Allergies, Intolerance, and Sensitivity

Food Sensitivity | Food Intolerance | Food Allergies | Peanuts | Wheat | Eggs | Milk | Tree Nuts | Soy | Fish & Shellfish | Corn | How to Protect Yourself from Allergic Reactions | Helpful Resources

Food Allergy Disclaimer

Food Sensitivity

Food sensitivity is an all-encompassing term that refers food allergies, intolerances, or other adverse reactions to food.

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Food Intolerance

Food intolerance is a syndrome that shows up as an adverse reaction to a food substance or additive. Food intolerance usually involves digestion or metabolism and generally does not involve the immune system. Symptoms are temporary and may be uncomfortable, but are rarely life threatening. Common food intolerance includes:

  • Lactose is the most common food intolerance. Lactose intolerance results when the body cannot make enough of the enzyme that breaks down lactose. Some dairy products, like cheese and yogurt, have less lactose and may be less problematic.
  • Monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG, is a common flavor additive and meat tenderizer. Intolerance to MSG is uncommon and the symptoms are usually mild. The FDA requires food manufacturers to list it on their labels as “monosodium glutamate.”
  • Sulfites are sulfur-containing additives used as preservatives in dried fruit, wines, and other products. If you are sulfite-sensitive, avoid these ingredients: sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfite, sodium or potassium bi-sulfite, and sodium or potassium meta-bisulfite. Individuals with sulfite-induced asthma may have life-threatening symptoms.
  • Red wine contains phenolic flavonoids, substances naturally occurring in the grape skins. Individuals who are intolerant to these substances should avoid drinking red wine. White wine contains fewer phenolic flavonoids than red wine.
  • Chocolate may contain traces of nuts, corn syrup, or soybeans, as well as milk, all of which are known to be common food allergens, however, research is inconclusive as to whether these ingredients or others in chocolate are triggers for some individuals.
  • Food colors can cause itching or hives in some individuals. Yellow food coloring, called tartrazine or Yellow dye number 5, found in food, drugs, and cosmetics, is always listed in the ingredient label since it may be the cause of some triggers.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Migraine

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Food Allergies

According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a food allergy is an immune system response to a food that your body mistakenly believes is harmful. Specifically, your body reacts to a food allergen–a protein that can’t be broken down by normal protein-denaturizing methods, such as heat, cooking, stomach acids, or enzymes (compounds that facilitate chemical reactions in the body). Once your immune system decides that a particular food is harmful, it creates specific antibodies to it. When you eat that food, your immune system releases massive amounts of chemicals that trigger a cascade of allergic symptoms. These symptoms can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin, or cardiovascular system. Signs and Symptoms

  • Hives, rash, itching
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and/or throat
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion, trouble breathing, asthma
  • Upset stomach, cramps, bloating, or diarrhea
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Anaphylactic shock–a life-threatening reaction requiring emergency care; can result in death if untreated

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Common Food Allergies


Peanuts are legumes (beans), not tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, chestnuts, pistachios, etc.). One of the most potentially dangerous food allergens, peanut proteins are often found in unexpected food sources, including Asian foods, candy, chili, soups, and baked goods. Some individuals may also develop a reaction simply by inhaling the aroma of peanuts. To avoid allergic reactions:

  • Clean counters, utensils, and pans that have been used in preparing and cooking peanuts or foods containing peanuts to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Read ingredient lists and look for these foods or ingredients (this is NOT a complete list):
    • Peanuts
    • Peanut butter; peanut butter chips
    • Peanut extract; peanut flavoring; peanut syrup
    • Peanut oil; arachis oil; ground nut oil*
    • Imitation walnuts
    • Imitation almonds
    • Mixed nuts; mixed nut butters
    • Nut butters; nut extracts, nut flavoring
    • Satay sauce

*Most commercial food oils such as peanut oil are highly refined, which removes the protein. There is some evidence that suggests that highly refined oils are non-allergenic. However, cold pressed oils and some gourmet oils may contain allergenic proteins.

