Food allergies affect millions of people around the world, causing a range of symptoms from mild discomfort to life-threatening reactions. Understanding common food allergy triggers is crucial for individuals with allergies and those who care for them. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the top nine food allergens, as well as shed light on dangerous additives, artificial sweeteners, and food dyes that can potentially trigger allergic reactions.
At nine months old, Emory was diagnosed with allergies to the Top 8 most common food allergies. Sesame became the ninth major food allergen through the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act, a federal law passed in 2021. Although Emory hasn’t officially been tested for sesame, we have not seen any reactions to it thus far.
Given her diagnosis, we’ve worked to ensure that her triggers are avoided and that she is retested annually to determine whether these allergens can be safely reintroduced into her diet. We didn’t realize that aside from her triggers, items like additives and food dyes should also be closely monitored.
When allergy-like symptoms appear for a wide variety of foods, artificial ingredients may be to blame. Let’s take a closer look at the top allergens, dangerous food additives, and other common food allergy triggers.
Top 9 Food Allergens
In the US, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) identifies nine foods as major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, sesame, and soybeans. These foods account for 90% of all serious allergic reactions like anaphylaxis.
*It’s important to note that other countries identify allergens based on their rate of prominence. Meaning they may differ from what is identified here.
In countries like Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and Taiwan, items like mustard, celery, lupin, mangoes, and royal jelly are among the top food allergens. This is an important thing to understand when traveling with food allergies.
Dangerous Synthetic Food Additives
There are over 3,000 food additives available for use in the US.
While food allergies are mainly triggered by natural proteins, certain artificial additives, can also cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. Artificial (synthetic) additives are completely chemically manufactured. When managing food allergies, it is crucial to understand the additives’ roles and how they are listed on food labels.
Did you know that Frosted Flakes contained wheat? While it isn’t all that clear on the ingredients label, I researched and discovered that maltodextrin, or malt flavoring used in the popular breakfast cereal, is derived from barley, a grain that contains gluten.
Maltodextrin is a polysaccharide made from a variety of cereal starches, including wheat, corn (maize), tapioca, and rice. Because most food labels do not disclose the exact cereal starch used, if you are gluten-free, think twice before consuming products that contain this additive.
Sulfites are commonly used as preservatives in foods and beverages. They can trigger allergic reactions, particularly in people with asthma. Sulfites are often found in dried fruits, wine, and processed meats.
BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) are antioxidants used to prevent spoilage and extend the shelf life of foods. Their potential carcinogenic properties have raised concerns with regulatory agencies.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer used in many processed foods and can be made from wheat. However, during processing, the wheat protein is completely hydrolyzed (broken down) and can be eaten by people with coeliac disease. Although it is safe for those with celiac disease, it may cause harm to those with a severe wheat allergy.
Artificial Food Dyes
In the US, artificial food dyes like Red 40 (Allure Red), Annato, and Yellow 5 (Tartrazine) are in almost everything from sports drinks to candy, condiments, cereals, and even makeup. Red 40 is derived from petroleum (yes…petroleum!), and while almost all other countries have banned this additive, it is still very popular in the US. You may have an allergy to this additive if you notice symptoms like headaches, itchy skin, face swelling, or hives following the consumption or use of the previously referenced items. In other countries, Red 40 has been replaced by Carmine, a natural red coloring derived from cochineal insects.
Only 4% (approx.) of all individuals in the US suffer from allergies to artificial food dyes and colorings. Additionally, Yellow 5 (Tartrazine) is commonly found in medications like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen. Roughly 3.8% of people given tartrazine medications experienced an allergic reaction or intolerance to these medications.
An article published by The NIH (National Institues of Health) states that “when mixed, artificial food dyes and sugars in early life may increase the risk of food allergies and intolerances.”
Typically, when we talk about sugar allergies, we talk about fructose intolerance or sugar malabsorption. Natural sugars found in fruits and plants are not the focus here. Chemically manufactured sugars are the main culprits here—specifically, those created when fructose and glucose combine to create the disaccharide, sucrose.
Sucrose, commonly known as table sugar, is a natural sugar extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets. It is composed of glucose and fructose and is used as a sweetener in various foods and beverages. The FODMAP diet restricts the intake of certain carbs and sugars. Most folks who adhere to this diet have experienced adverse reactions to sugars due to their body’s inability to absorb and process certain sugars fully. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and Aspertame are two artificial sweeteners commonly found in processed and pre-packaged foods. Both also contain sucrose.
If you or someone you know experiences gastrointestinal issues, headaches, depression, tiredness or mood swings following the consumption of these artificial sweeteners, you may want to avoid these triggers and speak with your doctor.
Gaining a comprehensive understanding of common food allergy triggers is crucial for safeguarding our health and well-being. By recognizing the top nine allergens, artificial additives, food dyes, and sugars that often lead to adverse reactions, we can make informed choices about the foods we consume and minimize the risks associated with food allergies. Whether it’s diligently reading labels, seeking alternative ingredients, or consulting healthcare professionals, prioritizing our safety and taking proactive steps to avoid these triggers will go a long way in promoting a healthier and allergy-free lifestyle.
Remember, knowledge is power, and by arming ourselves with knowledge about food allergens, additives, dyes, and sugars, we can embark on a path toward a more inclusive and allergy-aware society.