Food Allergy Facts to Know and Tell

No doubt you may know someone who has a food allergy. You may have one yourself. Food allergies can range from life-threatening to mildly inconvenient and be triggered by just one food item or from multiple types. Thirty-two million people in the U.S. have food allergies according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). That’s almost 11% of people over the age of 18 and 8% of children.

Signs and symptoms of food allergies can appear anywhere from within minutes to a couple of hours (less common) after consuming the offending food.

Here is a list of common signs and symptoms of food allergies:

Vomiting, Diarrhea and/or Stomach Cramps

Hives/Rash

Flushed Skin

Itchy or Tingling Mouth

Swollen Lips, Tongue, Face, Throat, or Vocal Cords

Coughing or Wheezing

Drop in Blood Pressure

Difficulty Breathing

Weak Pulse

Pale or Blue Color to Skin

Dizziness, Light-Headedness, Feeling Faint

Tight, Hoarse Throat; Trouble Swallowing or Talking

To diagnose whether a person truly has an allergy, a doctor will employ one of the following tests:

  • Oral food challenge: The person eats or drinks a small portion of the offending food in increasing amounts over time and monitors their reactions.
  • Blood Test: Blood is drawn after the person eats the suspected allergen. A lab tests the blood for immunoglobulin E (IgE), an allergen-related antibody, which indicates an immune response to the allergen.
  • Skin Test: A drop of liquid containing an extract of the suspected food irritant is placed on the skin with a light prick. If a raised bump appears, chances are the person is allergic to the food.

Food allergies are typically caused by an interplay of genetics and environment. Children who have a parent with allergies are more likely to also have allergies-but they may be allergic to different irritants than their parent or have no allergies at all.

While some allergic reactions are mild, some are severe. Every three minutes, a food allergy sends someone to the emergency room. Those with severe allergies will likely be prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector (such as an EpiPen) to carry with them at all times. For minor reactions, over-the -counter or prescription antihistamines may reduce symptoms.

Unlike a severe food allergy, a food intolerance or sensitivity is generally not life-threatening. It typically only affects the digestive tract. And while people with a food intolerance should avoid the offending food, some people may be able to eat a small amount and not have any issues.

Hope for a cure?

Unfortunately, there are no known cures for food allergies. However, allergies can be outgrown and their severity can change over time. According to the Mayo Clinic, 60-80% of children with milk and egg allergies no longer have them by age 16. But only about 20% of children with peanut allergies have the same good fortune.

The Big 8 Allergens

More than 160 foods can be considered allergens, but just eight account for 90% of allergic reactions, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These foods, and any proteins derived from them, must be labeled on food packaging. Watch for sneaky places that allergens hide. Always check the ingredients lists. If in doubt, call the manufacturer.

The Big 8 Allergens and smart food swaps for them.

Fish: affects 2.6 million.

Shellfish: affects 8.2 million.

Many condiments can be made with fish and shellfish. Replace fish sauce with a vegan alternative. Watch out for soups and sauces made with fish and/or seafood broths and stocks or bonito flakes. Use vegetable-based stocks and broths instead.

Dairy: affects 6.1 million. Swap it out for nut, soy, rice, oat, or hemp milks. There are now many vegan products on the market, including vegan yogurt.

Peanuts: affects 6.1 million.

Tree Nuts: affects 3.9 million.

Since peanuts are a legume and not a tree nut, people who are allergic to peanuts often can safely eat tree nuts and vice versa. Peanut butter and almond butter are great substitutions for each other.

Eggs: affects 2.6 million.

Try store-bought egg replacers, such as Ener-G Egg Replacer or Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer. Baking? Give aquafaba a try: It’s the liquid drained from a can of chickpeas. Whip it until it reaches a meringue-like texture, then fold into recipes for baked goods. Or stir together 3 T water and 1 T flaxseed meal. Let it sit for a few minutes until the texture mimics a beaten egg.

Wheat: affects 2.4 million.

There are many wheat-free flours on the market: rice, brown, millet, potato, soy and tapioca. Many breads and crackers are made using these wheat-free flours.

Soy: affects 1.9 million.

Replace soybean oil with canola oil. Remember that vegetable oils can sometimes contain soy. Perhaps try olive oil instead. Use coconut aminos in place of soy sauce which also has much less sodium content.

Check out these food substitutions for the Big 8 allergens at Fresh and Natural Foods.

Adapted from Marge Perry, ALLRECIPES.COM, June/July 2021

Author: Michelle Hanson

Michelle Hanson, MA, RD, LD is Fresh & Natural Food’s Registered Dietitian. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics with a minor in Community Health from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She is a registered dietitian and current member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Michelle has been a nutrition consultant for numerous years as well as a nutrition research director at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

Michelle is passionate about food and nutrition and believes in helping people find simple, realistic ways to make healthy eating a part of their everyday lifestyle.
If you are interested in meeting Michelle or have questions for her, you can email her at: michelle@fnfoods.com. She will look forward to meeting you!