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Wheat is found in many prepared foods and may be difficult to avoid. Individuals with celiac disease must avoid gluten, the protein in wheat. To avoid allergic reactions:

  • Read ingredient lists and look for these foods or ingredients (this is NOT a complete list):
    • Bleached all-purpose flour; enriched flour; bread flour (wheat or white); granary flour; cake or pastry flour; wheat flour; semolina flour
    • Bran; wheat bran
    • Bread; bread crumbs
    • Bulgur or durum wheat
    • Cereal extracts, cereal binder, cereal filler, cereal protein
    • Cracker meal
    • Cream of Wheat®
    • Couscous
    • Gliadin
    • Gluten; wheat gluten; gluten flour
    • Grain-based coffee substitutes
    • Graham crackers, graham flour
    • Hydrolyzed protein; hydrolyzed vegetable protein
    • Instant soup stock
    • Malt-o-Meal®
    • Modified food starch; vegetable starch; wheat starch
    • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    • Pasta, noodles
    • Puddings, wheat thickener
    • Soy sauce
    • Spelt, triticale
    • Some vitamin E supplements
    • Wheat germ
    • Wheat semolina
    • White (grain) vinegar
    • Stabilizers and emulsifiers (may also indicate the presence of wheat)
    • Some alcoholic beverages (whiskey, beer, gin)
    • Substitute the following ingredients for wheat-based ingredients:
  • Rice flour; tapioca flour; potato starch flour; soybean flour
  • Cornstarch; corn starch; corn flour
  • Arrowroot
    • Make gluten-free mix: combine 6 cups of rice flour, 2 cups of potato starch flour, and 1 cup of tapioca flour. Store in a cool, dry place. Makes 9 cups.
    • Learn more about wheat allergies and gluten sensitivity from the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America.

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Eggs are found in many foods, including grain products, baked goods, custard, ice cream, and frozen yogurt; and may also be used in the processing of foods such as root beer and coffees. Egg whites are often used to give baked products such as pretzels, breads, rolls, bagels, pies, and cakes a shiny finish and may not be included in the list of ingredients. To avoid allergic reactions:

  • Read ingredient lists and look for these foods or ingredients (this is NOT a complete list):
    • Albumin, ovalbumin
    • Apovitellin, ovovitellin, vitellin
    • Batter
    • Cholesterol-free eggs
    • Custard
    • Dried eggs
    • Eggs, egg glazes, egg white solids, egg yolks, powdered or liquid eggs
    • Eggnog
    • Egg noodles
    • Globulin
    • Lecithin (note: this could also be derived from soy)
    • Livetin
    • Lysosome
    • Marzipan
    • Mayonnaise
    • Meringue
    • Mousse
    • Ovamucoid, ovamucin
    • Pudding
    • Quiche
    • Simplesse
    • Souffle
  • Use any of the following substitutes for eggs in recipes:
    • 1 packet of plain gelatin, mixed with 2 tablespoons of warm water
    • 1 teaspoon of baking powder with one tablespoon of vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon of yeast dissolved in ¼ cup of warm water
    • 1 tablespoon of apricot puree
    • 1.5 tablespoons of water, 1.5 tablespoons of cooking oil, 1 teaspoon of baking powder
    • Egg replacer, such as Ener-G® (see instructions for amount to use)

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Milk and milk products can show up on a label under many different names. To avoid allergic reactions:

  • Read ingredient lists and look for these foods or ingredients (this is NOT a complete list):
    • Bechamel sauce
    • Butter, buttermilk, butter solids, butter fat, butter flavor, ghee, margarine
    • Casein, caseinates, sodium casein
    • Cheese, any kind, including cottage cheese
    • Cream, sour cream, whipping cream
    • Curds
    • Custard
    • Half-and-half
    • High-protein flour
    • Ice cream, ice milk
    • Lactate solids
    • Lactoglobulin, lactalbumin, lactose
    • Livetin
    • Milk, any kind (including non-fat dry milk and malted milk) except soy; milk protein, milk solids, dried milk solids
    • Nougat
    • Pudding
    • Rennet
    • Whey
    • Yogurt, any kind except soy
  • Use the following substitute foods or ingredients in recipes calling for milk:
    • Nut, soy, rice, or almond milks
    • Cornstarch puddings made with fruit juice
    • Frozen tofu desserts
    • Milk-free margarine, salad dressings, sherbets, ices, sorbets, soy milk shakes
    • Soy cheese, soy yogurt
    • Some non-dairy creamers

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Tree Nuts

Tree nuts include walnuts, almonds, cashews, chestnuts, and pistachios, to name a few. Tree nuts are used in many foods including barbecue sauces, cereals, crackers, and ice cream. Artificial nuts can be peanuts that have been de-flavored and re-flavored to taste like tree nuts, such pecan or walnut. To avoid allergic reactions, read ingredient lists and look for these foods or ingredients (this is NOT a complete list):

