The Top Food Allergens Explained

Graphic of The Big 8 Food Allergens

According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), an estimated 15 million Americans suffer from some version of food allergy. Food allergies are on the rise throughout developed countries with nearly one out of every 13 American children diagnosed with a food allergy.

Big 8 FDA-Regulated Food Allergens

Most individuals diagnosed with a food allergy are allergic to one or more of eight foods: peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, and wheat. Some allergens, such as egg and milk, are sometimes outgrown as the child reaches adolescence. Others such as fish, peanuts, and tree nuts are typically lifelong afflictions.

While the top eight allergens account for about 90 percent of food allergies, allergies to other foods are on the rise as well. Some foods like sesame or strawberries can also cause allergic reactions in some.

There is no cure for food allergies. The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to practice strict avoidance of the allergen. Some tips for avoiding allergens include:

  • Read all labels carefully. Be aware of allergens that have multiple names. For example, sesame may appear as sesame, benniseed, tahini, or sesamum indicum.
  • Be aware that manufacturers are only required to offer an allergy warning for the top eight allergens. If you have a less common allergy, such as an allergy to cinnamon, you will need to read the label more carefully.
  • When dining out, make sure you make the server aware of your allergies. Do not simply assume that a sauce doesn’t have fish oil in it or that your dessert is nut free. Ask questions and make substitutions as necessary.

Allergic reactions due to foods can range from mild to life threatening. An anaphylactic reaction is a serious, life-threatening reaction to the ingestion of an allergen. An anaphylactic reaction requires immediate emergency medical intervention and possible hospitalization.


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