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9 Common Foods That Are Responsible for Almost All Food Allergies

Theoretically, any food containing protein can contribute to a food allergy. But the following foods account for the vast majority of food allergies.

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Separate the fact from the fiction

Food allergies develop when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to a particular component of the food. It’s this overactive immune response that causes the symptoms of the allergy, says David Stukus, MD, allergist, associate professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Immunology, director of the Food Allergy Treatment Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). This can be triggered by eating even a small amount of the food and leads to symptoms including hives, digestive issues, swollen airways, and in some cases, death, he says.

“There are a lot of myths out there about food allergies and these can be very harmful to people looking for answers about their symptoms,” he says. “If you think you have a food allergy or even a food ‘sensitivity,’ it is so important to talk to an allergist about your symptoms and the best way to prevent and treat them.”

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Peanuts

Peanuts are the leading cause of severe allergic reactions to food, affecting nearly 2.5 percent of American children. Those reactions include food-related anaphylaxis, a life-threatening whole-body response to an allergen, characterized by impaired breathing, swelling in the throat, a sudden drop in blood pressure, pale skin, blue lips, fainting, and dizziness, according to the ACAAI. But there’s good news: While it was previously believed that an allergy to peanuts was lifelong, research has shown up to 20 percent of individuals with a peanut allergy eventually outgrow it, Dr. Stukus says.

Make sure you don’t fall for these dangerous myths about food allergies.

Grilled tiger shrimps on grill with spiced and lemonTema_Kud/Shutterstock

Seafood

If seafood makes you feel awful, it’s possible that you could be allergic to fish, shellfish, or both. Shellfish allergies are one of the most commonly reported in adults and typically first appear in adulthood, according to the ACAAI. Within the shellfish family, the crustacean group (shrimp, lobster, and crab) causes the greatest number of allergic reactions. Many people who are allergic to shellfish can still eat mollusks (scallops, oysters, clams, and mussels) with no problem, Dr. Stukus says. However, all types of seafood are often prepared and served together. So if you’re highly reactive it’s wise to avoid all of it unless you know exactly how it was prepared, he adds.

Nuts in a white ceramic bowls Glevalex/Shutterstock

Tree nuts

Tree nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and walnuts, among others, and are a common cause of life-threatening allergies. Peanuts are legumes, not nuts, but peanut-allergy sufferers shouldn’t let their guard down. About 25 to 40 percent of individuals who are allergic to peanuts will also react to at least one tree nut, Dr. Stukus says. These are bizarre things you didn’t know you could be allergic to

fried egg on black surfaceGanka Trendafilova/Shutterstock

Eggs

If you get a rash or stomach pain after eating an omelet, you may have an egg allergy. Egg allergies develop when your body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to proteins in egg whites and/or yolks, Dr. Stukus explains. “The body sees the egg protein as a foreign invader and sends out histamines to defend against it which causes the allergic reaction,” he says. Egg allergies are more common in children and fortunately, about 70 percent of children will outgrow the condition by age 16, according to the ACAAI.

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Milk and dairy

Milk and dairy from cows are common allergens, thanks to the proteins in milk, such as lactoglobulin, lactalbumin, casein, and whey. Milk allergies almost always begin in the first year of life, affecting up to 7 percent of infants. About 80 percent of allergic children will outgrow milk allergies by age 16, according to the ACAAI. People with an allergy to cow’s milk may also be allergic to milk from other animals, including sheep and goats, so be careful when trying dairy alternatives, Dr. Stukus cautions. Read 13 dangerous myths about food allergies.

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Soy

Soy is one of the most common protein sources in the world, not just as tofu and edamame but as an ingredient in products such as granola bars, protein shakes, and infant formula. Because soy can hide in some pretty sneaky places it’s important to read labels carefully if you have a soy allergy, Dr. Stukus says.

variety of pastas from abovefcafotodigital/Getty Images

Wheat

Don’t confuse a wheat allergy with gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat, barley, and rye and may cause celiac disease when your body has an autoimmune response to it. A wheat allergy, on the other hand, only occurs after exposure to wheat, and symptoms are typically mild, according to the ACAAI. “People allergic to wheat should avoid obvious sources like bread, pasta, and cereals but they also need to be cautious of non-food items that may contain wheat, such as Play-Doh, cosmetics, or bath products,” Dr. Stukus says.

bowl of blueberriesMassimo Rubino / EyeEm/Getty Images

Fruit

People who have allergic reactions to eating raw fruits, including pineapple and mango, are suffering from oral allergy syndrome, also known as pollen-food allergy syndrome, because what your body is actually reacting to are allergens found in both pollen and raw fruits, vegetables, or some tree nuts, according to the ACAAI. Take heart though: Even if raw fruits and veggies make you react, you can usually eat the same foods cooked, Dr. Stukus says. This is because the allergy-causing proteins are distorted during the heating process, making them unrecognizable to your hyperactive immune system.

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Sesame

Certain seeds, including sesame and mustard seeds (the main ingredient in the condiment mustard), also are common food allergy triggers, according to the ACAAI. Sesame can be listed in the ingredients under many different names, including sesamol, benne seed, and sim sim. In addition, sesame is commonly found in tahini, tempeh, vegetable oil, dips, spreads, processed meats, and seasonings so it’s important to read labels closely. People who are allergic to sesame may also react to poppy, carroway, sunflower, or flax seeds so keep an eye out for those as well.

Next, read about these commonly believed food myths that are wildly untrue.

Sources
  • David Stukus, MD, allergist, associate professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Immunology, director of the Food Allergy Treatment Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
  • American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology: “Food Allergy”
Medically reviewed by Robert Sporter, MD, on June 15, 2020