  • Almonds
  • Nut butters, nut milks, nut pastes, nut oils, nut extracts
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Cashews
  • Chestnuts
  • Gianduja*
  • Hickory nuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Marzipan
  • Nougat
  • Nu-Nuts® artificial nuts
  • Pecans (Mashuga nuts); pralines
  • Pine nuts
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts

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Soy is also referred to as soya, soybeans, or Glycine max. Soy is the most commonly used oil in food manufacturing and food service operations. To avoid allergic reactions:

  • Read ingredient lists and look for these foods or ingredients (this is NOT a complete list):
    • Edamame
    • Soybeans, soy curd, soy concentrate, soy granules, soy meal, soy meat, soy milk, soy nuts, soy oil, soy flour
    • Soy protein, soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, textured soy protein (TSP), hydrolyzed soy protein
    • Lecithin
    • Miso
    • Modified food starch
    • Natto
    • Shoyu sauce
    • Soy albumin
    • Soy sauce
    • Soy sprouts
    • Soy cheese
    • Soy yogurt
    • Soy grits
    • Soy ice cream
    • Tamari
    • Tempeh
  • Be aware that the following ingredients indicate the presence of soy protein:
    • Hydrolyzed plant protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein
    • Vegetable broth, vegetable gum, vegetable starch
    • Natural flavoring

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Fish & Shellfish

Parvalbumin is the protein that causes allergic reactions to fish. Many people are allergic to fish and shellfish, and for some, even smelling the scents from cooking fish can trigger allergic reactions. To avoid allergic reactions:

  • Read ingredient lists and look for these foods or ingredients (this is NOT a complete list):
    • Abalone
    • Anchovies
    • Clams (cherrystone, littleneck, pismo, quahog)
    • Cockles (periwinkle, sea urchin)
    • Crab
    • Crawfish (crayfish, écrevisse)
    • Fish oil capsules
    • Fish broth or stock
    • Lobster (langouste, langoustine, coral, tomalley)
    • Mollusks
    • Mussels
    • Octopus
    • Oysters
    • Prawns
    • Scallops
    • Scampi
    • Shrimp
    • Snail
    • Squid (calamari)
    • Sushi
    • Worcestershire sauce (may contain anchovies)
  • Be aware that the following foods and ingredients may indicate the presence of fish protein:
    • Bouillabaisse
    • Fish stock
    • Seafood flavoring, such as clam or crab extract
    • Surimi

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Corn allergies are difficult to detect, and symptoms may vary from person to person. To find out whether corn is the culprit in your diet, see your physician for a supervised elimination diet. Corn oil contains very little protein; however, some sufferers report problems with corn oil consumption as well. To avoid allergic reactions:

  • Read ingredient lists and look for these foods or ingredients (this is NOT a complete list):
    • Baking powder
    • Caramel
    • Cereals
    • Confectioner’s (powered) sugar (many contain corn starch)
    • Corn ANYTHING!
    • Dextrin or maltodextrin
    • Dextrose, glucose, or fructose
    • Golden syrup (treacle)
    • Glucona delta lactone
    • High-fructose corn syrup
    • Invert sugar, invert syrup
    • Zein (protein from corn, sometimes used in time-released medications
    • Malt, malt syrup, malt extract
    • Modified food starch (may be corn)
    • Mono- and di-glycerides
    • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    • Polenta
    • Sorbitol
    • Starch, food starch
    • ucrose (may derive from corn)
    • Vanilla extract
    • Vegetable mixes (may contain corn)
    • Xantham gum
  • Use the following substitute foods or ingredients in recipes calling for corn:
    • Featherweight® baking powder
    • Arrowroot

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How to Protect Yourself from Allergic Reactions

  • Talk to your doctor if you think you may have a food intolerance or allergy.
  • Avoid cross-contamination:
    • Do not use the same frying oil for more than one food.
    • Do not the same cooking equipment, tools, or utensils for more than one food without properly cleaning them between each use.
    • Store foods in airtight containers to keep foods from touching each other.
    • Wash hands and cooking utensils equipment thoroughly throughout the meal preparation process.
  • Read food labels and know what ingredients you are allergic or sensitive to.
  • Ask cooks/food service professionals about the ingredients used in recipes and how your meal was prepared.
  • Know what to do in case of an allergic reaction and always carry your medication with you.
  • Contact the University of Maryland Health Center to alert healthcare professionals about your food allergy.
  • Contact Dining Services’ registered nutritionist to find out how you can get help managing your food allergy:
    • Sister Maureen Schrimpe, IHM 1150 South Campus Building 301-314-8058

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Helpful Resources

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