Food is supposed to nourish your body, so when it makes you feel sick, as with food allergies, it can ruin your eating experience and make you afraid of food. The fear of developing another food allergy later on is understandable. While 6% of children and 3–4% of adults have at least one food allergy, it’s hard to tell how many are allergic to multiple foods. Food allergies are fickle. Just because most food allergies emerge in childhood doesn’t mean you can’t develop one later in life.
HOW ONE FOOD ALLERGY CAN LEAD TO OTHERS
We all have an immune system that spots and protects us from the “bad guys” such as germs and other foreign materials. From battling bacteria in a cut to fending off viruses from a cold, this system keeps us safe. Sadly, it’s not perfect.
The trouble starts when your immune system sees seemingly harmless things — pollen, pet dander and peanuts — as dangerous and overreacts to them. Usually what the immune system sees (and attacks) is a specific protein or “allergen.” In your case, that protein is found in eggs. “Cross-reactivity” is one way you may find yourself allergic to other foods. This happens when the protein you’re allergic to in eggs is similar to the protein found in other foods. For example, a food allergy to chicken eggs makes it more likely you’re allergic to eggs from other birds as well as chicken meat. Since soy protein is different from egg protein, there’s not a huge chance you’d be allergic to soy through cross-reactivity.
Of course, that doesn’t guarantee you’re not allergic to soy at all. Soy, along with eggs, milk, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts and wheat, are the Big 8 Food Allergens. Together they make up 90% of all food allergy cases in the U.S. No one is sure why a food allergy develops, but we know genetics, excessive exposure to the allergen and living in an urban area are all contributors. It’s wise to watch out for signs that hint at a new food allergy.
In addition to being a relatively common food allergen, the benefits of soy are hotly debated. One reason soy is controversial is because it contains estrogen-like compounds that some believe can mess with your hormones and raise risk for certain types of cancer. Of course, there’s also evidence that soy can be beneficial for heart disease, PMS, breast cancer, memory and more — making it incredibly confusing. Another controversy surrounding soy has to do with its growing practices — a whopping 94% of soy grown in the U.S. is considered a “genetically modified organism” (GMO), which has its pros and cons. If you’re concerned about this latter controversy, you can buy organic soy products which prohibits the use of GMO.
7 COMMON SIGNS OF A FOOD ALLERGY
While a severe allergic reaction (Think: swelling that blocks breathing) requires immediate medical attention, the milder symptoms are less obvious. These include:
- Hives (red, itchy bumps on the skin)
- Eczema (dry, itchy rash)
- Itchy mouth or ear canal
- Stuffy, runny nose, sneezing or teary eyes
- Stomach pains, cramps or diarrhea
- Dry cough
- Odd taste in the mouth
The signs of a food allergy aren’t very specific, so diagnosing it is no walk in the park. It’s easy to mistake a food allergy, which is an immune reaction, with a food intolerance, a less severe but uncomfortable reaction to food that’s mostly due to digestive issues. With intolerances the common signs include bloating, cramps, stomach pains, diarrhea, constipation, etc.
Don’t be afraid to seek help. For a food allergy, enlist an allergist who can test you for a true allergy. For a food intolerance seek a qualified health professional to help you manage the symptoms. Note: A popular diet designed for food intolerance is the low FODMAP diet.
If you’re enjoying that tofu scramble trouble-free, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Soy is an excellent source of plant-based protein and a phytochemical called isoflavones that’s beneficial for preventing postmenopausal bone loss and certain cancers. Evidence fueling the soy controversy is inconclusive, but it’s unlikely that moderate amounts of soy will cause harm.
Soy is not without controversy, but that’s a topic for another time.
To get the best nutrition, I recommend getting soy from whole, food-based choices instead of processed supplements, bars and soybean oil. That means savoring tofu, edamame, soy milk and tempeh, to name a few.