Knowing how to read labels, recognize and avoid potential allergens in food can be tricky. But knowing what ingredient labels mean for food allergies is key to avoid potentially dangerous reactions. Ingredients derived from common food allergens may be listed under many different names on the label, and they can be just as dangerous as the allergen itself in terms of causing allergic reactions.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that food labels list all ingredients derived from the eight most common food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. But that doesn’t mean the ingredient label will list the food allergen directly. Hidden food allergies for food ingredients can turn up almost anywhere. It’s important to be aware of the many different names by which allergen foods are called.
Here are some common ingredients that anyone with a food allergy should be aware of. Of course, no list is comprehensive, so people with food allergies should always check with their doctor for a list of ingredients specific to their food allergy. And carry your list with you to reference
Commonly found in many Asian, African, and Indonesian dishes, peanuts are one of the most common food allergens. Ingredients that may contain peanuts and should be avoided by those with peanut allergy include:
- Artificial nuts
- Beer nuts
- Cold pressed peanut oil
- Ground nuts
- Nut meat
- Nut pieces
Egg allergies are especially common among children, and reactions can range from mild to severe. The whites of an egg contain the allergy-causing proteins, but people with egg allergies are advised to avoid all eggs because it's impossible to separate the yolk entirely from the white. Egg proteins are often found in baked goods, vaccines, and other processed foods. Foods that contain any of these egg-derived ingredients should be avoided:
- Albumin (also spelled albumen)
Having a milk or dairy allergy is not the same as being lactose intolerant. In milk allergy, the immune system reacts to a specific protein in milk. People with lactose intolerance lack the enzyme necessary to break down lactose, a sugar found in milk. The immune system is not involved.
Soybeans are used in a wide variety of processed foods in the United States, which makes it a common hidden food allergy ingredient. Soy is also found in many Asian and vegetarian foods and can appear under several different names.
- Textured vegetable protein
- Food starches
- Graham flour
People who are allergic to one type of fish, like salmon, may also be allergic to other types of fish. People with a fish allergy are usually advised to avoid all fish. Besides watching for individual fish names on food labels, potentially hidden fish allergens to watch for include:
- Worcestershire sauce
- Imitation fish
- Barbecue sauce
- Caesar salad and Caesar salad dressing
- More Ways to Avoid Food Allergens
Eating fewer processed foods and cooking whole foods at home lowers the risk for exposure to hidden food allergens and cross contamination. Cooking at home with fresh ingredients can actually be much easier than reading labels and inquiring about restaurant menus.