Reading Labels for Food Allergens 

I’ve always been a casual label-reader, since I am lactose intollerant and used to be a vegetarian.  However, it wasn’t until my daughter’s allergies became a part of my life that I began to read labels in earnest — and realized that allergens can lurk in seemingly harmless foods under all sorts of strange names.  Who would think that “Non-dairy creamer” would contain dairy products?  (There’s a rant lurking here, but I will spare you from it right now.)   Learning to read labels for your allergens is a skill with a steep learning curve.  Don’t assume that others will be as skilled at is as you are.

Personal story: My daughter’s preschool teacher checked the ingredient list of some crackers against the typewritten list of my daughter’s allergens and then fed her the crackers, believing they were safe.  The crackers contained THREE ingredients on my daughter’s allergen list.  My daighter came home that day with hives.  Reading and comparing lists is hard.  Don’t underestimate how hard. 

Always check the label of a product EVERY TIME you buy it, even if you have been buying it for years with no problem.  We went through an experience last summer where my daughter was screaming in pain all day long for two weeks.  We frantically went through all our foods and could not find anything unusual that we had been eating.   Finally I thought to ask the bakery where we get our bagels if they had changed their recipe.  They had added malted barley flour to their flour mix.  We stopped eating bagels and she was back to normal overnight.  

I can’t stress this enough.  Manufactures change recipes all the time depending on the availability and price of different ingredients, and they don’t announce the change.  It’s a huge disappointment when you have a product you trust that suddenly adds soy to their recipe, and it is very hard to explain to a young child why they can’t have their favorite food any more.  But it is better to know than to have an experience like ours, that could have been even more serious. 

See below for food allergen ingredient lists.

Prevalence of food allergies in the United States

Ninety percent of food allergies in the United States are caused by eight foods:  Milk, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, and shellfish.  This website is dedicated to a diet free of these allergens.  Of course, it is possible to be allergic to just about any protein.  In Japan, rice allergy is one of the offenders.

Just to give you a sense of how many kids are suffering from food allergies today, here is a table of the most common food allergies.  This does not count children with milk-soy protien intollerance or Celiac disease, only children with Ig-E mediated food allergies.

Percentage of young children with allergy to:

  • Milk 2.5%

  • Egg 1.3%

  • Soy 1.1% (There is little agreement on this number.  Estimates range from 1 to 5%)

  • Wheat 1.0%

  • Peanut 0.8%

  • Tree nuts 0.2%

  • Fish 0.1%

  • Shellfish 0.1%

  • Overall 6 to 8% of population

Percentage of adults with allergy to:

  • Shellfish 2.0% 
  • Peanut 0.6%
  • Tree nuts 0.5%
  • Fish 0.4%
  • Milk  0.3%
  • Egg 0.2%
  • Soy 0.2%
  • Overall 3.7%

Source: Hugh A. Sampson, MD. “Update on food allergy“, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, May 2004


Ingedient Lists

These lists are based on list from the Food Allergy and Anaphalyxis Network (FAAN) and the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology.

Coming soon — wheat list.

9 thoughts on “Allergens

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Can’t wait to try the marshmallow recipe. My son has severe multiple allergies ( sesame, corn, potatoes. rice,…..)

  2. Shauna Dowdrick says:

    I’ve recently developed a Palm oil allergy. I’ve been covered in hives, rashes and swollen eyes and lips for almost a year now. I finally figured out the casue about 4 months ago and tried an elimination diet. This is so hard to do as this stuff is in everything. I have a food and environmental allergy to it. I am not a cook at all, but if you have any suggestions on how to live a Palm oil free diet, I would love to hear them.

    Thank you so much

    Shauna Dowdrick

    • It is in everything, it seems. If you are not allergic to dairy, butter makes a good fat to use in baking and cooking. Unfortunately, being allergic to palm oil means that a lot of prepared foods and restaurant foods are out.

  3. Nicole says:

    I just recently found out I’m allergic to baker’s yeast, mushrooms, and cranberries. Questionable for corn, sesame seed, & cucumber..and possibly gulten and egg (I know..I might as well have a garden and a farm lol). I’m also very low in Vitamin D (by the way I’ve been taking Vit D drops to find that they have “sesame oil” in them and it was giving me hives). I will find out Tuesday the severity of each but I know baker’s yeast, mushrooms and cranberries are HIGH. Corn is in everything and sesame is in a lot of yeast free, gluten free breads. I would love more corn free recipes!! I love this site it’s very helpful and supportive for me. I’ve had hives since April 2011 and just finally figuring out why. Been seeing both a natural doctor and sometime a western doctor. My hives have gotten so severe lately, last week ended up in ER. It’s scary. I’m happy to know what to avoid now….but I’m on a strict diet of mainly veggies, lean protein meats and water. It’s somewhat depressing since I’m eating clean and still suffering from hives, itchy throat, foggy minded, extremem fatigue, digestive issues, swollen ankles, anxiety and more. I’ve had to work from home the last 2 weeks due to being so sick. I read on this corn allergy site that there are so many derivitives from corn. My doctor couldn’t figure out why every time I took a new supplement I’d react. He thought I was very sensitive. Well most all have “microcrystain cellulose” which is a corn derivitive!! So is “steric acid” and “hydroxpropy cellulose”. If you have a corn allergy this site is very helpful! There are SO MANY THINGS that can have corn in them it’s insane including vitamins!! I’ve been in shock the last 24hrs and finally have to adapt to a total lifestyle change. It will take time but I’m ready to feel better. I believe so many people treat there symptoms, and not the cause root of the problem. I think more people have allergies then they realize. Thank you again for this site!!

    • Ida says:

      i can understand how your feel. i was just diagnosed about two months ago with 15 different food allergies. My allergies are: beef, pork, wheat, barley, oats, malt, rice mushrooms, bananas, strawberries, tea, coffee, chocolate/cocoa, black pepper, and beta lactoglobin (milk). i too have been having a hard time finding things that i can eat. i know too well about the hives, itchy throat, foggy minded, extremem fatigue, digestive issues, swollen ankles, anxiety and more. i have also noticed that when i have eaten something that i’m allergic to i feel like my body is slowing down and that all my limbs are weighed down. i wish you luck on finding supplements that will work for you.

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