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8 Most Common Food Allergies

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By Jonathan Psenka

Food allergies result when your immune system mistakes a food you've eaten for an invader. Instead of digesting the food and using it as nourishment, your body launches an attack, which can lead to symptoms that range from mildly unpleasant to potentially fatal. In their most severe form, food allergies can cause life-threatening anaphylaxis.

When we talk about food allergies, it's important to distinguish them from food intolerances or sensitivities. A true food allergy is a hypersensitivity of the immune system to a food component, usually a protein. With a food sensitivity, on the other hand, the immune system is not usually involved. For example, lactose intolerance is a food sensitivity. People with the condition lack the enzyme necessary to break down milk sugar (lactose), so when they eat dairy products, lactose intolerant people may experience gas, bloating and diarrhea. Although they may be uncomfortable and embarrassed, these symptoms are not life-threatening, as some true food allergies can be.

Here's are the most common food allergies.

1. Peanut Allergy


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One of the most common food allergies, peanut allergy is also one of the most potentially dangerous. Peanuts are among the foods most likely to cause anaphylaxis and peanut allergies are on the rise. According to the Food Allergy Research and Education study, peanut allergies more than tripled in the U.S. between 1997 and 2008.

Unlike most other food allergies, which kids typically outgrow, peanut allergies are a lifelong condition—only about 20 percent of people with allergies to peanuts ever get rid of them. These allergies tend to run in families, with younger siblings of kids with peanut allergies at an increased risk of developing them, as well.

Peanuts are a member of the legume family; other members include peas, lentils and soy. Legumes differ from their cousins, the tree nuts (walnuts, cashews and almonds), in that they grow in the ground. Although people with peanut allergies are no more likely to be allergic to other legumes, they are more likely to be allergic to tree nuts. Recent research shows that between 24 and 40 percent of people with peanut allergies also have tree nut allergies.

Symptoms of a peanut allergy may include hives; eczema; stomach cramps; diarrhea; vomiting; runny nose; sneezing; itchy, watery eyes; and asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. In its most severe form, peanut allergy can cause—within minutes—the sudden allergic reaction anaphylaxis.

Another reason peanut allergies are such a concern is that just a tiny amount of a nut can trigger a big reaction in sensitive people. If someone with a peanut allergy touches a surface where a peanut or some peanut butter sat and then touches his or her eyes, for example, it can be enough to set off a serious allergic reaction.

Because trace amounts of peanuts can spark a severe response and because peanuts can lurk in many unsuspecting foods, people with a peanut allergy—or any true food allergy—simply can't be too careful. If you have a severe food allergy, you should carry an EpiPen at all times and make sure you and those around you know how to administer it and are prepared to use it at any time.

As a peanut allergy sufferer, you must also be vigilant about reading food labels. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires all foods containing peanuts that are sold in the U.S. to list the word "peanut" clearly on the label. However, keep in mind that the use of the phrase "may contain peanuts" is voluntary, so you still need to know what you're eating.

It's also important to be aware of foods and ingredients that may contain peanuts. These include the following:

  • Artificial nuts
  • Baked goods
  • Candy
  • Chili
  • Egg rolls
  • Glazes and marinades
  • Mandelonas (peanuts soaked in almond flavoring)
  • Marzipan
  • Nougat
  • Pancakes
  • Pet food
  • Specialty pizzas

2. Tree Nut Allergy


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Tree nuts are, as their name suggests, nuts that grow on trees. They include almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts and cashews.

  • Tree nut allergies are similar to peanut allergies in that they tend to cause severe reactions and usually last a lifetime. Even fewer kids with tree nut allergies than with peanut allergies ever outgrow them. Tree nut allergies also tend to run in families, with younger siblings of children with tree nut allergies at an increased risk of developing them, too.

People with tree nut allergies are frequently allergic to more than one kind of tree nut, so they're advised to avoid all nuts and to check all ingredients. The FALCPA now requires food companies to list specific tree nuts on all labels of foods sold in the U.S. Even so, those with allergies to tree nuts should be aware that these nuts can pop up in the most unusual places, such as barbecue sauces, flavored coffees and alcoholic beverages. (Note that alcoholic beverages are not required by the FALCPA to list potential allergens on their labels).

