The big 8 culprits when it comes to food allergies are the most common allergens in the U.S. Together they are responsible for most food allergies, and it is these eight foods that are required by law to be labeled on all foods: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish and shellfish. Because these are the most common allergens and they get the most attention, it’s easy to forget or to be unaware of the fact that there are many other foods that trigger allergies.
Meat of any kind can cause a food allergy: pork, beef, goat, duck, chicken and others. There are no firm statistics on how many people are allergic to meat, but it does seem to be rare. Interestingly, though, there is a known cause. A bite from a tick, specifically the Lone Star tick which is found in the eastern and southern U.S., can trigger a red meat allergy.
The most common symptoms of meat allergy include a skin rash, nausea and cramping, a stuffy or runny nose, headaches and sneezing. Anaphylaxis is also possible. Research has also found that children with a beef allergy are more likely to also be allergic to cow’s milk. The opposite, however, isn’t true. A child with a milk allergy is not more likely to be allergic to beef.
Another rare food allergen is gelatin. This is a protein that comes from animal bones, cartilage and hooves. It is used in gelatin desserts, marshmallows, gummy candies and other foods. An allergy to gelatin can cause all the same kinds of symptoms of other food allergies, like itchy skin, rashes, sneezing, and even difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis. If your child has a gelatin allergy, be aware that gelatin is used in the flu shot and other vaccines. It acts as a stabilizer and is perfectly safe for most people. If your child has an allergy and needs a vaccine, make sure it is done by your allergist, but don’t use it as a reason to skip a vaccine.
Corn allergies are not as common as wheat allergies but can be similarly problematic. Corn, like wheat, is found in a lot of different food products and is hard to avoid. If you suspect your child is allergic to corn, it may be difficult to confirm. Corn allergies are tough to differentiate from allergies to grass, pollen and other grains. An allergist can help you try an elimination diet, which is the best way to identify a corn allergy.
This seemingly harmless little seed can cause allergies with symptoms ranging from mild to anaphylaxis. Research has found that this allergy is on the rise, although it isn’t known whether the increase is a true rise in the incidence of the allergy or just an increased awareness. It is estimated to be an allergen for between one-tenth and two-tenths of a percent of the population. This makes sesame a rare but significant allergen. Although it’s not common as an allergen, sesame can be problematic. Like some of the big 8 allergens, it is hidden in a lot of foods. It is most common in Middle Eastern foods but is also found in many vegetarian products, salad dressings, baked goods and processed foods.
Sulfites aren’t really a food and don’t cause genuine allergies, but they are food additives and can cause serious reactions in some people. Allergists refer to this as a sulfite sensitivity rather than an allergy. If you are sensitive to sulfites, you may experience wheezing and asthma, or even anaphylaxis, when exposed to them. Sulfites include a range of chemicals, like sulfur dioxide and sodium bisulfite, which have been used for years as preservatives, most notably in dried fruits. They were once used to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables, but severe reactions led to a ban on them for this purpose. Sulfites are still used in dried fruits, shrimp, beer and wine, potatoes and medications. Sulfite sensitivity is more common in people with asthma.
When it comes to food allergies, the big 8 allergens are significant. They are responsible for as much as 90 percent of allergies in the country. It’s easy to forget there are other culprits out there, and although they are less common, they can be just as serious for the person experiencing a reaction. Be aware of the possibilities, and if you suspect your child has an allergy but can’t pinpoint one of the big 8, see your doctor for testing of other allergens.