The Verdict

The growth of food allergies is attributable to many factors, including genetics, microbial environmental alteration, hygienicity, but most importantly, food processing and modification. The food manufacturing and processing industry has grown pretty steadily since 1997.
Processed 5

The timing of the rise of food manufacturing industries occurred almost simultaneously with the timing of the rise of food allergies (~15 years ago), supporting food processing and modification as a major proponent in food allergy evolution. Furthermore, food processing is shown to increase the amount of IgE in serum, meaning that a stronger allergic response is triggered as a result of more antibodies binding to the newly-modified antigens.

Processed 2

(Vojdani 2009)

Above are a list of 50 foods in natural, raw form (left) vs. processed form (right). For the top 8 allergens, some of the pairs include:

  • Wheat vs. doughnut
  • Milk vs. ice cream
  • Egg vs. egg roll
  • Shrimp vs. popcorn shrimp
  • Whitefish vs. fish sticks
  • Nuts vs. nut butter

Processed 3

(Vojdani 2009)

It is clear that sausage, peanut butter, soy sauce, candy pecan, cooked salmon, fried shrimp, fried bacon, fried chicken, and boiled egg all exhibited higher levels of IgE when introduced into an individual’s bloodstream. The data depicts an average 4x increase in IgE for the processed form of the food vs. raw. A 4x increase is very significant, especially when across all food types.

Going through my personal diets these past several weeks, there was an overall avoidance of processed, packaged foods. I encountered many “hidden ingredients” and contamination warning labels that deterred me from being able to ingest particular pantry foods:

Nature Valley Granola Bars: contains maltodextrin, which is possibly contaminated with wheat

Quaker Oatmeal: cannot be guaranteed wheat-free because it is made on equipment that manufactures wheat products

Bakers Chocolate Chips: manufactured on equipment that processes nuts


Food Manufacturing NAICS 311, (2008). U.s. department of commerce industry report. Retrieved from website:

Vojdani, A. (2009). Detection of IgE, IgG, IgA and IgM antibodies against raw and processed food antigens. Nutr Metab (Lond), 6, 22.

This May Contain Nuts

I would say the nut-free week was the second easiest diet after the seafood-free week. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE peanut butter—all nut butters in fact—as well as roasted almonds, pecans, and coconut milk.

In a way, nut allergies, specifically peanut allergy, paved the way for food allergy awareness. In elementary school, peanut allergy awareness was a big deal and all children were made known of it at a young age. The prevalence and severity of peanut allergy was the first to really open my eyes to the world of food allergies. Thus, my nut avoidance this week was made easier the amount of attention peanut and nut allergies receive. At restaurants, everything and anything containing nuts was obvious. With food manufacturers required to label products, MAY CONTAIN NUTS is written in big and bold.

By avoiding obvious nut culprits such as peanut butter, nut-flavored snacks, and most candies in contact with nut-processing facilities, I was able to steer clear!

Most meals didn’t pose a problem as I was still able to eat fresh vegetables, fruits, dairy, and most grains. Take a look below:


Dinner of roasted broccoli and mushrooms sprinkled with Parmesan with black beans on the side. Since nuts are such a great source of protein and unsaturated fat, I compensated for those nutrients in legumes, olive oil, avocado, and eggs.

The Nut Allergy

NutsPeanuts and tree nuts and almonds and cashews. There are pecans and pine nuts, walnuts and hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, chestnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios…and don’t forget coconut.

Nut allergies are divided into two main groups:

1. Peanut allergy

The main allergens involved in peanut allergy are Ara h 1, Ara h 2, Ara h 3, and Ara h 4. The minor allergens are Ara h 5 and homologous proteins Ara h 6 and Arah h 7.

2. Tree nut allergy

Tree nuts include almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macademia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pisatchios, and walnuts. The allergens include Cor a 1 in hazelnuts, Jug r 1 and vicilin Jug r 2 in walnuts, and Ber e 1 in brazil nuts.

Peanut allergies account for the majority of anaphylactic reactions. The severity of the allergy has forced food label regulation to avoid cross-contamination. The Food Allergen Label and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2006 requires manufacturers to label products containing or possibly containing any of the top 8 allergens. In a study conducted by Mondoulet et al., roasted peanuts (processed) had an increased IgE binding capacity of Ara h 1 and Ara h 2 versus raw peanuts (unprocessed). The binding of IgE to the antigen triggers a cascade of allergic symptoms that can lead to anaphylaxis.


Besler, M., Steinhart, H., & Paschke, A. (2001). Stability of food allergens and allergenicity of processed foods. Journal of Chromatography B: Biomedical Sciences and Applications, 756(1), 207-228.

