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Can You Be Allergic to Red Food?

by
author image Sirah Dubois
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.
Can You Be Allergic to Red Food?
Close-up of a basket of red candies. Photo Credit DejanKolar/iStock/Getty Images

You can be allergic to essentially any food, either natural or processed, if your body perceives it to be a problem. Sometimes the body is right because the compound in the food is toxic in some capacity, but sometimes it’s wrong and overreacts to a compound that’s normally innocuous. Naturally red foods are not a common cause of food allergies in most people. Artificially colored red foods may cause allergic reactions, especially in children, although there is no scientific evidence to support this. Consult with your doctor if you or your children experience food allergies.

Allergic Reactions

People can be allergic to virtually anything as long as their bodies perceive it to be undesirable or foreign. Most allergy symptoms are due to an increase in histamine levels within tissues, which is essentially an overreaction by the immune system in an attempt to control and fight the triggering compound. Histamine causes blood vessels to dilate, which increases blood flow and results in swelling. The triggering compounds are often dust or pollen from flowering plants, but many proteins and chemicals in food can also trigger an allergic reaction. According to “Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine,” common symptoms include nasal congestion; swelling in the mouth and throat and around the face; difficulty breathing and swallowing; skin rashes; gastrointestinal problems; headaches; and dizziness. Severe allergic reactions can result in shock, seizures, coma and death.

Red Food Allergies

Allergies to foods that are naturally red in color are relatively rare. According to “Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice,” eight foods account for about 90 percent of all food allergies: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soybeans. None of these foods are considered red, although a few red fruits are known to trigger relatively mild allergic reactions in some sensitive individuals. Strawberries, apples, plums and tomatoes are the most common culprits, although they typically lead to oral allergy syndrome, which is the development of an itchy rash or contact dermatitis wherever there is contact with the food, such as the lips, tongue and throat. The allergens in strawberries and tomatoes are thought to be certain proteins, which are destroyed by heat.

Red Food Dye

Perhaps a more common problem is allergic reactions to foods that are artificially dyed red, such as candy, cakes, puddings, ice cream, processed fruit snacks and cereals. The most common red food dye is called red dye number 40, which is more prevalent in foods, treats and beverages that are marketed toward children. It’s been banned from use in children’s products in some countries, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration insists that it’s safe for all ages, according to the “Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties."

Recommendations

Avoiding an allergy-causing food completely is the only way to prevent allergic reactions. Consequently, it is always a good idea to read labels carefully. If you are mildly allergic to red fruits or vegetables, try cooking the food before you eat it, as heat destroys protein-based allergens. If you are severely allergic, talk to your doctor before you do any experimenting. If you think you are allergic to red food dye, you can safely assume that any food artificially colored red, pink, purple or orange contains the dye, and you can avoid it.

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