Virtually 90 percent of all food allergies are reactions to nuts, dairy products, soy, wheat, fish or shellfish, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Legumes encompass all soy and peanut allergies; other legumes include beans, lentils and licorice products. These allergies are particularly hard to deal with because many foods contain peanut or soy oils or were manufactured on equipment that also processed peanut- or soy-based products. Managing a legume allergy requires lots of label reading and a carefully monitored diet.
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Food allergies happen when your body’s immune system interprets a particular food as an enemy and tries to fight it. As a reaction to the allergen, your immune system produces antibodies that attach to specific types of cells—basophils, found in your blood; and mast cells, found in your skin, digestive tracts, the ears, nose and throat. The antibodies cause these cells to produce certain chemicals; those chemicals cause your allergic symptoms. The symptoms occur as you eat and digest the food, in the places the food contacts your body. Reactions generally start in the mouth and move to the stomach as the food is digested, and then to the bloodstream and skin as the digested food is whisked through your body.
Sometimes food allergies are confused with food intolerance. The symptoms are often the same; the difference is how those symptoms are triggered. If your immune system triggers the attack, you have a food allergy. If your immune system is not involved, you have a food intolerance. Food intolerance is much more common than food allergy; according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, only about 4 percent of adults and 6 percent to 8 percent of toddlers have food allergies. Your doctor can determine which condition you actually have.
Peanut allergies are among the most serious of food allergies, with complications that can lead to death. People who are allergic to peanuts experience a reaction within minutes of eating, touching or even breathing air contaminated with peanut products. Common symptoms include hives, tingling throat, stomach cramps and anaphylaxis—a serious condition that causes wheezing, fainting and low blood pressure. Mild attacks can be treated with drugstore antihistamine pills. Severe attacks need an injection of epinephrine.
Soy allergies are hard to fight because soybeans are used as product fillers in many processed foods. From dry cereal to infant formula to deli meat, you’ll find soy in many places you wouldn’t expect. Reactions to soy allergies are usually less severe than peanut allergies; anaphylaxis is rare. Typical reactions include hives, wheezing, dizziness and swelling of the tongue and throat. These symptoms usually appear within a few minutes of eating a soy-based product and can be handled with store-bought antihistamines.
Foods That Contain Legumes
It sounds simple enough to avoid peanuts, soybeans or other legumes; what isn’t so simple is avoiding foods made with their oils. Reading food labels in their entirety is the only way to avoid your allergens. Peanuts are often found in cookies, candy, and ethnic foods of African, Chinese or Thai origin. If your allergic reactions are severe, it’s a good idea to avoid these foods in restaurants or at parties. You should also avoid foods with ingredients such as hydrolyzed plant or vegetable protein. Soybean oil is found in many Asian dishes, vegetable broth and tofu. Soy is often referred to as vegetable protein, plant protein, vegetable gum and vegetable starch; avoid all grocery-store items with these ingredients on the label. You can avoid many legume-based products by eating fresh meat and vegetables, and avoiding canned or processed foods.