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An Intro Guide to the Big 8 Food Allergens & Food Allergies

Dining bowls on a table filled with the big 8 food allergens.

If you recently developed a food allergy or you’re a new food allergy parent, it can feel overwhelming navigating this unfamiliar landscape. We know—we’ve been there! You may wonder what the big 8 food allergens are, what foods your child can and cannot eat, or how you can make sure your meal prep process is free from possible food contamination. At WayFare Health Foods, we believe good food and good health go hand-in-hand, so we want to give you the best supportive info when it comes to top 8 allergen-free eating. Let’s dive into the basics of the big 8 food allergens and how you can take steps to embrace this new lifestyle.

What is a Food Allergy?

Our immune systems are designed to protect our bodies from germs like bacteria and viruses that can make us sick. Food allergies happen when the immune system overreacts to a common, harmless protein found in food. Food allergies can start in childhood or as an adult, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Because allergic reactions can be potentially life-threatening, it’s always important to check in with your doctor if you suspect you or one of your children has a food allergy.

What is the Difference Between a Food Allergy and a Food Intolerance?

Food allergy and food intolerance often get confused with one another, but they are very different! Food intolerance happens when your body is unable to properly digest a certain food. For example, someone with lactose intolerance may lack the enzyme needed to digest the natural sugars in milk. They may experience uncomfortable side effects like cramping, gas, and diarrhea, but they are not life-threatening like the reactions caused by a food allergy. Unlike food allergies, people with a food intolerance may be able to eat small amounts of the food they are sensitive to.

What are the Big 8 Food Allergies?

The big 8 food allergies are a group of foods that account for 90% of food allergies in the United States. The United States Food and Drug Administration recognizes the following eight foods as major food allergens:

  1. Milk - Milk allergies typically come from mammal milk like cow, goat, and sheep milk. Products that typically contain milk include a range of processed foods like instant soups, chocolate, and baked goods.
  2. Eggs - Most egg allergies are not only triggered by hen eggs but also goose, duck, and other bird eggs. Common products that contain eggs are baked goods, mayonnaise, and batter-fried foods, among others.
  3. Peanuts - Peanuts, part of the legume family, account for a high number of severe food allergy reactions in the U.S. Some common foods that typically use peanuts include cereals, trail mix, and baked goods.
  4. Tree Nuts - Tree nuts cover a wide variety of nuts, such as almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts.
  5. Fish - If you have a fish allergy to a specific species of fish, you may be likely to be sensitive to other species as well. Commonly eaten fish species include carp, cod, salmon, and tuna.
  6. Shellfish - Shellfish allergies can be triggered by shellfish belonging to the crustacean, mollusk, and edible land snail families. Common kinds of shellfish include crab, lobster, oysters, and shrimp.
  7. Soy - Soy, another member of the legume family, is widely used in food products. Types of foods that contain soy include tofu, edamame, teriyaki sauce, and some baked goods.
  8. Wheat - Wheat allergies can be tied to a variety of grains and cereals like barley, corn, oat, rice, and rye. Common food products that may trigger wheat allergies include baked goods, jams, beverages, and assorted processed foods.

Since 2004, U.S. food labels must say whether these eight allergens are included in food products. This makes shopping for allergen-friendly foods a little bit easier for you and your family! More recently, sesame has been identified as the ninth major food allergen, but allergen labeling is not required until 2023. At WayFare Health Foods, we recognize that there are 10 common food allergens—the tenth being mustard. We’re proud to make foods free from the top 10 food allergens so more people can enjoy the tasty freedom of eating delicious, plant-based foods.

Tips for Successful Eating with Food Allergies

Avoid Cross-Contamination in the Kitchen

If certain members of your family have food allergies while others don’t, it’s important to be extra careful when preparing meals to avoid cross-contamination. For example, it’s good practice to avoid using the same cutting board to prepare allergen-free foods and foods that may trigger food allergies. Make sure to disinfect all surfaces, cooking utensils, and dining ware before cooking and serving an allergen-friendly meal. If you want to go the extra mile, add bold, brightly-colored labels to your foods to indicate which products are allergen-friendly or not.

Check & Ask Questions When Eating Out

Having great times with food and community is one of the best parts of life, so many wonder how to eat out with food allergies. If you can’t see how food is being prepared or can’t read a complete ingredients list, how do you know if you can safely eat out with your loved ones? Don’t worry—there are steps you can take to eat out on a top 8 allergen-free diet! Try pre-checking menus before choosing a restaurant to see if they offer accommodations for your dietary needs. If you have questions about any ingredients or how food is prepared, don’t be afraid to make special requests to your server. When in doubt, ask to speak to the chef to see what accommodations can be made to fit your allergy needs.

Make a List of Allergen Friendly Products & Recipes

As you investigate and try out different allergen-friendly foods, you’ll find products you enjoy more than others or recipes your kids love to gobble up. Keeping a master list of allergen-friendly food products and recipes makes future allergen-free meal prep simple, easy, and delicious.

Need a hand discovering some tasty, allergen-friendly products for your home’s menu? Look no further than WayFare! We’re proud to create flavorful, top-quality foods that are free of the big 8 food allergens to fit anyone’s dietary needs. Looking to satisfy your cheese craving on a milk-free diet? Try our creamy Dairy Free Cheddar or our easy-to-spread Dairy Free Cream Cheese! Are you craving something sweet and top 8 allergen free? Dip into our signature line of puddings that include delectable flavors like Chocolate, Vanilla, and Butterscotch! We want to make allergen-free eating easy and yummy for you and your family, so shop our line of food products online today or find a store near you.