An interview with Stanley Cohen, MD.
An estimated 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies. Dairy
and wheat are just a few of the foods that can cause reactions and
allergies in adults and children.
Food allergies and
reactions can be confusing. Often, it's not easy to figure out which
foods contain ingredients that may trigger a reaction. Further, many
people who think they are allergic to a food may actually be confusing
a food reaction for an allergy -- and may not need to eliminate certain
WebMD turned to Stanley Cohen, MD, for answers to common questions
about food allergies. He's a specialist in pediatric gastroenterology
and nutrition, and author of Healthy Babies, Happy Kids: a Common Sense Guide to Nutrition for Growing Years.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is a predictable reaction to a specific food or food group. An allergy is caused by an immune reaction to the protein in a food, which brings about a sudden release of chemicals that cause the symptoms.
typically appear within a few minutes to two hours of consuming the
food. They can range from mild -- like a rash, itching, or swelling --
to life-threatening, including breathing difficulties and swelling of
the throat or tongue. Many people with severe allergies carry an
epinephrine pen, a self-injectable device to help counteract the
allergic reaction and give them time to get emergency medical attention.
children and adults will start with a single allergy, and then develop
others. Some even "lose" their allergy over time. If you are allergic
to milk protein, you may also be allergic to other kinds of milk
protein, like goats' milk and soy beverages.
What are the most common food allergies?
Eight foods account for 90% of all food allergy reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, shellfish, and fish.
older children and adults, fish, peanuts, shellfish, and tree nuts are
the most common allergies. These allergies are also considered the most
serious, because they can be life-threatening.
If you are trying to avoid allergenic foods, what should you look for on food labels?
is essential that you become an avid label reader. Start at the list of
ingredients, which is where you will find the clues to what is
contained within the product.
Become familiar with all the
food terms for your specific allergy. For example, if you are allergic
to milk protein, you need to avoid all foods made from milk, including
cheese, yogurt, half-and-half, and cream. Avoid all foods that contain
whey, casein, caseinate, nonfat milk solids, lactoglobulin, cow's milk
protein, nougat, curds, sodium caseinate, or lactalbumin. Look
carefully at butter, margarine, ice cream, cakes, puddings, sorbet,
breads, soups, vegetables with sauces, and more.
with allergies would benefit from a diet that is less processed and
closer to natural foods, because there are fewer additives in these
foods that could cause problems.