be safe to consume.
You can be allergic to both fish protein as well as fish gelatin, which is from fish skin and bones. Fish can be commonly in Worcestershire sauce, Caesar salad, surimi, and fish stock. Also, Asian cuisine is known to use fish and other fish-based products.
When eating out, avoid cross-contact by informing whoever handles your fish about your allergy. Tell them of the possible reactions you might have with just having the wrong kind of fish touch whatever it is you will be eating. Also, stay away from areas where they cook fish as there will be a release of fish proteins in the air during cooking. So that means no visiting of seafood restaurants.