Fu, T. J., & Maks, N. (2013). Impact of Thermal Processing on ELISA Detection of Peanut Allergens. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Bye Fishy Fishy

Out of all the diets so far, this one has been the easiest. I eat fish and shrimp occasionally, but it was pretty easy to avoid those for a week. Unlike wheat, milk, and egg, seafood usually isn’t a “hidden ingredient” found in packaged food and snacks. I was able to eat very close to my usual diet and have access to many packaged and restaurant foods.

Fish and shellfish are often praised for being a healthy source of animal protein that is low in saturated fat and in some cases, high in omega-3 fatty acids. Sure, we hear all about these “omega-3 fatty acids”, but what exactly are they?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. It is vital in brain development, anti-inflammation, and has been linked to the prevention of many diseases. Our bodies are unable to produce this type of fat, so it is essential that we incorporate them into our diet from omega-3 rich foods. Salmon is notorious for containing high levels of omega-3, as well as anchovies and mackeral.

Now on to a snippet of my week’s food diary below:
Homemade black bean burgers! So savory and hearty- it really satisfies any meaty cravings I have.

Roasted broccoli quinoa casserole

I honestly did not feel very different at all after going through the no fish and no shellfish diet. However, I did want to make sure I still obtained the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids per day (~2-3 grams). Extra virgin olive oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. I was able to use EVOO in all my cooking to maximize my omega-3 intake. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Flaxseed
  • Walnuts
  • Beef
  • Soybean


Myklebus, M., & Wunder, J. (2010). Healing foods pyramid fish & seafood. Retrieved from

Omega 3 fatty acids. (2013). Retrieved from

The Fish Allergy


The first well-characterized food allergy was in fact codfish!

Triggered by Gad c 1, a family member of Cabinding parvalbumins, homologous proteins have also been identified in other fish species as allergy-inducing. Among types of fish include salmon, perch, tuna, carp, eel, catfish, dogfish, and snapper.

Shellfish is a bit of a different story. Shellfish encompasses members of the family of crustacae: shrimp, lobster, crab, and crayfish. The major allergens are tropomyosins identified in several shrimp species as well as squid, which belongs to the mollusc family instead.

Seafood allergy can be very severe and is usually persistent throughout life. Many studies have concluded cross-reactivity different fish and shellfish species in fish and shellfish allergy, respectively. This means that having an allergy to a certain species of fish is possibly linked to allergies across another species of fish, or in the case of shellfish, another species of shellfish. Below is a series of graphs showing the cross-reactivity of 3 antibodies in 13 species of fish:


(Van Do, Elsayed, Florvaag, Hordvik, Endresen 2005)

Fish 2(Van Do, Elsayed, Florvaag, Hordvik, Endresen 2005)


Van Do, T., Elsayed, S., Florvaag, E., Hordvik, I., & Endresen, C. (2005). Allergy to fish parvalbumins: studies on the cross-reactivity of allergens from 9 commonly consumed fish. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 116(6), 1314-1320.

I scream for ice cream! (if only)

No dairy AND no eggs?

I’ll admit I was nervous for this one. Eggs are such a protein diet staple for me since I’m not usually a big meat eater. I don’t like milk straight out of the carton but it is in practically everything— chips, cookies, granola bars, cereal, spaghetti, bread, CHEESE, YOGURT, ICE CREAM.

I figured this was the week to embrace fresh fruit, vegetables, and minimally-processed starches (potatoes, corn, beans). Instead of eggs for protein, I substituted in loads of beans, nuts, chicken, and turkey. Overall, I found the diet worked well— just a little less convenient as far as food preparation and snacking.


Brocolli bean salad dressed with olive oil and spices was egg and dairy-free! It actually turned out to be very filling due to the beans and fibrous broccoli. Best part was that I could eat a ton of this and not feel guilty.


As a snack, you can’t go wrong with peanut butter and apples. With all-natural peanut butter, I was sure there were no extra milk/egg ingredients added in.

I made sure to get my calcium requirements through milk alternatives. I am very loyal to almond (learn to make your own here!) and coconut milk.

I was happy that I made it through the no egg and no dairy week because I do truly believe it eliminated a lot of processed foods from my diet. Instead of high-calorie granola bars at 3PM, I sought apples and natural peanut butter. I’d say it was a good trade-off.

The Milk and Egg Allergy

Milk eggCow’s milk allergy (CMA) has two subtypes:

1. IgE-mediated form

An individual with the IgE-mediated form of CMA possesses the specific IgE antibody that elicits a reaction with the antigen found in milk. The reaction is typically immediate, surfacing within minutes to a few hours.