If you have a severe tree nut allergy, you should also look out for the following substances:

  • Gianduja (chocolate with hazelnut paste as an ingredient)
  • Litchi
  • Marzipan
  • Pesto

3. Milk Allergy

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Cow's milk is the most common allergy in infants and young kids. About 2.5 percent of children younger than age three are allergic to milk. Those with an allergy to cow's milk can also react to the milk of other animals, such as goats and sheep.

Milk allergy symptoms are variable and can range from mild to severe. Some individuals react after ingesting only a tiny bit of milk, while others can drink a moderate amount and react only slightly. Mild reactions tend to take the form of hives and severe reactions can include anaphylaxis.

The good news is that most kids with milk allergies outgrow them. There are also a number of healthy dairy-free baby formulas available, so mothers of milk-allergic kids who choose not to breastfeed have other options.

Luckily, the FALCPA now requires that all milk-containing products sold in the U.S. actually list the word "milk" on the label. Even so, it's helpful for parents of kids who are allergic to milk—and for the kids themselves—to be as educated as possible on hidden cow's milk sources. It's also important to realize that milk can show up in the most unexpected places, such as in deli meat (when meat slicers are used to cut both meat and cheese), meats that use casein as a binder and medications that contain milk protein.

Here are some milk-containing ingredients to look out for:

  • Casein
  • Caseinates
  • Curd
  • Diacetyl
  • Ghee
  • Lactalbumin
  • Lactoferrin
  • Lactose
  • Lactulose
  • Recaldent
  • Rennet casein
  • Tagatose
  • Whey

4. Egg Allergy

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Egg allergies are also common in kids, second only to milk. Luckily, most children outgrow their egg allergy by age five. Those who are sensitive react to the proteins in the white of the egg. People with chicken egg allergies should also avoid eggs from ducks, geese, turkeys and other birds, because they may contain some of the same allergenic proteins. Symptoms of an egg allergy range from mild skin reactions to severe anaphylaxis.

Children who are most allergic to eggs can react after just smelling egg fumes or getting a tiny bit of egg white on their skin. Because eggs have the potential to cause anaphylaxis, those who are at risk should carry an EpiPen to use in the event of accidental exposure.

The FALCPA requires all egg or egg product-containing packaged foods meant for distribution in the U.S. to say "contains eggs" on their labels. But eggs can still show up in unexpected places, such as in surimi, the foam toppings of coffee drinks and on pretzels. (They're in the egg wash used before the pretzels are dipped in salt). Therefore, you can't be too educated about eggs' many whereabouts. Some of the less obvious names for egg-containing ingredients include albumin (or albumen), meringue and ovalbumin.

5. Soy Allergy

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Soy is another common food allergen, especially in infants and children. About 0.4 percent of children have a soy allergy. Some kids outgrow it by age three and the majority outgrow it by age 10.

Soybeans are legumes (plants that have seeds in pods; other legumes include peas, lentils and peanuts). Having a soy allergy does not make someone more likely to have an allergy to another legume, such as peanuts, however. And in most cases, soy allergies tend to be much milder than peanut allergies.

Symptoms of a soy allergy may include hives, itching, eczema, canker sores, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or dizziness. More severe anaphylactic reactions to soy can also occur, but these are rare. Those who are at risk for an anaphylactic reaction from soy should carry an EpiPen. (You can learn if you're at risk through specialized testing).

The FALCPA requires all packaged foods that contain soy and that are sold in the U.S. to say "soy" on the label. However, it's still helpful to recognize foods and ingredients that may contain soy. These include the following:

  • Edamame
  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Shoyu
  • Soya
  • Tamari
  • Tempeh
  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)

Beyond the obvious soy milk and soy products like tofu, soy can also be found in unexpected foods, including canned meats and fish, cereal, crackers, energy bars,and infant formula.

