With this week -- May 8 through 14 -- being National Food Allergy Awareness Week, we can help to increase awareness, encourage respect, promote safety, and improve the quality of life of the 15 million Americans affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis.
According to the Food Allergy Research and Education, a food-allergy reaction sends someone to the ER every three minutes. Food allergens can cause severe reactions to commonplace foods like eggs, milk, or nuts. Symptoms can include trouble breathing and low blood pressure; the most severe reactions can result in death.
Because of the seriousness of these allergies, it’s important to recognize foods which may contain no-so-obvious sources of these allergens.
The top 8 food allergies are:
- Crustacean shellfish
- Tree nuts
Some of the sources of these foods are obvious, such as wheat being in most breads and milk being in most dairy products. But what about the hidden sources of these food allergens? Some of them may surprise you. The following are a few hidden sources of food allergens:
- Probiotics - Many brands of probiotics contain milk, so those with milk allergies need to be extra careful about purchasing these supplements.
- Caesar Dressing - Most people don’t know that what gives their Caesar dressing that yummy, salty bite are anchovies, which don’t mix well for those with fish allergies. Check Caesar salad ingredients carefully, and always ask for a list of ingredients when at restaurants.
- Walnut Extract - Yes, even the extracts of nuts contain tree nut allergens, so check labels of baked foods before eating or purchasing.
- Soy Sauce - It may be obvious that soy sauce contains soy, but it may not be so obviously that it also contains wheat! If you have a wheat allergy, try liquid aminos or gluten-free tamari instead of soy sauce.
- Pickles - While most of us know that pickles are canned using vinegar, we may not know that occasionally pickle processing uses malt vinegar, which may contain gluten. Barley is one of the ingredients in malt vinegar, and barley contains gluten.
- Supplements - Most people with food allergies are good about checking food labels, but they may forget to check the labels on things like vitamins and other supplements. Many supplements contain both maltodextrin (which is often wheat based) and soy lecithin (which contains soy allergens).
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act is a law which requires that food’s which contain an ingredient that is or contains protein from a "major food allergen" declare the presence of the allergen in one of two ways.
- Include the name of the food source in parenthesis following the common or usual name of the major food allergen in the list of ingredients in instances when the name of the food source of the major allergen does not appear elsewhere in the ingredient statement.
- Place the word "Contains" followed by the name of the food source from which the major food allergen is derived, immediately after or adjacent to the list of ingredients.
So bottom line, if you have been diagnosed with a food allergy, never assume that a product does not contain an allergen. Always read the ingredients on a label and familiarize yourself with other names for your particular food allergen.
Lauren Ott, RD is a registered dietitian at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. Check out her website or follow her Facebook page and Instagram for nutrition tips!