Everyone seems to have an allergy to something these days. It’s amazing we can get through social events without someone encountering an offending food. So, what’s the deal? Are people more allergic now than they were 50 years ago? What do we even mean by the word “allergy?” Anaphylaxis, hives, rash, or something altogether different? Which five foods are we most likely to be allergic to?
An allergy occurs when a protein from the allergen causes the immune system to mount a response. When a mosquito bites you, the area swells as a result of the immune system recognizing that the bug has pierced your epidermis and that it’s time to fight whatever it left behind.
An allergy should not be confused with a food intolerance. If you are intolerant to something, there isn’t an immune response. Instead there is a gastrointestinal response that usually results in some unpleasant symptoms. Intolerances happen when people lack the necessary enzymes to break down their food for absorption.
The top five food allergies we see today are:
- Nuts: Especially peanuts! Peanut allergies are often severe to the point someone could die from being exposed to even the slightest amount of peanut. Some airlines even change their snack choices on flights when a severely allergic person is onboard. The smell of the airborne peanut protein can cause a response, so the airlines just eliminate the risk.
- Eggs: Egg allergy reactions range from mild to severe and can include skin rashes, hives, nasal congestion, and vomiting or other digestive problems. Eggs may be a tricky to avoid since they are used in so many baked goods.
- Shellfish: Shrimp, clams, mussels, oh my! Reactions range from mild symptoms —hives or a stuffy nose — to severe and even life-threatening events. Similar to peanuts, even the smell of shellfish can cause a response in the most allergic people. Sitting close to a kitchen in a restaurant that is boiling seafood can trigger the allergy.
- Wheat: But more specifically gluten. Gluten is the protein that causes an allergic response in the small intestine. This exposure causes inflammation, which in turn leads to malabsorption of digested foods, diarrhea, and weight loss. This allergy can do permanent damage to the intestine.
- Casein: A protein in milk. Symptoms of a casein allergy include swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, face, or throat; skin reactions such as hives or a rash; and nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, coughing, or wheezing. It is not lactose intolerance, which is an enzyme deficiency.
It wouldn’t be fair to talk allergies without a quick thought on food intolerances, such as sucrose (sugar) intolerance and lactose (milk) intolerance. The results of these intolerances are similar: gas, bloating, and diarrhea after meals that contain milk or sugar. You can learn more about sucrose intolerance at www.sucroseintolerance.com