The BIG 8: Most common food allergens
Food allergies are not myths, 90% of food allergies are associated with the Big 8 allergies. Group of eight major allergens coined as “Big 8” namely Milk, Peanut, Wheat, Tree Nut, Shellfish, Egg, Soy and Fish. Not all food that we consume are prone to cause allergy, I would say 50% of the edible products may turn out to be allergic. The Big 8 consists of foods which have been a fundamental part of our food ecosystem. For instance, peanuts are a preferred snack across cultures and countries. Also people living in the tropics prefer having wheat, and is a major dietary component of this region.
Studies conducted by SOAAR Food Allergy Research states 1 in 13 children in USA suffer food allergies. In the last decade the occurrence of food allergies have doubled globally. Processed foods may contain one of the substances from the Big 8 and may people may encounter episodes of allergic reaction. Hence, it is extremely necessary for consumers to know about these allergens and read the food labels with care.
Milk is the second most common allergen after peanuts. Milk allergies are caused due to immune response of the body towards proteins present in milk like casein and whey in cow milk (As cow milk is most commonly consumed). If allergic consumers switch to other dairy sources for milk like goat and sheep milk can cause occurence of cross reaction, as these milk sources contain similar allergic proteins as the ones found in cow’s milk.
Individuals suffering from milk allergies, should be cautious while consuming processed foods like dairy products, bakery products, chocolate and seasonings; since these products may contain traces of milk.
Alternatives: Milk alternatives like soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and oat milk, should be tolerated by individuals with a milk allergy. However, one with an allergy should always double check the food ingredient list.
Most prevalent food allergen among children, data suggests >1% children and 0.6% adults in U.S. are allergic to peanuts. Peanuts are the on-to snacks found commonly in chocolates, snack bars and breakfast cereal.
Children allergic to peanuts experience range of reactions from such as oral allergy syndrome, to severe symptoms, such as anaphylaxis or asthma which involves difficulty breathing that often requires emergency treatment. (severe symptoms seem more common with peanut than with most food allergies). Skin reactions like hives are pervasive.
Peanuts belong to the legume family, proteins in peanut are similar to their counterparts in legume family like soy and pea. Consumption of soy and pea may lead to cross reaction in allergic individuals.
Wheat is present in foods like breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, cakes, ketchup, soy sauce and also in beer. Symptoms of IgE-mediated allergy to cereals range from mild local reactions of the skin or gut to more serious, occasionally life threatening anaphylactic reactions.
Allergies to wheat are caused due to several proteins present in wheat like Albumin, Globulin, Gliadin and Gluten. Often wheat allergy is misinterpreted as Celiac disease, which is an auto-immune disease that is triggered by consuming Gluten that is found in many grains.
Wheat allergies may not always be attributed to Gluten. The symptoms of these allergies include the skin (atopic dermatitis or eczema and urticaria or nettle rash). Might also cause swelling of skin, lips or throat (angioedema), symptoms of the stomach/gut (diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting), runny or stuffy nose and asthma, and in severe cases anaphylactic shock.
4. TREE NUT
Nuts are known to be one of the major group of allergens. Tree Nuts consist of Chestnut, Cashew Nut, Almond, Walnut, Hazelnut. Allergy to nuts results in respiratory symptoms and anaphylactic reactions.
Nut allergies are attributed to the presence of storage proteins in seeds namely legumins and albumins. People allergic to often react to different group of nuts, suggesting presence of cross reaction.
Allergic reactions to nuts maybe triggered by tiny amount of food, perhaps even by inhalation or skin contact of an allergen contaminated food. Hence, complete withdrawal from nut and products containing nuts is vital to keep from having allergic reactions.
Hen’s eggs are one of the most important allergens in the Big 8 list. Hen’s eggs have always been a part of the human diet, and often introduced into human diet within the first two years of life. Mostly children are prone to be allergic to eggs as compared to adults.
Allergenic component in eggs are present in the egg white, and the proteins that cause allergic reactions are namely ovalbumin, and lysozyme. Similar proteins are also present in egg’s from other avian sources like duck and goose eggs.
Symptoms associated with egg allergies often include hives and itching followed by irritation in digestive system depending upon the severity and the length of exposure.
Typically processed foods like bakery items, chocolate, mayonnaise and several salad among the sea of processed products contain eggs. It is advised for allergic consumers to avoid such substances containing eggs as an ingredient.
6. SHELLFISH (CRUSTACEANS)
The group of crustacean shellfish comprises of Prawns, Lobster and Crabs; and molluscan shellfish like Squid, Octopus, Oysters and Mussels; these form an integral part of human diet in the coastal regions. Occurrence of shellfish allergies are more in adults than children and observed among the areas of high consumption of seafood.
Allergic episodes on consumption of shellfish results in mild reactions like oral allergies to life threatening reactions, like anaphylaxis, and may even lead to death. Like other allergens in the Big 8, there are chances of cross reactions, if individuals consume other foods from the this Big 8 allergen group. The allergic component in shellfish retains full activity even after processes like cooking, therefore it is advised to refrain from consumption of any fish product for these consumers.
These group of shellfish find place on canned products, pizza toppings and salad dressings. Consumers should discreetly view food labels before consuming any processed food product from supermarket shelves.
On the same lines as Shellfish allergy, Big 8 holds a different category for fin fish. They differ from shellfish in allergic component, that triggers allergic reactions in individuals. Fish allergies are largely observed in areas of high consumption.
Common symptoms include skin and gastrointestinal reactions, and depending upon the intensity of reaction may lead to anaphylactic shock. Individuals allergic to a certain species of fish, may be sensitive to other species of fishes. Perhaps this reaction may be attributed to the presence of the fish muscle protein called parvalbumin, which is the allergic component in most fishes.
Studies have reported that some individuals who are highly allergic to fish may suffer an allergic reaction even on inhalation of odor of fish. Hence, for people allergic people working fish processing industry, markets and restaurants could turn out to be dreadful.
Soy products and its valuable products have been employed in food processing industry as emulsifier and texturizer. Soy allergy is less prevalent than peanut allergy, and depends upon geographical location.
Symptoms of allergic reaction to soy protein is similar to the ones observed in peanut allergy. Soyabean is one of food allergens difficult to identify, as they are present in most of processed foods. They are also titled as “hidden allergen”.
At this time, it is imperative for the spreading awareness among masses and educating them about food allergies. Efforts should be taken by consumers to read labels for allergen information, question food processors or regulatory bodies in terms of doubt about certain products. We will be talking more about allergies in the subsequent blogs.
This article was generously written by the women at the Food Tech Club, a food communication website lead by two food technology enthusiasts, who are striving towards communicating the science of food to the world, bridging the gap between the academics and the industry: industry and the consumers.