Food allergy sufferers rarely have just one key trigger. Many allergies seem to go hand in hand and make day to day living and eating out, particularly difficult. It is not uncommon for a milk allergy sufferer also to be allergic to eggs and often nut allergy sufferers are allergic to several other items from the ‘top 14’.
I recently wrote a piece for Allergy Aware Kitchen on this subject. It was aimed at those in the food service industry – to remind them of the importance of knowing your food families when catering for allergy customers, but I also think it is worth sharing with a wider audience as some of the information here can help you puzzle out why you’ve had a reaction when you’ve eaten what you thought was a ‘safe’ meal or ingredient.
No-one is more vigilant about careful eating than an allergy sufferer, or the parent of an allergic child and so when you’ve eaten a ‘safe’ food and still feel ill or suffer symptoms it’s natural to wonder why.
Is it just ‘ordinary’ food poisoning? Hard to tell the difference sometimes – the symptoms are so similar. It is a tummy bug? Also pretty difficult to know for sure – especially during our now annual ‘norovirus’ season! But what else could it be? Often it can be caused by a sensitivity to other foods from the same ‘family’ as the allergen, e.g. people who are allergic to peppers can also be sensitive to potatoes because they are both from the nightshade family, and people who cannot tolerate onions often have issues with garlic as they are all from the lily family,
Just to help you out here’s a list of some of the most common families and their members. I thought it might be of interest and could help you puzzle out any ‘odd’ reactions that took you by surprise.
Buckwheat family – buckwheat, garden sorrel, rhubarb. Buckwheat is widely used as an alternative flour in gluten free foods, and although not in anyway related to wheat – some people still have sensitivity. So if you are coeliac, buckwheat should be ok. But if you are sensitive to rhubarb or sorrel for instance, you might also find buckwheat hard going.
Cashew – cashew nut, mango, pistachio, poison ivy. So cashews are not in the peanut family but they are in the family of one other common allergen – mango. So again, if you have sensitivity to one, be careful with other members of this family – but I don’t think anyone would eat poison ivy, so I guess it’s just pistachios to watch out for.
Chocolate – cacao, cocoa, cocoa butter, cola nuts.
Citrus – citron, grapefruit, kumquat, lemon, lime, orange, pomelo, tangelo, tangerine
Conifer – juniper berry(gin) and pine nuts – so next time you feel off after a few gins, remember it might be the ‘conifer’!
Fungus – mushrooms, truffle, morel, brewers yeast, bakers yeast, citric acid and moulds in certain cheeses. So if you eat blue cheese and feel ill it might not be because you are sensitive to dairy, it could be a sensitivity to fungus/mould!
Ginger – cardamom, ginger, turmeric
Beet – amaranth, beet, chard, spinach, sugar beet, quinoa – one to watch out for as many gluten free foods are made using amaranth and quinoa. So if you are still getting tummy ache after your GF foods, check out the quinoa – not everyone finds it easy to digest.
Gourd or melon family – melon, cucumber, gherkin, cantaloupe, honeydew, pumpkin seed, pumpkin meal, acorn squash, butternut squash, marrow squash, pattypan squash, courgette, watermelon
Grape – grape, brandy, champagne, cream of tartar, dried currants(black grapes), raisins, wine vinegar. Sometimes it is the sulphites which are the cause of a reaction, but not always. It could be the entire grape family that causes you problems. Also watch out for cream of tartar, if you are sensitive – it’s often used in ‘free from’ cooking and you wouldn’t naturally associate it with grapes!
Grass – bamboo shoots, barley, barley malt, maltose (from barley), corn, maize (corn), corn meal, corn oil, cornstarch, corn sugar, corn syrup, popcorn, sweet corn, kamut, lemongrass, citronella, millet,oats, oatmeal, rice, rice flour, rye, sorghum grain, sorghum flour, spelt, sugarcane, cane sugar, raw sugar, molasses, teff, triticale, wheat, wheat bran, bulgur, wheat flour, wheat gluten, whole wheat, wheat germ, wild rice. Several of the above flours contain gluten – so you know to avoid. But many are used in gluten free cooking, and seen as tummy friendly substitutes. So be warned. If you are highly sensitive to gluten you may still experience sensitivity to the gluten free members of this family – because ‘grass’ is an issue for you.
