8 Most Common Food Allergies (+ Symptoms & Substitutes)

ivana milojevic


According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), over 50 million Americans experience different types of allergies every year.

Allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to a specific protein by producing chemicals such as histamine, which cause inflammation. Even though food allergies are usually diagnosed during childhood, some still appear during adolescence and adulthood

Most food allergies are not harmful. But for some people, exposure to a small amount of food can trigger symptoms that vary in severity anywhere from a few minutes to hours after exposure. Such symptoms can be:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Swelling of the tongue, mouth, or face
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash
  • Hives

In some severe cases, food allergies can trigger anaphylaxis, a reaction that has proven fatal. Anaphylaxis causes symptoms like rash, swelling of the tongue or/or throat, shortness of breath, and low blood pressure to come very quickly.

It is very important to differentiate between food intolerance and allergies, as intolerance does not cause an immune reaction.

According to the AAFA, there are 8 types of food that cause over 90% of the allergic reactions.  Which are they, what are their symptoms, and what can you substitute them for? 

Let’s find out!

#1 – Cow’s Milk Allergy

Often discovered at a young age, allergy to cow milk affects more than 2% of babies and toddlers and is the most common allergy for that age group. The good side of this allergy is that around 90% of children outgrow the cow milk allergy by the age of three and is less likely to be found in adults.

However, the downside of this allergy is that there is no treatment but avoiding cow’s milk and food that contains it such as cheese, margarine, ice cream yogurt, or other cow dairy products.

Symptoms of cow’s allergy differ from person to another, but usually include:

  • Swelling
  • Rash
  • Hive
  • Vomit
  • Constipation or Diarrhea
  • Inflammation of the gut wall
  • Anaphylaxis (Rare).

If you suffer from cow milk allergy, you can find substitutes almost everywhere. Such substitutes can be Vegan products, such as Vegan butter and ice cream, plant-based milk such as coconut milk or almond milk, or different animal milk, like goat or camel milk.

If you are breastfeeding a baby with an allergy to cow milk, then it is advised to remove all cow milk products and food from your diet. If your baby is not breastfeeding, then you can ask your pediatrician for an alternative milk-based formula.

#2 – Eggs Allergy

Like Cow milk allergy, egg allergy is most commonly found in children and is the second most common allergy in that age group. And just like cow milk allergy, egg allergy is outgrown by the majority of children.

As the proteins differ between egg whites and yolks, some people might be allergic to one without the other, with the egg white being the more common allergen. And even though there is no treatment for egg allergy but to switch to an egg-free diet, heating eggs can lead the allergy-causing proteins to change shape. This leads to the body not seeing them as harmful. This allows the majority of children suffering from egg allergy to eat food containing cooked egg.

Symptoms of egg allergy include:

  • Stomach ache or other digestive stress
  • Respiratory issues
  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Anaphylaxis (rare)

Even though there is no substitute for eggs, when it comes to cooking, you can use cornstarch, tofu, or flaxseed oil as an alternative.

#3 – Peanuts Allergy

Peanut allergy is one of the most common allergies for people from all age groups and is proven to cause one of the most severe and potentially lethal reactions. 

Found in more than 5% of children and 1% of adults, as research shows that people with a family history of peanut allergy are most at risk. 

There are currently no available treatments. But to avoid peanuts and peanut-containing products, however, some treatments have shown hope, such treatments include giving children small amounts of peanuts under supervision to desensitize them to the allergy. Less than 20% of children with peanut allergy are able to outgrow it through their teenage years.

Symptoms of peanut allergy include:

  • Hives
  • Itchy eyes
  • Tingling in your lips
  • Runny nose
  • Stomachache
  • Anaphylaxis (rare, but more common than other allergies)

Substitutes to peanuts can be peanut-free peanut butter or nut-free sunflower.

#4 – Tree Nuts Allergy

According to AAFA, more than 0.5% of American children suffer from a tree nut allergy. It is the most fatal and near-fatal allergen that exists, responsible for more than 40% of anaphylaxis related deaths. Also, less than10% of the children outgrow their tree nut allergy and more than 90% of people have it for life.

 Tree nuts allergy is the allergy to nuts and seeds that come from trees. These nuts include:

  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Pistachio
  • Walnuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Pecan

Being the most threatening allergy, people with a nut allergy (peanut or tree nuts) are usually advised to carry an adrenaline shot, or what is more commonly known as an epi-pen all the time, as sometimes a nut allergy can be triggered through air particles. 

Symptoms of tree nut allergy include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling of the lips
  • Rash
  • Itchy skin
  • Runny nose
  • Lump in throat
  • Stomach ache and other digestive symptoms
  • Tingling of the throat and mouth
  • Anaphylaxis (rare, but the most common between allergies)

There is currently no current treatment for tree nut allergy, this is why people who suffer from this allergy are advised to carry not one, but two epi-pens, and having a tree-nuts free diet. 

