Nearly any food can cause an allergic reaction, since allergic reactions to foods are usually caused by a body’s response to a specific protein molecule. For instance, a person who is allergic to peanuts has a reaction to a particular protein found in peanuts. But if a person has never been exposed to a certain type of food, it’s impossible to know whether they might be allergic. This means allergic reactions are, for the most part, unexpected, unless there’s a strong family history of allergies.
However, there are eight foods that cause most of the allergic reactions in the United States. It’s a good idea to pay special attention when you introduce your child to these foods, and to introduce them one at a time, spacing them out enough so that if there is a reaction, you’ll be able to tell what the reaction is to. The most common food allergies are caused by:
Out of this list, the most common food allergies in children are peanuts and milk, followed by shellfish.
Peanuts and tree nuts
They sound like they should be a part of the same allergy, but they’re actually very different. A peanut is a legume, which is a cluster of seeds protected by an outer shell, like peas or lentils. Tree nuts are single seeds in a hard shell. Some examples are walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, and pistachios.
Children who are allergic to tree nuts may not be allergic to all of them, but there is often cross-contamination between different types of nuts, and nut allergies tend to provoke very strong allergic reactions, like anaphylaxis, so it’s typically best to be cautious and avoid the whole group.
This is also why, with nut allergies, it’s especially important to read all the way through ingredient lists for unfamiliar foods, and especially important to talk about nut allergies with restaurants, daycare providers, family members, and friends, to help avoid any accidents.
While it’s common for children to grow out of many allergies, it’s very rare for children to grow out of peanut and tree nut allergies.
Milk and eggs
Children with milk allergies should avoid all milk products, including butter, yogurt, and cheese. These are common ingredients even in harmless-seeming baked goods, so ingredient lists are especially important for these allergies as well. Having an allergy to either milk or eggs can make breakfast time difficult, but you’ll find some healthy alternatives.
A milk allergy shouldn’t be confused with lactose intolerance. An allergy is present when the body attacks the food protein it consumed, whereas lactose intolerance is an inability to properly digest the lactose present in milk.
Children who are allergic to eggs tend to be allergic to the protein in the egg white, and not the yolk. It’s still safer to avoid eggs entirely, though, since there can be a lot of cross-contamination.
In addition to watching out for eggs in food, for children with egg allergies, it’s important to check in with a doctor before getting a flu shot, since some vaccines, including the flu vaccine, use small amounts of egg in the making of the vaccine.
Depending on how severe an allergy is, children with egg allergies may or may not be able to get the flu vaccine.
Wheat and soy
Similar to lactose intolerance, celiac disease or “gluten intolerance” isn’t the same as a wheat allergy.
Many products you wouldn’t expect contain wheat and soy. It’s important to check every label carefully as you familiarize yourself with likely culprits. They’ll be clearly labeled “wheat” or “soy” but appear in some surprising places.
Fish and shellfish
These are two distinct families of foods. If you’re allergic to one, it doesn’t mean that you’re allergic to others.
Fish allergies include an inability to eat things like tuna or salmon. Shellfish allergies come from either crustaceans like shrimp and lobster or mollusks like clams and oysters. If you’re allergic to one kind of shellfish, you’re likely allergic to all of them. Like nuts, shellfish allergies tend to be severe and life-long, so children who are diagnosed with shellfish allergies should be prepared to carry epinephrine autoinjectors, and to check the ingredients of all new foods for hidden allergens.
- “Allergens.” Food Allergy Research and Education. Food Allergy Research & Education, Inc. 2016. Web.
- “Types of Allergies: Food Allergy.” Allergist. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 2014. Web.
- “Food Allergies in Schools.” CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 2015. Web.