Top 9 Food Allergens: What They Mean For Your Baby

Here’s what parents need to know about the top 9 allergy-causing foods, including how common allergies to each food are.

The 9 foods that most commonly cause food allergies are:

  • Peanut
  • Cow’s Milk
  • Egg
  • Tree Nuts
  • Soy 
  • Wheat 
  • Finned Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Sesame

Here's what parents need to know about each of these top 9 allergens.

Peanut

  • Peanut allergies affect up to 2% of children.
  • Peanut allergies are among the top three allergies affecting young children (along with egg and milk.) 
  • In recent years, peanut allergies in children have more than tripled in the US.
  • Compared to other food allergies, peanut allergies are more likely to cause life-threatening anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction that affects more than one organ system).
  • Peanut allergies tend to be lifelong. Only 20% of children outgrow their peanut allergy. 
  • In their new consensus report, three leading allergy organizations --- the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI); the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI); and the CSACI (Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology) --- recommend introducing peanut to babies who haven’t yet developed a peanut allergy.

Cow’s Milk 

  • Cow’s milk allergy is the most common food allergy in infants and young children. 
  • Cow’s milk allergy usually develops in a child’s first year of life. 
  • According to the ACAAI, milk allergy affects 2-3% of children younger than 3 years old.
  • Most children “outgrow” their milk allergy, but this sometimes occurs as late as their teenage years.
  • One survey suggests that milk allergy is the most common cause of food allergy reactions in schools. 
  • Milk allergy is different from lactose intolerance and other milk intolerances. While milk allergies involve the immune system, milk intolerances don’t involve the immune system, and usually involve symptoms in the GI tract. For more on milk allergies vs. milk intolerances, please read our linked article.

Egg

  • Egg allergy is one of the top three allergens affecting young children, along with peanut and cow’s milk. 
  • Egg allergy affects around 2% of all children, around 16% of children 5 years of age and under with food allergies, and around 14% of children 14 years of age and under with food allergies. 
  • Many children may eventually outgrow their egg allergy, but some children will not outgrow their egg allergy until their teenage years, and some egg allergies remain lifelong.
  • Some, but not all, people with egg allergies can safely eat baked eggs.
  • Egg allergy is one of the allergies with the greatest impact on a child’s quality of life, because so many foods contain hidden egg ingredients. Foods like pasta, mayonnaise, and even ice cream sometimes contain egg.
  • Egg often appears in unexpected places. So, if your child has egg allergy, you'll need to read food labels carefully.
  • In their new consensus report, three leading allergy organizations --- the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI); the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI); and the CSACI (Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology) --- recommend introducing egg to babies who haven’t yet developed an egg allergy.

Learn more from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) on egg allergy:

Tree Nuts

  • As FARE reports, the six most common tree nut allergies (for children and adults) are allergies to walnut, almond, hazelnut, pecan, cashew and pistachio. 
  • Someone with a  tree nut allergy could have an allergy to 1, 2, or several types of tree nuts. 
  • Just because someone has an allergy to one tree nut doesn't mean that they have to avoid all types of tree nuts. Many people with tree nut allergies only have allergic reactions to 1 or 2 types.
  • Tree nut allergies affect around 1% of children and adults, when all the different types are counted together.
  •  Tree nut allergies are usually lifelong. According to FARE, only around 9% of children outgrow their tree nut allergy.
  • Tree nut allergies are one of the food allergy types most likely to cause severe reactions (along with peanut allergies).

Soy

  • Soy allergy largely affects infants and young children under the age of 3.
  • Soy allergy affects 0.4% of children, and around  0.3% of the general population (children and adults). 
  • Most children with soy allergies eventually outgrow the allergy. One study found that around 25% of children outgrow their soy allergy by age 4, around 45% outgrow their soy allergy by age 6, and nearly 70% outgrow it by age 10. But some soy allergies become lifelong.
  • Soy allergies can be especially challenging because so many foods contain hidden soy. If your child has a soy allergy, you'll need to read food labels carefully. For tips on how to avoid hidden soy, read our article here.

Wheat

  • Wheat allergy affects around 0.4% of children.
  • Wheat allergies are often outgrown in childhood, although some wheat allergies last into adulthood.
  • Wheat sometimes appears in unexpected places, like hot dogs, sauces, breaded fried foods, and ice cream. So, if your child has a wheat allergy, you'll need to read food labels carefully.
  • People with wheat allergies can also develop allergic reactions to cosmetic products with wheat in them, if these products touch their lips. Read cosmetic labels carefully!
  • Wheat allergies are not the same as gluten intolerances. There is no such thing as an allergy to gluten.
  • A wheat allergy causes an allergic immune response to a protein that is only found in wheat. But gluten intolerances are immune responses to gluten, a protein that can be found in many different grains

Finned Fish

Shellfish

Sesame

  • Sesame allergy is the ninth-most common food allergy in the United States.
  • Sesame allergies are estimated to affect over 1.5 million people in the United States---both children and adults (between 0.2% and 0.5% of the general population). 
  • Only around 20-30% of children with sesame allergies eventually outgrow their allergy.
  • Around 80% of people with sesame allergies have at least one other food allergy. So, someone who already has another food allergy is more likely to develop sesame allergies. 
  • Unlike the top 8 allergens, sesame currently isn't required to be listed clearly on ingredient labels in the U.S. This makes it very difficult to identify the foods that contain sesame, and that could cause a sesame allergic reaction.
  • Sesame appears under many hidden names, and in many unexpected foods. This makes it even harder to avoid sesame, so read labels very carefully. Learn more for tips on how to spot and avoid hidden sesame here.

Hope for clearer sesame labeling may be near thanks to the FASTER Act, a 2019 bill with bipartisan Congress support. If the FASTER Act is passed, manufacturers will be required to clearly label products that contain sesame.

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All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health. 

See the FDA Peanut Allergy Qualified Health Claim at the bottom of our homepage.