The Facts About Food Allergies
Asking questions and being informed can help you cope
When I was young, I sometimes claimed an "allergy" to foods I did
not like so I would not seem impolite if served one of my least favorite foods.
These days, some people use the word "allergy" to describe any
discomfort associated with food.
food allergies are no joke. Many Americans suffer from them and don't even
know it. The reactions can range from mild irritations, such as hives, swelling, and gastrointestinal discomfort, to
Children are most likely to suffer from allergies, but adults have them,
too. The primary food allergy culprits are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts,
wheat, soybeans, fish, and shellfish. Yet any food can cause a reaction if it
contains ingredients that are not tolerated.
How Allergies Work
A food allergy triggers an immune response, which attacks the lining of the
intestines and causes discomfort. People who are allergic to gluten (a protein
found in wheat and other grains) often mistake their allergy
symptoms, such as gas, diarrhea, cramping, and weight loss, for any number of
It's not uncommon for food allergies to be misdiagnosed. If you suspect you
have allergies, see your doctor. Most allergies can be diagnosed with skin tests, but you can have a
negative skin test and still be allergic to a certain food. Accurately
determining food allergies usually requires a medical evaluation and trial
Not all problems with food result from an allergy. Sulphites, lactose, and
monosodium glutamate (MSG) are examples of food substances to which many people
are intolerant or hypersensitive. This is not the same as an allergy but can
cause similar symptoms. Allergies trigger immune responses, but the body's
immune system is not responsible for the symptoms of food intolerance.
Foods containing sulphites say so on their labels, but it takes careful
scrutiny to make sure there's no lactose or MSG in a food. Sulphites are not
permitted in fresh foods but can be contained in processed potatoes, wine,
frozen avocados, dried fruits, and bottled lemon juice.
The "cure" for food allergies -- eliminate the offending foods -- is
not as easy as it sounds. Some foods are obvious, but others require careful
reading of the ingredient list. For some, you may need to contact the
Understanding label terminology is key to avoiding food allergens. Milk may
be referred to by its components "whey" or "casein," and eggs
can appear on a label as "albumin." Avoiding breads and cereals is
relatively easy for those with a gluten allergy. But traces of
wheat can be found in some lunch meats, soy sauce, soups, malt vinegar -- even
jelly beans. These minute amounts are not always listed on the ingredient
On Jan. 1, 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act went
into effect. This law requires manufacturers to identify wheat and other grains
to which people may be sensitive on product labels. Potentially allergenic
substances must be identified by commonly known names -- so no longer will you
need to know that lactalbumin contains milk.