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What are the top food allergens?

To help answer the question How do I know if I need to eat allergen-free food? Henley Nutrition explains what we need to know about allergies, food labelling and food testing.

A food allergy is a term used for an immediate and unusual type of immune reaction made by our body when we eat certain foods. The reaction is usually mild, but in very rare cases, it can be severe, known as anaphylaxis.

Common food allergy symptoms include itching skin, wheezing, hives which is a type of skin rash, and abdominal pain. It is not known why people develop allergies to food, but according to Allergy UK, they often have other allergic conditions such as asthma, hay fever or eczema. The most common food allergies are to cow's milk, egg, wheat and soy which tend to be outgrown, however atopic responses to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish often stay into adulthood. Symptoms are discussed below.

To help you safely navigate supermarket food aisles, restaurant, and takeaway menus, Henley Nutrition explains the essential things to know about food allergen labelling.

The 14 Allergens

The Food Standards Agency provide helpful allergen guidance for people with food allergies, intolerances and coeliac disease, as well as guidance to food businesses.

Food manufacturers and restaurants must identify certain foods known to be the most potent and prevalent allergens in the UK as ingredients within the food and drink they provide. These are known as The 14 Allergens and include:

· Celery

· Cereals including gluten

· Crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs, and lobsters)

· Eggs

· Fish

· Lupin

· Milk (cows)

· Molluscs (such as mussels and oysters)

· Mustard

· Nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts)

· Peanuts

· Sesame seeds

· Soya

· Sulphur dioxide (Sulphites)

Food shopping

To ensure shoppers make safe and informed choices, the top 14 allergens are highlighted in bold or capital letters on the food label. All other ingredients are also listed on the label to help those who may have a less common allergen, not included in the top 14.

It is always worth rechecking the label of commonly used foods as manufacturers do from time to time change their recipes and ingredients.

Eating out

When eating out or ordering takeaway food let the staff or manager know which foods you are unable to eat or be in contact with, rather than relying on the menu or website. This helps the food supplier take the extra care needed to prevent cross-contamination in food preparation, serving or delivery.

Free from and gluten free food claims

For a food manufacturer to make a free-from food claim, they must demonstrate strict controls of ingredients, how they are handled and how they are prepared. A free-from-claim is a guarantee that the food is suitable for those with an allergy, intolerance, or coeliac disease. In the case of products advertised as gluten free they must be regularly tested to establish the absence of gluten.

Understanding your food reaction

It is possible to have a reaction to foods not listed within the 14 listed allergens. Typically, food allergy symptoms are often experienced as:

  • · Tingling or itching in the mouth

  • · Red rash known as hives

  • · Swelling of the face, mouth or throat

  • · Difficulty swallowing

  • · Shortness of breath or wheezing

  • · Abdominal pain, feeling sick, vomiting, or lightheaded

  • · Hay fever-type symptoms such as sneezing or itchy eyes

Aside from the immediate allergic-type reaction brought about by certain foods, there are other food-triggered conditions, such as food intolerances and sensitivities which can produce delayed symptoms over hours or days. Food intolerance to lactose is common and caused by the sugar lactose found in dairy products.

Why food intolerance testing is important

Symptoms of a food allergy and food intolerance are similar. It has recently been reported that continual exposure to a known allergy-causing food can increase and intensify the reaction severity accordingly to the latest finding of the TRACE study. Seeking help to correctly identify your condition and detect your triggering foods is an important first step to take. Food intolerance testing can provide screening across hundreds of different foods and home testing kits are a safe, accurate and practical way to identify problematic foods.

Knowing when to test and which test to use will ensure unnecessary costs are avoided. It’s also not just about the identification and removal of trigger foods. It is as important to know what to eat in place of the removed foods and when and how these foods should be reintroduced.

If you have digestive problems or believe you have a food intolerance or food allergy, please contact Henley Nutrition for help with food sensitivity testing.

This information is not designed to replace guidance from your GP. If your symptoms are severe, you should seek help from your doctor.

This article was written by Christine Lewis. Nutritionist and Digestive Health expert.

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