An allergy is a medical condition in which exposure to a substance such as food causes an unexpected response by your immune system. Your body attacks the specific protein in the food and an allergic reaction occurs. This can be mild, such as itchy mouth or rash, to severe, including difficulty breathing or even death. Allergies must be diagnosed by a physician; self-diagnosis is not recommended. More than 170 foods are known to cause allergic reactions, but 90 percent of food allergies come from the 8 major food allergens described here.
Avoid all nuts, including pecans, walnuts, almonds, and more. Avoid nut milks and nut flours in baked goods and desserts. Watch out for tree nut oils in lotions, hair care, and soaps. Coconut is considered a tree nut.
Includes crab, lobster, and shrimp; not mollusks or clams. Read labels on fish stick packages
A common additive to food, soy is in miso, soy protein, soy sauce, tofu, edamame, texturized vegetable protein, and more.
Allergies caused by peanuts tripled between 1997 and 2008, and many schools now opt to be peanut-free. Try nut-free sunflower seed butter instead. Read labels for peanut oils in packaged foods.
The most common allergy in children. Fortunately, many other grains are available: corn, quinoa, rice, even chickpea-based foods. Remember to check labels for breadcrumbs, cereal, couscous, and hydrolyzed wheat protein.
Avoid all fish products if you’re allergic. Also check labels on Worcestershire sauce, barbeque sauce, imitation crab, and more.
Look for egg-free substitutes to make pancakes, breads, and muffins. Try the JUST brand for “egg” products (made of mung beans) or opt for vegan options. Often eggs are ingredients in processed foods. Read labels specifically for breading, batters, and dressings.
Severe milk allergies make it challenging to get enough calcium. Look for soy alternatives that have adequate protein, vitamin D, and calcium equivalent to dairy milk. Read labels for butter, milk, cream, casein, or lactose.
Intolerance vs. Allergy
Being lactose intolerant does not mean you have a milk allergy. Lactose intolerance is caused by not having enough of a certain enzyme to break down a sugar in milk. Symptoms include nausea, cramps, or diarrhea. A milk allergy is caused by an allergic reaction to a protein in milk—symptoms may be similar though more severe.
All packaged foods must be labeled if they contain any of the eight major food allergens. Be cautious of products made in facilities producing other foods; cross-contamination can occur. When in doubt, call the manufacturer.