Substitutes to tree nuts can be pumpkin, sunflower, or sesame seeds when it comes to cooking.

#5 – Soy Allergy

Soy allergy is mostly found between children and is triggered through soybeans or products containing soybeans. And just like other allergies, more than 60% of children outgrow their soy allergy through their teenage years. There has also been some relation between soybean allergy and cow milk allergy. However, this is not always the case.

Symptoms of Soy allergy include:

  • Hives
  • Itchy skin
  • Rash
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Tingly mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Anaphylaxis (rare)

It is also important to note that soy is a very widely used product. Therefore, if you suspect that you or your infant have a soy allergy, it is essential to read the labels and avoid soy products, as there is no treatment for soy allergy yet.

Even though it is hard to find a proper substitute for soybeans and soy-based products, the use of lupin seeds is growing in popularity as it is a gluten-free alternative. Lupin seeds are also a natural antioxidant, and rich in amino acid.

#6 – Wheat Allergy

Wheat allergy is usually an immune reaction to gluten but can be to other proteins as well. It is one of the most common allergies and tends to affect children the most. It is one of the most difficult allergies to have as it is very hard to avoid products with wheat and gluten.

Symptoms of wheat allergies can include:

  • Congested nose
  • Swelling or irritation of mouth and throat
  • Headache
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach ache
  • Anaphylaxis (rare)

There is no current treatment for wheat allergy. Therefore, it is advised to have a gluten and gluten products free diet along with a gluten-free diet. It is also important that you check for gluten in different products when buying them. 

Possible substitutes are gluten-free products, or alternatives such as rice flour, garbanzo bean flour, or any other allergen-free flour.

#7 – Fish Allergy

Fish allergy is one of the more common allergies, but unlike most allergies, fish allergy develops at a later stage during adulthood in most cases. Like nut allergy, fish allergy has also proven to be more fatal than general allergies.

Symptoms of a fish allergy include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling that you got stomach virus or bacteria
  • Vomiting
  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Itchy skin
  • Swelling of the lips
  • Anaphylaxis (rare)

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for fish allergy. But because it is one of the most common food allergens causing anaphylaxis, people with food allergy are advised to carry an adrenaline shot with them. 

It is also important to know that if you have an allergy to a specific type of fish, you might not be allergic to all fish, as different fish carry different proteins. So, you better get tested if you want to keep some types of fish in your diet.

There are no direct substitutes for fish. However, after getting tested, you might ask your doctor if you can enjoy a casual canned tuna or salmon.

#8 – Shellfish Allergy

Very similar to fish, shellfish is an independent allergy itself, as shellfish does not carry the same proteins as fish does. Shellfish can be:

  • Lobster
  • Squid
  • Prawns
  • Shrimp
  • Krill
  • Crab

Symptoms of shellfish allergy are:

  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomit
  • Itchy skin
  • Runny nose
  • Swelling of lips
  • Anaphylaxis (rare)

Just like all the previous allergies, treatment is not yet available. However, it is easier to avoid shellfish than other allergens. There are no substitutes for shellfish, but you can receive low-calories with high protein from white meat from chicken and turkey. People with shellfish allergy are advised to carry an adrenaline shot with them at all times.

Other Food Allergies

Although not as common, some people develop a food allergy to the following foods:

  • Sesame seeds
  • Peach
  • Banana
  • Avocado
  • Celery
  • Passion fruit
  • Kiwi
  • Chamomile
  • Mustard seeds

How to Diagnose a Food Allergy

  • Skin prick test: Through pricking a small amount of food under the skin using a tiny needle and monitoring the skin reaction
  • Food challenges: Having the suspected problematic food eaten in a medically supervised environment and gradually increasing the amounts
  • Blood tests: Through drawing blood and looking at the levels of specific antibodies
  • Dietary review: Such as questions about eating habits, what foods cause the allergy, symptoms, and time between the time of eating and first symptoms.

Bottom Line

Even though most allergies are caused by eight foods, some are more fatal than the others, such as peanut and tree nut allergies. Some have a bigger chance to be outgrown, such as cow milk and egg allergies, and no treatment for any of them exists, but substitutes are available.

As food allergies have proven to be fatal in some cases with no fully working treatment, it is essential for you to remove the food you are allergic to from your diet. The Gimme Food App helps you find restaurants in your area based on your food allergies and dietary restrictions. So, you can enjoy a meal out with your friends and family without worrying about your allergy.

Please contact your doctor if you suspect that you have a food allergy, and call an ambulance if you are having an anaphylaxis reaction.