2. Non IgE-mediated form

An individual with the non IgE-mediated form of CMA experiences a delayed reaction that may not appear for days after exposure. With delayed symptoms, this form is much more difficult to diagnose.

CMA typically becomes prevalent around the age of 1 but is outgrown by adolescence. The development of tolerance is associated with a shifting of Th1 to Th2 dominant response. The exact mechanism for desensitization is unclear, but it is postulated that IgG4 and IgA antibodies are involved. In focusing on the IgE-mediated form of CMA, the major allergens in cow’s milk include caseins and whey proteins (beta-lactoglobulin, alpha lactalbum, and serum albumine).

In hen’s egg, allergy also persists in two forms:

1. Egg white allergy

The major allergens in egg whites have been identified as ovomucoid, ovalbumin, ovotransferrin, and lysozyme.

2. Egg yolk allergy

The major allergen in egg yolk is alpha-livetin.

In processed and commercial foods, higher levels of β-lactoblogulin are triggered by sausage, a processed food, versus bread and paté.

Processed 4

(Luis, Lavilla, Sánchez, Calvo, Pérez 2009)


Besler, M., Steinhart, H., & Paschke, A. (2001). Stability of food allergens and allergenicity of processed foods. Journal of Chromatography B: Biomedical Sciences and Applications, 756(1), 207-228.

de Luis, R., Lavilla, M., Sánchez, L., Calvo, M., & Pérez, M. D. (2009). Development and evaluation of two ELISA formats for the detection of β-lactoglobulin in model processed and commercial foods. Food Control, 20(7), 643-647.


No whole wheat? Back to the land of fluffy white bread

It’s undeniable that whole wheat has gained significant spotlight among healthy diets these past couple of years. It’s now surrounded by a “health halo” everywhere it goes. What a relief for carb lovers, yes?

Wrong. Let’s at least try to practice pasta-eating moderation here.

Whole wheat is entirely ubiquitous nowadays. You see it on food packages: “eat 48g of whole grain per day” and in most restaurants; sandwiches made with whole-wheat bread, Chipotle’s brown rice, and Qdoba’s whole wheat flour tortillas, just to name a few. Hallelujah for the health-conscious. It’s even taken a sophisticated form in “whole wheat white” flour, which looks and tastes just like white flour, but is actually whole wheat flour in disguise.  How masterful and perfect for deceiving children.

However, I’m not here to discuss the health benefits and pitfalls of consuming whole wheat. Moreover, what I’m trying to say is that wheat is cheap and wheat is sneaky.

As for my wheat-free diet this week, I dismissed most carbs. For an individual with an actual wheat allergy, this is probably the safest and easiest route to go since out of all the food groups, carbs are usually the wheat-bearing, allergy-inducing culprit. Even “white bread”-like products and packaged pantry snacks contain at least some form of wheat.

But did I mention that I love carbs? This was a difficult week!

Adopting a wheat-free diet meant scrutinizing labels and eating minimally-processed foods (homecooked meals where the only way I knew for sure). Follow me on what I ate below:


Homemade salads: extra safe! The usage of fresh produce and non-processed food was the key to ensuring that my meals were not only wheat-free but also not contaminated by wheat-bearing products during production. I satisfied my carb cravings with corn!


Homemade smoothies made the perfect wheat-free breakfast and snack. No cross-contamination here either!

Okay, I admit. I did manage to eat really well this week despite saying goodbye to carbs! Going wheat-free made me realize one thing though: wheat is terribly hard to avoid! I commend those who go gluten-free voluntarily. What business it was to analyze every granola bar label only to bring disappointment to my gut. Wheat has the ability to disguise itself in granola bars, cereal, bread, pasta, oatmeal, beer, even wine! Furthermore, wheat cross-contamination in food production is huge, ruling out the majority of packaged foods I had access to.

Just for fun, a list of “you-can’t-pronounce-me-but-I’m-really-wheat-in-disguise/wheat-contaminated” ingredients:

  • Bulgur
  • Dextrin
  • Durum
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Farina
  • Kamut
  • Maltodextrin
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Seitan
  • Tabbouleh
  • Tamari
  • Triticale
  • Triticum
  • Triticosecale


Wheat allergy avoidance list. (2009). Retrieved from Wheat allergy avoidance list. (n.d.). Retrieved from

The Wheat Allergy

WheatWheat allergy to wheat exists in two forms:

1. Baker’s asthma
Baker’s asthma esults from the inhalation of flour and dust during grain processing . Its causation is attributed to a well-characterized group of α-amylase inhibitors known as CM proteins.

2. Wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis (WDEIA)
WDEIA is caused by a major group of gluten proteins, ω5-gliadins.

In the second case, ingestion of wheat triggers an immunoglobulin E (IgE) response, leading to symptoms of difficulty breathing, nausea, abdominal pain, and in the most severe cases, systemic anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is characterized by by the rapid onset of rashes, throat swelling, and low blood pressure that can lead to death.

Commonly associated with wheat allergy is gluten intolerance, which is the leading cause of celiac disease. Functioning mechanistically in a similar way to wheat allergy, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by antibody attack on gluten proteins in wheat, rye, and barley. Celiac disease has risen drastically (4x!) in the past 50 years. The cause?

Not simply genetics.

An European study concluded that while 30% of individuals carried a gene predisposing them to celiac disease, only 5% of them actually suffered gluten intolerance. Environmental factors are actually to blame, for there has been a dramatic increase in food processing, wheat modification, and gluten-rich wheat varieties.

In support of the food processing argument, a cohort of Russian Karelians were studied. The result was that they were a quarter less likely to develop a food allergy when compared to Finland. The reasoning lies in the fact that the Karelians live in a very remote territory of Russia with a significantly lower per-capita income— leading to greater exposure of microbes and bacteria that help fight food antigens. In an environment where food processing is absent due to lack of wealth and technology, raw and natural food consumption (which is full of live microbes) can contribute to decrease in the prevalence of food allergies and celiac disease.

Kotaniemi-Syrja¨nen, A., Palosuo, K., Jartti, T., Kuitunen, M., Pelkonen, A., & Ma¨ kela, M. (2010). The prognosis of wheat hypersensitivity in children. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, 21(2p2), e421–e428.

Tatham, A. S., & Shewry, P. R. (2008). Allergens to wheat and related cereals. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 38(11), 1712-1726.

Velasquez-Manoff, M. (2013, February 23). Who has the guts for gluten?. New York Times. Retrieved from

“Allergy may beget more allergy”

Having lived the majority of my life thus far knowing that food allergies existed, my assumption was that they had always been around—or at least for a long time before I was born. In reality though, the concept of individuals being allergic to what they eat is a fairly modern one, becoming increasingly prevalent only in the past 10-15 years. Food allergies are referred to as the “second wave” of allergies, succeeding the “first wave” epidemic including asthma, allergic rhinitis, and inhalant sensitivity (just think of your father’s hay fever or your friend who is allergic to cats…)

The lag of the “second wave” allergy epidemic is puzzling to scientists and healthcare professionals. Why is it that decades later after the emergence of dust and pollen allergies that we begin to see  a rise in food as a trigger for rashes, swelling, and in the worst case scenario, anaphaylaxis?

Physiologically speaking, a food allergy is nothing more than an immune response. Normally, there are allergen-response cells in the body that promote tolerance by 1.) ensuring the presence of an immunosuppressive environment to ward off any local inflammation in the gut and 2.) developing highly-regulated systemic immune components, such as regulatory T-cells, to engage in surveillance. If you are allergy-stricken however, these allergen-response cells are suppressed. Thus, your body will recognize the normally-harmless antigens in the specific food as “intolerable” or “foreign invader-like” and trigger an inflammatory response.

But why now?

For one, there are environmental and behavioral-lifestyle triggers: increased air pollution, changing dietary patterns, and evolving intestinal microbes. Still, the modern generation is seeing an amplified number of cases over time and a lower likelihood of outgrowing these allergies that may lead to disease, such as Celiac disease seen in many individuals with wheat allergy. Genetics also plays a large role in food allergies, as supported by much research. Maternal linkage is common; children have a higher risk for developing food allergies if their mother has either atopy or a food allergy herself.

However, genetics cannot explain why many individuals who possess a gene that predisposes them to a particular food allergy do not actually exhibit food allergy symptoms when given an oral test. What may explain the rise in food allergy cases, however, is the increased prevalence and ingestion of processed foods. Processed foods modify the antigens in food; in many cases, this increases IgE binding of the antigen and illicits a stronger immune response. In Western nations, where food processing technology is much more abundant, a greater number of food allergies is also seen.

An individual can practically be allergic to anything. However, below are the top 8 most common food allergens:

Top 8 allergens
Food allergies typically begin early in life, usually between the ages of 1-2, with milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanut, and fish accounting for 90% of all food hypersensitivities.

Not all allergens are made equal though. Truth is, most children (70-90%) outgrow milk, egg, and wheat allergies by adolescence. Peanut and tree nut allergies, on the other hand, persist throughout life in 80-90% of cases.