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Food allergies are much more common than you would think. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 32 million people in the United States have serious food allergies.
When Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling Act of 2004, 8 of the most common allergens were named and they stated that brands must label accordingly if any of these Big 8 are or could have been in contact with the product.
In 2021, sesame was added to the list to total 9 of the largest food allergens. Here they are in no particular order and how common they are.
The 9 Major Food Allergens
Peanuts are the second most common allergen for adults in the United States. About 3 million Americans are currently diagnosed with a moderate to severe peanut allergy. Only about 20% of children outgrow a peanut allergy over time, and it can cause serious or life-threatening symptoms, so it is important to diagnose early on. While peanuts are not the same as tree nuts (technically they are legumes), they are considered a nut allergy.
In adults, shellfish ranks as the #1 allergen currently. Approximately 2% of the population has a shellfish allergy, and it is most often a lifelong condition. There are two categories of shellfish: crustaceans and bivalves or mollusks. Allergies to crustaceans such as shrimp or crabs are more common, however it is possible to be allergic to both types.
Not to be confused with shellfish, fish allergies affect 1% of the United States population. Salmon, tuna, catfish, and cod are the most common types of fish to which people report having allergic reactions. Interestingly enough, about 40% of people have their first allergic reaction to fish in adulthood, not childhood.
Milk is the most common allergy found in children, followed closely by peanut and egg products. In fact, it affects about 2-3% of children under the age of 3. An allergy to milk is often confused with a digestive condition called lactose intolerance, but is actually very different. Like many food allergies, it can go away or lessen, but often is a lifelong condition.
Allergies to hen’s eggs is the second most common food allergy in children and infants. Unfortunately, as many as 2% of children in the United States are allergic. While it does show that about 70% of children grow out of this allergy by age 16, it is still a serious condition and can last a lifetime.
Tree Nuts, including almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and more, are a common allergen. About .5% to 1% of adults have a severe tree nut allergy. About 30% of adults who have a peanut allergy also have a tree nut allergy, and it is common to be allergic to some types and still be able to consume others. A doctor should be able to help determine this.
Allergies to consuming wheat or inhaling wheat flour is common and as wheat is a large staple of the American diet, it is one that many with this allergy have to be extremely cautious about. Wheat allergy is sometimes mistaken for celiac’s disease, which does affect one’s ability to consume it, but with celiac’s, it is due to gluten, which is found in wheat. Up to 1% of the US population has a wheat allergy, and while children display symptoms, about 65% of children’s immune systems resolve this by age 12.
While soybeans are the least common allergen, they still affect about .3% of the general population, both children and adults. As soy is in many vegan, vegetarian, grain, and baby food products, it is one that needs to be looked out for when buying food. Soy allergies are often outgrown as children reach adulthood, but it can be a lifelong condition.
Sesame is the most recent addition to the Big Allergens list—just added in April 2021 by the FDA—and for good reason. About 1.5 million Americans may have an undiagnosed allergy to sesame seeds and its related products, and about 1.1 million adults and children currently have a severe allergy.
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Written by Annie-Eliza Stevens