There are millions of Americans experiencing food allergies and/or adverse reactions to foods. We know the top 8 allergens, also known as "The Big 8", are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean. These 8 allergens account for about 90% of all food allergies in the US. 1
But what of the other 10% of allergic reactions? Well, many react to foods that aren't the usual suspects. Many unusual food allergies are on the rise but our understanding of them is increasing as well.
Consider one rare and unusual food allergy - oral allergy syndrome or pollen food syndrome.
The story goes like this. A 25 year old client experiences itching in the mouth and throat after eating apples, cherries, and sometimes almonds and peanuts. For some reason, though, when cooked, those same fruits or veggies cause less discomfort. However, he only has a history of seasonal allergies in early spring.
Does this patient have food allergies? At first glance, it may seem like this client is. However, it turns out this isn't a classic food allergy. Rather, he is experiencing oral allergy syndrome. This is a condition in which an individual with environmental allergies to certain pollens (such as birch tree, grass, pollen) has allergic symptoms after eating raw fruits or vegetables. In general, when cooked, those same fruits or vegetables are no longer an issue.
It's an environmental allergy pretending to be a food allergy, so to speak.
Why does this occur?
Some scientists believe there may be some cross-contamination going on, such as birch pollen being present on the skin of a fruit about to be eaten. Others have discovered that the problem lies in the fact that the fruit or veggie has proteins with a similiar structure to proteins in the pollen. This confuses the immune system and it, thus, triggers an allergic response.
The Main Triggers
Depending on the pollen you have an allergy too, keep an eye on the following foods that are commonly associated with each allergen: 4
Alder: apples, cherries, peaches, pears, parsley, celery, almonds, hazelnuts.
Birch tree pollen (typically associated with spring allergies): apple, apricots, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, nectarines,peach, pear, plum, potatoes, green peppers, dill, cumin, peas, cilantro, fennel, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, lentils, beans
Grass pollen (typically associated with summer allergies): celery, melons, oranges, peaches, peanuts, tomato, watermelon
Mugwort (typically associated with early fall allergies, and honey): celery, carrots, dill, parsley, fennel, coriander, cumin, sunflower seeds
Ragweed pollen (typically associated with fall allergies): banana, caneloupe, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds, squash, watermelon zucchini
Do you suspect having OAS?
If you suspect you may have OAS, the best first step is to consult with an allergist to rule out any food allergy and to determine your best treatment plan. You may find out that you're actually not "allergic" to that fruit or vegetable. You also may find that simply washing the raw fruit or veggie well before consuming it will help resolve the issue and prevent a reaction.
For others, experimenting with a cooked version of the offending fruit or vegetable has been helpful as they've found less or no reactions to the food in cooked form. This is typically because many of the ingested proteins linked to OAS are rendered harmless once exposed to digestive enzymes, gastric juices, or heat during cooking. However, this is not always the case, especially when OAS is caused by nuts. Therefore, an allergist can help determine if it is best to strictly avoid a food or not to prevent any systemic symptoms that go well beyond the oral cavity. 3 This can be a serious condition because many who experience these reactions are not being taken seriously, at least not initially. Why?
1) For one thing, some physicians believe this is just an excuse to avoid eating fruits and veggies. 2) The onset of OAS is most common in adolescents and young adults who have been eating the offending fruit or veggie for years without any problems.
Although most symptoms are confined to the oral cavity (mouth, tongue, throat), one study found that OAS may progress to systemic symptoms in about 9% of patients and even to anaphylactic shock in 1.7% of patients. 2 Therefore, it's wise to seek professional help if you suspect you may have OAS.
Getting to the bottom of whether you may or may not have OAS can also help you prevent limiting or restricting your diet more than you need to. That way, you won't miss out on all the nutritional benefits of all the different raw fruits and veggies you can manage to eat safely.
We at EnergyFirst highly encourage eating as many different fruits and vegetables as safely possible since they're nutrient dense and phytochemically dense, that is rich in natural, disease-fighting plant chemicals. Since most modern diets are low in nutrient-dense produce, we've packed 5 servings of vegetables into one scoop of Greenergy to make it easier to meet nutrient needs for the day.
1. Allergenic Foods and their Allergens. [online] Farrp.unl.edu. Available at: https://farrp.unl.edu/informallbig8 [Accessed 29 May 2018].
2. Oral Allergy Syndrome. Retrieved May 29, 2018, from https://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies/types-food-allergy/oral-allergy-syndrome
3. Kohn, J.B. (June 2017). What is Oral Allergy Syndrome? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 117(6), 988. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2017.03.021
4. CMAJ. 2010 Aug 10; 182(11): 1210–1211.