By Kristen Chandler
Most everyone, regardless of whether they have food allergies or not, has probably heard of the Top 8. The Top 8 are the most common foods that cause an allergic reaction: dairy, eggs, fish, peanut, shellfish, soy, wheat and tree nuts. But there are also over a hundred different foods that people have had an allergic reaction to. My children happen to be among this group of people who are allergic to foods outside of the Top 8.
Not to be confused with being vegan or vegetarian, there are people who are actually allergic to meat. My son is allergic to beef. He also has a dairy allergy, and while it’s not common, it’s also not unheard of for a child who is allergic to dairy to also be allergic to beef. Similarly, sometimes children who have an egg allergy are also allergic to chicken. My son is allergic to eggs, but not chicken.
We found out about his beef allergy when he was first tested. We already suspected dairy and egg because he had more than one reaction to both and ended up having a severe reaction from accidental exposure to both. I had no reason to suspect he was allergic to beef. I actually had never heard of anyone being allergic to beef until I found out that my son was. He was almost two at the time and one of his favorite foods was ravioli. He also had eczema that would just not clear up, although he was on the strongest cream he could be on, in addition to trying almost everything else to treat it, including oatmeal baths and using non-scented soaps, detergents and lotions. Again, I made no correlation between food allergies and eczema at that time, although when we were referred to who is now his allergist, our pediatrician told me to make sure we mentioned the ongoing eczema.
When he was first tested, he tested mildly allergic to peanuts and shellfish (which was odd because people who are allergic to these are usually severely allergic to them, and people usually don’t outgrow an allergy to those two, yet my son did). He tested severely allergic to eggs, milk and beef (as well as severely allergic to dogs and cats). I told the allergist that my son ate beef pretty much every other day, and was not having any kind of reaction to it. The allergist responded, “But aren’t you having a hard time getting that eczema to clear up?”
So, along with the dairy products and egg already cut from his diet, I cut peanut and beef from his diet as well. He had not had shellfish yet. And guess what? The eczema cleared up. He will have a flare up every once in a while, but they have become few and far between. We substitute ground turkey for ground beef when cooking at home. I actually haven’t bought any kind of beef to cook at home in years. I’ve become pretty decent at making turkey burgers, and my turkey chili is pretty awesome.
Yes, spices. People are actually allergic to those? Absolutely. I know two of those people personally, because they are my children. And again, I had not heard of people being allergic to spices, or in my other daughters’ case, vinegar, until we discovered that they were. Since then though, I am hearing about other people who allergic to the same or similar things.
My oldest daughter is allergic to vinegar. Is vinegar a spice? Well, it’s a preservative, and I don’t know where else to stick it so we’re going to include it here with spices. Her allergy is not severe anaphylactic-wise, but it is a severe contact allergy. She does break out immediately if she eats something highly based in vinegar in any form. She can eat Ranch dressing and mayonnaise where vinegar is found very low on the ingredient list. But she will also break out immediately if vinegar touches her skin. Even a small amount for a very brief amount of time. I know, because we found this out the hard way. Luckily, Benadryl was nearby and saved the day. And like I said, she has not had an anaphylactic reaction to it. Yet. So, aside from the little bit of mayonnaise or Ranch dressing I let her have, she avoids it.
You do not realize how many things contain vinegar until you have to look for it as an ingredient in something. I can’t tell you how many people, when I tell them that my child is allergic to vinegar, reply “Oh, well vinegar really isn’t in that many things is it?” Then I have to list all the things that vinegar is indeed in, and they realize, like I did, that vinegar is used a lot more than you realize.
One downside to having a child allergic to eggs, and a child allergic to vinegar: we have never dyed Easter eggs. They don’t really know what they’re missing because they’ve never done it. It was something I always did as a kid, so I was a little disappointed the first couple of years we didn’t get to do it. But, we’ve found alternatives. They make eggs now that you can color on with crayons and markers.
My youngest is allergic to cinnamon, as random as that is. But it’s true. One bite of anything containing cinnamon and her face will be covered in hives in two seconds. Hers is the mildest case. She will break out, but hives are the only reaction she has had so far. As far as buying prepackaged foods and cooking your own food, cinnamon is probably the easiest out of all of our allergies to avoid. You have to watch snack cakes, such as honey buns and graham crackers. Regular graham crackers are fine, but you know those little graham cracker cookies they make in all the fun character shapes and sizes? Every single one of those contains cinnamon. It gets a little harder when we go somewhere that food, mainly breakfast dishes or desserts, is served, because these dishes are where you will see cinnamon used the most. I’m proud of her though, since she has gotten really good about asking people if something contains cinnamon, especially if I’m not right there to help her. But, as with all food allergies, cinnamon can be in unlikely places. Or rather, when you’re not allergic to cinnamon, you eat things that contain it and don’t really think about it until you’re in a situation where your child can’t have it.
I can think of two times for sure in the past that this has happened. A couple of years ago, we were at a football game. We were sitting with another family, and my daughter was friends with their daughter. Well, the mom whips out some snacks and gives the girls a Ziploc baggie containing Apple Jacks. About two bites in, it dawned on me that apple jacks contain cinnamon. She spit out what was in her mouth and luckily, she didn’t react to the one or two pieces she had already swallowed. The second time was recently. We were again, at some sort of event, sitting with friends and my friend reaches in her purse and pulls out some of those mints in a tin. Well, my child being a child, sticks her hand out. My friend gave her a mint, and I took one also. We put them in our mouths at the same time, but I smelled the cinnamon before I tasted it. I immediately turned to my daughter, stuck my hand right under her mouth and said “Spit it out!” She did, not even realizing what was going on. Again, she was okay. My friend felt horrible, but I assured her that my daughter was okay. People who don’t have allergies don’t realize that even gum and candy aren’t always safe.
Those are the only things my daughters are allergic to that we know of. But there are tons of other spices out there, and other people have had reactions to them. I have heard of people being allergic to garlic and mustard. I actually know someone who is allergic to onion. A lot of times, we know what specific spices are in certain things, but at other times looking for spices on food labels can be difficult, because in some foods such as salad dressings or flavored hummus, the spices won’t all be listed individually. The label will simply read “spices.” So my advice would be if you don’t know exactly what is in something, avoid it anyway.
Other Uncommon Food Allergies
Like I mentioned earlier, there have been reported reactions to well over 100 foods, and I only named a few. These are just the ones that we deal with. There are people who are allergic to seeds, with sesame seeds being the most common. I have also heard of people being allergic to chocolate, coffee, corn and tea, just to name a few.
And while there have been instances where people are actually allergic to certain fruits and/or vegetables, it has been recently determined that most people who think they are allergic to fruits or vegetables instead have what has come to be known as oral allergy syndrome. This is when a person has seasonal allergies, such as pollen or ragweed, and the fruits or vegetables cause a cross reaction because they contain similar proteins. While the most common symptoms are a stuffy or runny nose, as with seasonal allergies, an itchy mouth, throat, and hives aren’t uncommon either. And in very rare cases, oral allergy syndrome can actually be severe.
The Top 8 allergens get the most attention because they account for most of the reactions that people have. They are required to be listed as an allergen on food labels. And while manufacturers aren’t required to list the Top 8 when there may be traces of them contained in food, for safety precautions more and more manufacturers are listing them. But everything outside of the Top 8 isn’t listed in bold print as an allergen. So, if you’re dealing with uncommon food allergies, you have to read labels very carefully, even more carefully than you’re probably already used to doing.
If you suspect that your child (or yourself) may be allergic to something outside of the Top 8, it is highly important that you see a doctor and get tested so you will know what specifically to avoid, and how severe the allergy is.