You could likely guess which foods are the culprits for most allergic reactions, but you don’t have to. The FDA requires the law to identify the most common allergenic foods and clearly label products that contain them so that consumers with allergies can easily avoid reactions. This is why packaged foods say things like, "may contain soy" or "produced in a facility that processes nuts."
So what are the exact foods that account for 90% of allergic reactions? According to the FDA, The eight foods identified by the law are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.
As someone without any known allergies, I asked chef, author, and food allergy expert Kendra Peterson how someone could know what they’re allergic to. “You can get tested for it," the Chicago-based dietician says. "A blood test and often biopsy is what doctors use to diagnose if you think you may have a food allergy. Most people who have family members with food allergies choose to proactively get tested or have their children tested. And if you have a reaction after eating (anywhere from immediate reaction to two hours later) and you suspect it’s a food allergy, save yourself the headache of worry and go get tested!”
According to the FDA, allergic reactions can include hives, flushed skin or rash, tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth, face, tongue, or lip swelling, stomach issues, coughing or wheezing, dizziness and/or lightheadedness, swelling of the throat and vocal cords, difficulty breathing, and even loss of consciousness.
If it feels like food allergies are more and more common, it’s because they are. “Previously, allergies were diagnosed in children and recently there has been a huge uptick in adult diagnosis," says Peterson. "Because this is a relatively new phenomenon, genetics are not what researchers are looking at, since that would’ve meant prior adult diagnosis in past decades." Instead, the major factor researchers and scientists are looking into is our environment—and more specifically, how it affects our microbiome, otherwise known as the bacteria lining our gut.
"The two largest hypotheses are the overuse of antibiotics and the decline in fiber consumption," Peterson explains. "Antibiotics kill all bacteria in your gut, both bad and good. And the good bacteria feed off fiber so the combination of these two factors is what is being looked at primarily, according to Dr. Cathryn Nagler from the University of Chicago.”
Peterson says if you don’t have an allergy, there’s no reason to avoid the above eight foods. “If you have an infant, there are specific guidelines to when you can give them peanuts and egg, but those can change so be sure to talk with your doctor about that,” she adds.
And if you are allergic to any of these foods, instead of finding a substitute, Peterson suggests exploring new dishes with similar flavors. “The thing with finding out you have allergies is that often when you try and find a direct substitute, it isn’t going to live up to your memory of what the flavor was," she says. "So when we have clients who reach out to us with a new diagnosis, I often try and guide them to different dishes, utilizing the same flavor as some of their favorite meals rather than a simple substitute." For example, she explains that if you discover you are allergic to gluten and dairy and one of your favorite dishes is pizza, then to try a bake with Italian sausage sautéed oregano, roasted tomatoes, and fresh basil.
"It’s often about changing your perception of food," she says. "There are a ton of spices, ingredients, herbs that are so unknown in the classic American diet. Try exploring those!"
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