Understanding the Top 8 Allergens
Millions of people suffer from food allergies and intolerances daily, affecting how they prepare meals, dine out, and view mealtimes. The “Top 8 Allergens” are 8 common foods that are known to cause mild to severe reactions in those who are allergic; they account for 90% of all allergic reactions. These foods include:
- Tree nuts
- Wheat (Gluten)
Allergic reactions occur from an exaggerated immune response to the proteins found in these foods. Mild reactions may include an itchy mouth, swelling, or hives; while severe reactions may include difficulty breathing, throat tightening, or anaphylactic shock.
In cases of severe allergy, consuming any product that was produced in a facility that had an allergen present, or consuming any product that came into contact with an allergen in any way, can cause a reaction. Because allergens aren’t always obvious, reading labels and knowing all of the alternative names used for common allergens is a huge part of allergy management.
Be On the Lookout!
- Many sauces, dips, and dressings are made with wheat flour (as a thickener)
- Many seemingly gluten-free products like oats are often produced in facilities where gluten is present
- Milk is sometimes labeled as artificial butter flavor, lactose, caramel color/flavoring, casein/caseinate, curds, whey, high protein flavor, or lactalbumin, plus others
- Egg protein is sometimes labeled as albumin, globulin, ovamucoid, binder, lecithin, ovovitellin, coagulant, livetin, lysozyme, vitellin, ovalbumin, or emulsifier, plus others
- Peanut is sometimes labeled as earthnut, groundnut, goober, or pindar
- Soy is sometimes labeled as gum arabic, bulking agent, carob, emulsifier, guar gum, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), stabilizer, lecithin, miso, textured vegetable protein (TVP), or MSG (Monosodium glutamate), plus others
- Wheat is sometimes labeled as flour, bulgur, semolina, spelt, frumento, durum, kamut, graham, einkorn, farina, seitan, or matzo, plus others
How to Deal
Preparing food for someone who has an allergy can be daunting, and can sometimes equate to meals that are not so exciting. So what are some easy swaps that can be incorporated in cooking while still providing a delicious and well balanced meal?
- Milk: Almond milk and coconut milk
- Eggs: Fruit purees like applesauce, ground flax seed/chia seeds plus water, or gelatin
- Peanuts: Any other nuts or seeds, almond butter, sunflower butter, or tahini
- Tree Nuts: Pumpkin or sunflower seeds, flax seed, or chickpeas
- Fish/Shellfish: Other common proteins like turkey, chicken, or legumes
- Soy: Lentils, beans, or grains like quinoa
- Wheat: Almond, spelt, rice, or oat flour* for baking; GF breads, polenta, rice, or buckwheat noodles as side dishes
*Oat flour is simply oats ground into a fine powder, making for an easy and inexpensive alternative. Look for oats processed in a gluten-free facility.
Recipe: Spring Vegetable Rice Salad
This seasonal grain salad contains none of the Top 8 allergens.
- 3 cups cooked wild rice or brown rice
- 1 bunch asparagus, steamed
- 1 cup peas or edamame, steamed
- 1 bunch spring onions, sliced on a bias
- 1 bunch arugula, cleaned
- ½ cup sunflower seeds
- ½ cup dried currants
- ½ cup pitted kalamata olives
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tsp honey
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- Cut steamed asparagus into bite-sized pieces.
- Cut pitted kalamata olives into halves.
- Combine asparagus and olives with cooked rice, steamed peas/edamame, sliced spring onions, arugula, seeds, and currants.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients.
- Toss the salad with the dressing, or leave the dressing on the side.
HandCut Foods makes it our mission, especially in K–12 dining rooms, to manage allergies and cross contact in our food preparation so that all of our diners feel safe and satisfied while eating with us. We believe this enhances the eating experience and trust between us and the consumer while providing delicious balanced meals.