Heath – blueberry, cranberry,
Iris – saffron
Laurel – avocado, bay leaf, cinnamon
Legume – alfalfa sprouts, fava beans, lima beans, mung beans, string beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, carob, carob syrup, chickpea, fenugreek, gum acacia, gum tragacanth, jicama, kudzu, lentil, licorice, peas, peanuts, peanut oil, red clover, senna, soyabeans, soya lecithin, soya milk, soya oil, tamarind and all sprouts sprouted from the above listed beans, and all flours made from them. So again, beware as many of these crop up in free from recipes and foods. So for instance if you are sensitive to soya, be careful of other members of this family as you may experience reactions to these too.
Lily – Aloe vera, asparagus, chives, garlic, leek, onion, shallot,
Mint – Apple mint, basil, bergamot, catnip, chia seed, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, sage, spearmint, summer savoury, thyme, winter savoury
Morning Glory – sweet potato. Not the same family as normal potato(Nightshade) so a possible alternative ingredient to try if you are experiencing sensitivity.
Mulberry – fig, breadfruit, mulberry, hops
Mustard – rocket, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, curly cress, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, mustard seed, radish, rape, turnip, watercress. As ‘mustard’ is on the EU list of top 14 allergens, it is worth learning what else is in that family – just in case you are starting to experience unexpected reactions.
Myrtle – allspice, clove, eucalyptus
Nightshade – aubergine, bell peppers, sweet peppers, cayenne peppers, chilli peppers, paprika, pimiento, potato (all varieties – except sweet potato), tobacco, tomato. Paprika extract is one of the most commonly used food colourant/additives and it is often used as a garnish or a decoration. It has many different names and crops up in places you wouldn’t expect – fish fingers, tomato ketchup, mayonnaise. So if you are sensitive to peppers and have a bad tummy ache after a fishfinger sandwich – this could be why – watch out for ‘orange’ breadcrumbs and condiments.
Nutmeg – nutmeg, mace
Orchid – vanilla
Palm – coconut, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut meal, dates, date sugar, sago starch. Palm oil is a commonly used ingredient in many shop bought foods – be careful to read all labels, particularly on cakes and biscuits if coconuts are a trigger for you.
Parsley – anise, caraway, carrot, carrot syrup, celeriac (celery root), celery, celery seed, celery leaf, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, dill seed, fennel, lovage, parsley, parsnip – so as celery is one of the top 14 allergens, many of you who are allergic to it may also want to be careful around other members of the parsley family.
Pepper – peppercorns, white pepper, black pepper. NOT the same family as bell peppers etc – they are Nightshade. So if you are sensitive to chilli, you can still safely add some heat to your meals with peppercorns.
Plum – almond (not a nut!), apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum, prune, wild cherry, sloe
Pomegranate – pomegranate, grenadine syrup
Protea – macadmia nut
Sapucaya – brazil nut
Sesame – sesame seeds, tahini
Walnut – walnut, hickory nut, pecan
One final other group to think about if you are dairy sensitive or allergic and notice issues with meat and bi-products – is the Bovid family, e.g. beef, beef suet, gelatin, rennin (rennet), sausage casings, veal, buffalo, goat, sheep, lamb, mutton, bison, and all milk products coming from beef, buffalo, goats, sheep, lamb and bison. So if you have had a dairy free meal but still get ill, perhaps consider what else from this family you ate.
This is not a totally comprehensive guide as there are many other foods and ingredients within these families and there are many other food families out there. I have just highlighted the ones that typically cause the most reactions and may be a bit of surprise. Hope you find it useful. The more we learn about our foods and ingredients, the better equipped we will be to decipher those menus and recipes – and achieve our ultimate goal of safe and happy eating.