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5 Hidden Food Allergens (That Are More Common Than You Think)

 

When it comes to food allergies, U.S. ingredient lists offer a false sense of  security. While eight major foods (milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, tree nuts,  peanuts, wheat, and soy) are estimated to account for 90% of all allergic  reactions, some food additives have become so common that they’re beginning to  account for more and more food allergies.

Many of these don’t need to be clearly labeled at all, and some of them are  simply so difficult to identify that you may not even know what to look for when  reading ingredient lists. Here are four food allergies that are becoming  increasingly common, so much so that you may not be able to protect yourself  from simply by reading food labels.

1. Spices – Spice allergies are estimated to account for  about 2% food allergies — although some allergists believe the  difficulty of diagnosing this condition means the real numbers are higher.  People can react to just about any spice used in cooking, including kitchen  staples like garlic, coriander, cumin, and paprika. Unfortunately, in many  prepared and packaged foods, specific spices aren’t listed as ingredients — and  many restaurants won’t list spices on the menu.

The kitchen isn’t the only place you need to watch out if you have a spice  allergy; many cosmetics, particularly natural cosmetics, use botanical  ingredients which can cause skin reactions as well. In fact, for this reason,  spice allergies are more often seen in women than in men. They often have had  more lifetime exposure to potential allergens.

2. Corn –  No one is sure exactly how many people  suffer from corn allergy, but one study of self-reported reactions estimates it  may be has high as 2%. Corn allergies are notoriously difficult to manage due to  the fact that corn derivatives are used in many packaged foods — and can be labeled with some pretty confusing names. Corn products are also widely used  in prescription and OTC drugs as a filler or binder and are increasingly being  used in biofuels and bioplastics.

3. Seeds – While still not considered a major allergen in the U.S., reactions  to sesame, poppy, sunflower and even mustard seeds are on the rise. Sesame is  actually considered one of the top allergens in several other countries,  including Canada, Israel and parts of Europe. The risk of seed allergies is heightened in people who already have an  existing allergy to tree nuts. Sesame in particular can be found in many  unexpected places, like cosmetics and in many foods.

4. Preservatives – It’s also possible to be allergic to  common preservatives found in packaged foods. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult  to test for reactions to preservatives. Usually the culprit is  identified through a process of elimination — for instance, when the same food  prepared fresh at home causes no problems, but a reaction occurs eating the same  dish from a restaurant. If an allergist can’t identify the specific allergen,  the only solution may be to avoid processed foods entirely. (Even some fresh,  unpackaged foods may be exposed to preservatives to extend their shelf life.)  Current research suggests that about 1% of adults and 2% of children are  allergic to common food preservatives. One class of preservatives, sulfites  (which occur in wine, cured meats, and some dried fruits), is also known to exacerbate  asthma symptoms in some people.

5. Food Coloring – Another increasingly common allergy is to  the dyes used in packaged food. The dyes tartrazine, carmine, annatto, and saffron have all been  reported as causes of severe allergic reactions in some people. Many other food  colorings may also be potential allergens, although the ones I’ve listed are the  most common. Natural food coloring seems to be just as potentially allergenic as artificial dyes.

If you find yourself having unexplained reactions to packaged or prepared  foods (but no issues with food made from scratch), you may have an allergy or  intolerance to one of these common food additives. Talk to your doctor about  testing to uncover which of these common substances may be giving you  trouble.

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Photo credit: Pink  Sherbet Photography via Flickr

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Comments on: "5 Hidden Food Allergens (That Are More Common Than You Think)" (1)

  1. Good post! I have an allergy to sesame seeds but some other seeds seem to bother me as well. It’s frustrating that labels aren’t required to state what spices are used.

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