Food allergies are extremely common. In fact, they affect about 15 million Americans. Many times, food intolerances are mistaken for food allergies. Food intolerances never involve the immune system. This means that while they can severely impact your quality of life, they are not life-threatening. A food allergy, on the other hand, is an overreaction of the immune system when it mistakes something in the food you ate as harmful. When this happens, it attacks it. This is called an “immune response”. Now, when a food irritates your stomach or your body cannot properly digest it, it is called an “intolerance”.

90% of all food allergies are caused by 1 of 7 foods.

1) Peanuts


A peanut allergy is very common. Peanuts are legumes and grow in the ground. Other examples of legumes are beans, peas, lentils and soybeans.

Peanuts are not the same as tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.), which grow on trees. Being allergic to peanuts does not mean you have a greater chance of being allergic to another legume. Peanuts can cause a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Allergic reactions can be unpredictable, and even very small amounts of peanut can cause one (

2) Tree Nuts

Tree Nuts

This category contains all of the nuts that grow on trees such as, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios and Brazil nuts.

Beware of products that aren’t food but can cause an allergic reaction. For example, tree nut oils are sometimes found in lotions and will contain the tree nut protein that causes the allergic reaction (

3) Milk


A milk allergy is an adverse immune reaction to one or more proteins found in (most commonly) cow’s milk.  A milk allergy is not the same thing as lactose intolerance. People who are lactose intolerant are missing lactase; the enzyme needed to digest lactose.

Milk allergy is sometimes referred to as dairy allergy. Dairy is a category of products that contain cow’s milk. Since this is a product category – not a single ingredient (such as milk) – it is not listed in ingredient statements on processed foods. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires that products containing milk list it as an ingredient.  The term “dairy allergy” can also cause confusion with egg allergy since eggs are usually located near the dairy product case in the grocery store. Using the specific term – milk allergy – helps to eliminate this confusion (

4) Eggs


The most common type of egg allergy is an egg white allergy (

It was news to me to learn the most common egg allergy is to the egg white. In addition to that, some people can be allergic to the white but not the yellow (yolk) and vise-versa. Keep in mind, if you are allergic to chicken eggs, it is possible you are also allergic to quail, duck and turkey eggs.

Many children’s vaccines contain egg protein and can cause an allergic reaction. The yearly flu vaccine also contains egg protein. Please discuss this with your doctor before accepting any and all vaccines (

5) Wheat


This is a tough one because a lot of confusions exists between a wheat allergy, a gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease. Wheat is the most common grain in American and avoiding it is hard to do.

  • A wheat allergy is a food allergy; it is an overreaction of the immune system to a specific food protein
  • Celiac Disease (also known as Celiac Sprue) affects the small intestine and is caused by an abnormal immune reaction to gluten
  • A sensitivity or intolerance to gluten is a reaction to the gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Sensitivity can range from full-blown Celiac Disease with small bowel inflammation and damage, to an allergy to and/or intolerance of the gluten protein.

Celiac Disease is an abnormal reaction in the small intestine to gluten. Gluten is the component of wheat, barley, rye, and other grains that provides the ‘glue’ that holds the grain together. It is associated with a disease called gluten-sensitive or celiac disease, caused by an abnormal response to gluten. A wheat allergy, on the other hand, means that you are allergic to certain proteins in wheat. If you eliminate wheat from your diet and your symptoms disappear, you have a wheat allergy; if the problem persists even after you substitute other grains, the chances are your symptoms are related to gluten (

6) Soy


Soybeans are a member of the legume family, like peanuts. With a soy allergy, your immune system identifies certain soy proteins as harmful. Being allergic to soy does not increase your risk for having an allergic reaction to other legumes but the bad news is, soy is found in a wide variety of processed food products.

According to experts, it’s unusual for people with a soy allergy to only be allergic to soy. People with soy allergies often also have allergies to peanuts, cow’s milk or birch pollen. There are at least 28 possible allergy-causing proteins in soybeans that have been identified. However, most allergic reactions are only caused by a few. Check labels for all forms of soy if you have a soy allergy (

7) Fish / Shellfish

Fish Shellfish

With a fish or a shellfish allergy, the most common finned fishes that people have reactions to are salmon, tuna and halibut. The most common shell fish people have reactions to are shrimp, crab and lobster. Being allergic to one kind of fish does not increase the risk for being allergic to another kinds of seafood.

Along with fish, shellfish allergies are the most common adult-onset food allergies. It’s estimated that more than 6.5 million American adults have allergies to one or both, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) (

Finned fish is one of the most common food allergies. This allergy is usually life-long. About 40% of people with a fish allergy experience their first allergic reaction as adults (

Shellfish allergy is an abnormal response by the body’s immune system to proteins in certain marine animals. Shellfish include marine animals with shells, such as shrimp, crab, oysters and lobster, as well as octopus, squid and scallops (

Fish Shellfish

Shellfish is one of the more common food allergies. This allergy usually is life-long. About 60% of people with a shellfish allergy experience their first allergic reaction as adults.

There are two groups of shellfish: crustacea (such as shrimp, crab and lobster) and mollusks (such as clams, mussels, oysters and scallops). Crustacea cause most shellfish reactions, and these tend to be severe. Finned fish and shellfish are not related. Being allergic to one does not always mean that you must avoid both (

As with all things, we need to educate ourselves regarding the top food allergies and their differences from food sensitivities. Also, keep in mind that this is not a complete list! People can be allergic to just about anything.

The name of the food source of a major food allergen must appear:

In parentheses following the name of the ingredient
Examples: “lecithin (soy),” “flour (wheat),” and “whey (milk)”; or

Immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a “contains” statement
Example: “Contains Wheat, Milk, and Soy.” (

I hope this post has been helpful and informative. We encourage you to ask questions and/or post a comment in the comment section.

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