Allergies can develop at any age, and some symptoms are nothing to sneeze at
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Uncovering Hidden Allergens
Knowing what your trigger foods are is just a part of managing allergies
By Dorothy Hernandez
As someone with several food allergies and celiac disease, Donna Organek is careful about what she eats. Since working with a nutritionist, she has started cooking at home more and reading food labels closely.
She also buys products with recognizable ingredients. “If I don’t know what it is I just don’t buy it,” says the Sterling Heights resident, 62.
Organek errs on the side of caution, but even that sometimes isn’t enough. She purchased turkey patties, whose label simply listed “natural flavorings.” Thinking it was OK, she ate it and later got a “grinding” headache. She had a reaction to the natural flavorings, which she discovered included cultured celery powder, among other things.
Reading food labels is essential, says Aarti Batavia, a registered dietitian who developed food allergies herself after moving to the U.S. from India. Some things to look out: colors and dyes, sorbates, sulfites, glutamates, and derivatives of wheat and sources of gluten such as yeast, hydrolyzed wheat protein, and malt (“it is disguised in so many names,” she says).
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires that the labels of foods that include any of the top eight allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish) note the allergen in plain language either in the ingredient list or have the word “contains” followed by the name e.g. contains milk, wheat, etc. or in the list in parenthesis e.g. albumin (egg). Another thing to be aware of is that potential allergens other than the top eight might not be clearly listed.
Other than reading labels Batavia suggests cutting down on processed foods, where hidden food allergens may lurk. Some examples include Worcestershire sauce, which may have fish and soy, and dressings, which may have nuts, wheat, and soy. And don’t just stop at food, Batavia says. Medications may have lactose (milk sugar), and even licking stamps, which may have gluten, might be something to avoid. For Organek, even her communion at weekly Mass was an issue.
Here are some examples of unexpected sources of the top allergens, according to Food Allergy Research & Education.
- Eggs: Eggs have been used to create the foam or topping on coffee drinks. Some brands of egg substitutes contain egg whites. The flu vaccine may also contain eggs.
- Peanuts: These legumes are used heavily in African, Asian, and Mexican dishes, as well as sauces such as hot sauce, pesto, and gravy.
- Tree nuts: They may be found in marinades, barbecue sauces, and some cold cuts, such as mortadella.
- Dairy: Look out for casein, a milk protein that may be found in some brands of canned tuna and many non-dairy products. Some meats may contain casein as a binder.
- Wheat: Wheat is found in some brands of ice cream, marinara sauce, potato chips, rice cakes, turkey patties and hot dogs, candy, processed meats, and imitation crabmeat.
- Soy: This ingredient is something to be very careful of as soybeans and soy products are found in many foods such as baked goods, canned tuna and meat, canned broths and soups, imitation fish, meatloaf, and barbecue sauce. It’s also used as a filler and extender in many products.