6. Fish and Shellfish Allergy

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Like peanut allergies, fish and shellfish allergies often stick with people for their entire lives. In fact, seafood allergy is one of the top food allergies among adults. It also sends more people age six and older to the emergency room than any other food allergy because like nut allergies, an allergy to fish and shellfish can bring on a severe anaphylactic reaction.

When it comes to seafood, those with fins are the most allergenic, with salmon, tuna and halibut being the worst offenders. People who are allergic to one type of fish are frequently also allergic to another. However, fish and shellfish come from different families, so having an allergy to shellfish doesn't necessarily mean that you'll also be allergic to finned fish or vice versa.

In terms of shellfish, crustaceans within the shellfish family are most likely to cause allergic reactions. These include shrimp, lobsters and crabs. Unfortunately, these are also some of the most popular shellfish for people to eat.

If you are allergic to fish or shellfish and are at risk for anaphylaxis, you will want to avoid these foods at all costs. On a positive note, fish and shellfish hardly ever hide behind strange ingredient names or in surprising foods. And if a packaged food contains shellfish, the label must list it.

However, it's important to keep in mind that deep fryers in restaurants are often used to fry multiple kinds of foods, so your plate of innocent French fries may have been dipped in the same oil as someone else's fried seafood sampler Hibachi restaurants are another danger zone for people with seafood allergies, because chefs use the same open grill to cook everyone's meals. If you have a shellfish allergy, your safest bet is to avoid seafood restaurants altogether and especially any foods that have been deep-fried.

In addition, because fish and shellfish allergies can cause anaphylaxis, carrying an EpiPen is a good idea for those who have these allergies.

7. Wheat Allergy

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Wheat allergies most commonly show up in kids, who usually outgrow them by age three. And just as a milk allergy should not be confused with lactose intolerance, a wheat allergy should not be confused with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, which is a sensitivity to the sticky protein (called gluten) that's found in wheat. Wheat allergies in their true form are reactions to the proteins in wheat and are mediated by the immune system; IgE antibodies are secreted within minutes to hours after a person eats a wheat-containing food. Symptoms of a wheat allergy can range from mild hives, rash, digestion problems, itching and swelling to severe, life-threatening anaphylactic reactions that involve wheezing, trouble breathing and loss of consciousness.

In someone with celiac disease or with wheat gluten intolerance, there is an abnormal immune system reaction to gluten (but not a hypersensitivity, which occurs with allergy). Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to malnutrition and serious damage to the intestines, so it's important for people who suffer from it to avoid wheat.

Whether you have a wheat allergy or an intolerance, avoiding this ingredient can be challenging because wheat is America's most commonly used grain. It's also used as a filler in many foods that you wouldn't suspect, such as salad dressing, soy sauce, lunch meat and ice cream. Good alternatives to wheat flour itself include corn, oats, quinoa, rice, barley and amaranth. To best avoid wheat, you should also become educated on all of its imposters. These foods and ingredients contain wheat:

  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Cracker meal
  • Durum
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Farina
  • Kamut
  • Matzoh
  • Seitan
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Triticale

8. Corn Allergy

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The most profitable crop in the country, corn is used in almost everything these days, including as a filler in processed meats and as a sweetener in candies, cereals and jams. It's not yet considered a common food allergen in the U.S., but based on the patients I've seen in my practice, I think corn is on its way to this list. In one study, two percent of people self-reported an allergy to corn.

One reason I think corn allergies are under recognized is because they can be so difficult to diagnose. When you use a standard skin or blood test, there can be cross-reactions between corn and other common allergens, such as grass pollens, grains and seeds; therefore, a corn allergy can be difficult to tease out.

When they do show up, corn allergies may cause symptoms such as hives, rash, runny nose, nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, headaches, sneezing and asthma. Some people also experience severe anaphylactic reactions to corn and corn products, including the cornstarch used on surgical gloves. If you are severely allergic to corn, you should avoid both raw and cooked corn and carry an EpiPen in case of a reaction.

Adapted from Dr. Psenka's Seasonal Allergy Solution.

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Rodale Wellness.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

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Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

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Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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