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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Food Allergens... Where You Wouldn't Expect Them

Until you have to check every single label every single time you buy something, you can't really understand how sneaky allergens can be... creeping their way into things you never ever expected them to show up.   Ingredient lists CHANGE ALL THE TIME so no prepackaged food is ever safe 100% of the time and although we have brands we generally trust, I still have to check it several times and occasionally follow up with a brand's customer service to make sure manufacturing hasn't changed.  Anything with blanket descriptions like "Spices," "Natural Flavors", "Caramel Coloring" is a potential landmine and is usually avoided. 

The Kids with Food Allergies website has a great PDF file that explores some of the hidden allergens that a child might encounter during regular school projects that most folks without food allergies wouldn't think twice about.  They include potential allergens found in play-dough (wheat), glues (wheat), finger paint (wheat), tempera paint (egg), crayons (soy), potting soils (peanuts/soy) and several others.

Some ingredients are obvious: wheat in baked goods, egg in mayonnaise, soy in miso, peanuts in trail mix, etc. Others ingredients are far less obvious.  In the process of reading labels, I've started to discover what products contain allergens in places I might not have expected before.

Before my obsessive label reading, I didn't realize that these grains could commonly be found in:  

  • Meatballs
  • Soy Sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Fruit Snacks
  • Licorice
  • Imitation Crab Meat
  • Malt Vinegar (I didn't even know what malt flavoring was before!)
  • Brewer's Yeast
  • French Fries
  • Lip Balm
  • Hair Gel
  • Toothpaste
  • Flouride
  • Gel Polisher (at the dentist)
  • Shampoo & Conditioner

I used to love eggs.  They were maybe my favorite food.  I even wrote a blog about my love for them many years ago. Even with my egg adoration, I didn't realize that egg is commonly found in:

  • Pasta
  • Ice Cream
  • Sour Smarties
  • Snickers, Three Musketeers, Milky Way Bars
  • Processed Parmesan Cheeses
  • Imitation Crab Meats
  • Ranch Dressing/Blue Cheese Dressing/Thousand Island Dressing
  • Breads (especially if they're gluten free - almost a 100% chance of there being egg in the mix)
  • Crackers (and just like the gluten free breads - gluten free crackers almost always have egg or are made with tree nuts)
  • Some versions of the flu shot and some anesthesia

Ug. Soy is a legume so maybe it should be included in my next category, but after thinking about how SOY IS IN EVERYTHING, I figured I'd give it it's own section.  I'm only half way joking about it being in everything... when I was on an elimination diet while nursing my son, soy was the most difficult allergen for me to avoid, which seemed so strange because before reading labels, I had always thought of soy as an Asian food ingredient.  Nope. Soy. Is. Everywhere.  Thankfully my son seems to be able to tolerate soy lecthin and highly refined soybean oil which are perhaps the most commonly found soy ingredients and makes things slightly easier for us. Many people with severe soy allergy are not so lucky.

  • Baby Formula (along with coconut oil, soy was in almost every infant formula I researched when I was looking to supplement my dwindling milk supply after returning to work from my maternity leave. Twas the pits.)
  • Candy (Pretty much every major chocolate bar has some form of soy.)
  • Gum
  • Vitamins
  • Deli Meats
  • Chips
  • Pretzels 
  • Waffles
  • Hair gel
  • Shampoo & Conditioner
  • Hair spray
  • Toothpaste


Most people know by now that peanuts are not nuts.  Peanuts are legumes like soybeans, lentils, chickpeas and green beans. Vanilla bean, cocoa bean, and coffee bean... despite the use of the word bean, are not legumes.  Coconut (which my son is also allergic to) is not a tree nut or a legume, but is thankfully included in the FDAs allergen label laws. Pink peppercorn is not a peppercorn, but a dried fruit from a plant in the cashew family, and can pose problems for people with tree nut allergies. 

So what I'm trying to say is that these three categories are just a cluster of allergy madness.  Some people are allergic to only a single type of tree nut, some are only allergic to peanuts and can eat all other legumes and have no problems with tree nuts, some have to avoid both tree nuts and peanuts but have no problem with legumes, and others can not eat any tree nuts, peanuts, or legumes, and some are only allergic to one single type of legume and can eat peanuts or tree nuts without issue. Currently our son is in the no tree nuts, no peanuts, and no legumes camp.  I wasn't expecting to see these guys show up in:

  • Non-dairy cheeses and milks
  • Gum
  • Plain Cream Cheese (certain food-gums are derived from legumes)
  • Curry
  • Mole Sauce
  • Pesto (clearly I had never attempted to make my own - pine nuts are a key ingredient in pesto)
  • Potting soil 
  • Some prescription eczema treatments
  • Bird food
  • Ant bait
  • Dog treats
  • Soaps

(Although coconut is not a legume or tree nut, I want to add a note here - good luck finding laundry, bath, or body products that contain no coconut or coconut derivatives. It's VERY hard and the products we've found seem to be anomalies on the market, so should they ever change formulas, we'd be stewed - if you need recommendations for coconut-allergy friendly products, message me on Facebook or leave me a comment here and I'm happy to share our list of safe items. Oh, and a baby formula made in the USA that doesn't contain coconut oil? Maybe there's something out there now, but when I was looking a few years ago, I had to import a German formula through the UK to get one without coconut oil because even the prescription formulas my pediatrician wanted us to try ended up having coconut oil in the formulations.)

Lastly, my son is not allergic to the following, but they are in the Top 8 allergens here in the US, and we've accommodated friends with these allergies, so I always try to keep my eyes peeled.


  • Non-Dairy Creamer (wtf, right?)
  • Deli Meats
  • Medication and some dental applications
  • Toothpaste
  • Milk (yep - fish oil added to milk... for that extra DHA)
  • Marshmallows
Clearly this is in no way any sort of comprehensive list, and I'm not sure one exists, but it just goes to show how easily those sneaky allergens work their way into an ingredient list and why a person with a food allergy will want to check the label of anything they eat before they decide to eat.

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