Date of this Version
Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 36(S) (1996), pp. S69–S89.
Virtually all food allergens are proteins, although only a small percentage of the many proteins in foods are allergens. Any food that contains protein has the potential to cause allergic reactions in some individuals. However, a few foods or food groups are known to cause allergies on a more frequent basis than other foods. At a 1995 consultation on food allergies sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization, a group of international experts confirmed that peanuts, soybeans, crustacea, fish, cow’s milk, eggs, tree nuts, and wheat are the most common allergenic foods. These foods are responsible for more than 90% of serious allergic reactions to foods. Allergies to certain fresh fruits and vegetables are also rather common, but the allergens tend to be labile to processing and cooking and the symptoms are mild and confined primarily to the oropharyngeal area. The prevalence of allergic sensitivities to specific foods varies from one country to another depending on the frequency with which the food is eaten in that country and the typical age at its introduction into the diet. For example, peanuts are a much more frequent cause of food allergies in the United States than in most other countries. Americans eat peanuts more often and introduce peanut butter into the diet of children at an early age. The Japanese probably experience more soybean and rice allergies than some other cultures because of the frequency of these two foods in the Japanese diet. Scandinavians have a high incidence of codfish allergy for similar reasons.
Table 1 provides a listing of the most common allergenic foods and food groups compiled from a thorough search of the medical literature.
Table 2 provides a listing of the less common allergenic foods. Only some of the foods listed in this table have been documented to cause severe, life-threatening allergic reactions. Citations are provided to studies and/or case reports that document the allergenicity of those particular foods. The absence of a particular food on this list may not mean that it is nonallergenic but may indicate that its allergenicity has not been documented. Conversely, the presence of a specific food on the list merely indicates that it has been listed in one or more reports as a cause of food allergy and does not indicate the prevalence or potential as an allergenic food.