Food allergies: A growing health concern

Some allergens are overlooked such as soy, sesame, and gluten, which can cause serious and sometimes severe reactions in sensitive individuals.
While certain allergens like nuts, dairy, and seafood are well-recognised and widely discussed, there are other allergens that often fly under the radar yet pose significant health risks.
While certain allergens like nuts, dairy, and seafood are well-recognised and widely discussed, there are other allergens that often fly under the radar yet pose significant health risks.Photo | Express

HYDERABAD : In India, where the population is as diverse as the culinary landscape, food allergies are becoming a rising concern. “A food allergy is an autoimmune response that occurs in an individual after consuming food that is harmful or unsuitable for their body,” says Dr Deepa Agarwal, founder and consultant nutritionist at Nutriclinic. While certain allergens like nuts, dairy, and seafood are well-recognised and widely discussed, there are other allergens that often fly under the radar yet pose significant health risks. Among these overlooked allergens are soy, sesame, and gluten, which can cause serious and sometimes severe reactions in sensitive individuals.

Soy allergies

Soy allergy poses a significant health risk due to its widespread use as a common ingredient in various foods, presenting a challenge for individuals with soy allergies to entirely eliminate it from their diet. Found prominently in processed foods such as baked goods, cereals, and sauces, as well as serving as a primary meat substitute in vegetarian and vegan diets, soy avoidance requires constant vigilance to prevent allergic reactions. Symptoms of a soy allergy can range from mild to severe and typically appear within minutes to hours after consuming soy products. According to Dr Gayathri Nemalikanti, Consultant Dietician at Gastrocare Clinics, “Common symptoms of soy allergy include skin reactions like eczema, itching, and swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat, or other parts of the body; digestive issues like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea; and respiratory problems like runny nose, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.”

Sesame allergies

A common component in many Indian recipes is sesame seeds, particularly when they come in the form of sesame oil. In addition to being a popular garnish in Indian cooking, sesame seeds are also used in many different dishes, including bread, snacks, and several spice blends. The increased consumption of sesame seeds in Indian diets is one reason sesame allergies are becoming more common in India. Diagnosing sesame allergies can be challenging because the symptoms are often mild and can be mistaken for other conditions. “Cough, throat tightness, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing, and wheezing are common symptoms of sesame allergy,” says Dr Gayathri.

Gluten allergies

Gluten allergy, also known as celiac disease, is a condition where the immune system reacts to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. One of the main reasons for the concern about gluten allergy-like symptoms in Indians is the increasing consumption of processed and refined wheat products, such as suji and maida. These products, commonly used in dishes like upma, idli, and naan, often have important nutrients and fibre removed during the refining process, making them less nutritious and also contributing to digestive issues and gluten intolerances. “Headaches, tiredness, brain fog, acidity, indigestion, acne, rashes, muscle pain, bloating, hormonal imbalance, constipation, and belching are some symptoms that result from the body’s inability to properly digest gluten, leading to inflammation and damage in the gut,” says Dr Gayathri.

Minimising accidental exposure to allergenic foods

Increasing awareness about overlooked food allergies is crucial, as many people are not familiar with the concept of food allergies and may not recognise the symptoms of an allergic reaction. It is essential to seek immediate medical attention if signs of an allergic reaction appear. “To confirm if a person is allergic, they must get a food sensitivity test,” says Dr Deepa. Once diagnosed, management includes strict avoidance of allergy-containing products, carrying emergency medications, and educating oneself and others about the allergy.

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