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Allergen Facts

Surprising Allergen Facts

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to allergens.  The food industry can often make matters worse with confusing labels and misleading marketing.  It can be difficult to determine exactly what is and what is not a common allergen.  Here, we used current scientific research to debunk prevalent allergen myths.

Lactose vs Milk Protein


Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the sugar found in milk, also known as lactose.  Conversely, a milk allergy is caused by a reaction to the protein in cow’s milk [1].  When ingested by a lactating mother, this protein can potentially enter her milk and cause a reaction in her infant.  If you are avoiding dairy, it is vital that you do not use products that are only “Lactose Free” as they still contain the milk protein.  Instead, opt for dairy-free alternatives such as coconut-based products.


Soy vs Soy Lecithin


Soybeans are a good source of protein (68g in a single cup).  However, a portion of the population is allergic to this specific type of protein.  You may notice that many foods include the ingredient “Soy Lecithin”.  This is created by extracting soybean oil from the beans with a chemical solvent, processing the oil, and mixing with water until the lecithin is hydrated and separates from the oil.  Due to this methodology, soy lecithin contains miniscule levels of soy protein [2].  Allergists typically inform patients that they can safely consume soy lecithin even if they have a known soy allergy.  Patients with severe life-threatening reactions to soy may be advised to avoid the ingredient as an extra precaution. 


Coconut vs Tree Nuts


Coconut is classified as a fruit [3] and is not associated with tree nut allergies [4].  Interestingly, the FDA has classified coconut as a tree nut, much to the dismay of botanists.  While food manufacturers must specifically call out coconut as an allergen under FDA regulations, actual coconut allergies are incredibly rare.  Additionally, coconut oil has minimal (if any) coconut protein which makes it even safer.  Overall, the recommendation is to have your coconut, and eat it too. 


Wheat vs Gluten


There is a lot of misinformation surrounding gluten free products and how that is related to wheat.  Statistically speaking, very few people have a gluten allergy [5].  Those who do are typically diagnosed with celiac disease.  Gluten is made of proteins gliadin and glutenin, which can be found in wheat, kamut, spelt, rye, and barley.  In other words, wheat contains gluten, but not all gluten products contain wheat. 


Wheat is considered one of the top eight food allergens and most commonly plagues children [6].  People typically outgrow this allergy by three years of age.  Allergic symptoms involve antibodies reacting to proteins found in wheat (albumin, globulin, gliadin, and glutenin). 


Salmon vs Cod


Not all seafood is created equally.  Reactions to different types of fish and shellfish vary drastically [7].  Salmon, tuna, and halibut are the most common allergy-causing fish while shrimp are the most probable shellfish allergy.  Someone who has a salmon allergy may be able to eat tuna without any reaction.  Due to this, when reintroducing allergens it is important to start out with less likely culprits such as cod.  




  1. Heyman MB. Lactose intolerance in infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2006 Sep 1;118(3):1279-86.

  2. Awazuhara H, Kawai H, Baba M, Matsui T, Komiyama A. Antigenicity of the proteins in soy lecithin and soy oil in soybean allergy. Clinical and experimental allergy: journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 1998 Dec;28(12):1559-64.

  3. Popenoe W. Manual of tropical and subtropical fruits: Excluding the banana, coconut, pineapple, citrus fruits, olive, and fig. The Macmillan Company; 1920.

  4. Stutius LM, Sheehan WJ, Rangsithienchai P, Bharmanee A, Scott JE, Young MC, Dioun AF, Schneider LC, Phipatanakul W. Characterizing the relationship between sesame, coconut, and nut allergy in children. Pediatric allergy and immunology. 2010 Dec;21(8):1114-8.

  5. Allen PJ. Primary Care Approaches. Gluten-Related Disorders: Celiac Disease, Gluten Allergy, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Pediatric nursing. 2015 May 1;41(3).

  6. Keet CA, Matsui EC, Dhillon G, Lenehan P, Paterakis M, Wood RA. The natural history of wheat allergy. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2009 May 1;102(5):410-5.

  7. Van Do T, Elsayed S, Florvaag E, Hordvik I, Endresen C. Allergy to fish parvalbumins: studies on the cross-reactivity of allergens from 9 commonly consumed fish. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2005 Dec 1;116(6):1314-20.

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dr trill-free to feed-breastfeeding-baby-infant-breastmilk-parent-mom-mother-mum-mommy-col
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