Are People of Certain Races and Ethnicities More Susceptible to Food Allergies?
While many medical efforts have focused on increasing access and use of epinephrine, a powerful, often life-saving allergy medication, to ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups that have been shown to suffer from lack of access to this important drug, recent efforts have also emphasized the importance of research that clarifies differences in allergy incidence among different racial and ethnic groups. Indeed, it seems that those of different races and ethnicities may be prone to different allergies or allergy severities. Given the distinct genetic makeup of those of different such demographics, this insight is perhaps not that surprising. Racial differences in disorders related to allergy, such as asthma and atopic dermatitis, also make the idea that there are racial differences in allergy susceptibility quite intuitive.
Of particular concern is the rise of allergies that has occurred over recent years. Given that the specific change in allergy incidence has varied by race, it seems reasonable to assume that there are differences in racial vulnerabilities to allergens. One study found that the incidence of allergies increased about 1.0% in whites individuals between 1988 and 2011. The study found that during the same period, Hispanics suffered a 1.2% increase in allergy incidence, whereas non-Hispanic blacks suffered a 2.1% increase in allergy incidence.
So what are the differences in allergies among different ethnic and racial groups? Some data suggests that African American children are more prone to food allergies than those of other groups. Among black children, black boys appear particularly at risk for some of the most common food allergies, such as allergies to milk, soy, eggs, shellfish, and peanuts. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that Hispanic children, on the other hand, are less likely to suffer from food allergies than children of other ethnicities.
It has also been shown that Chinese people are less likely to demonstrate allergies to peanuts than are Americans. However, the difference in incidence in allergies in these groups has been suggested to be due to different cooking techniques generally used by these distinct groups. Supporting this idea are the results of a United States government study that found that boiled or fried peanuts, which are often found in Chinese cuisine, are less likely to cause allergies than the roasted peanuts often found in the United States.
Though more research will be needed to clarify how race impacts allergen vulnerability, healthcare professionals emphasize the importance of knowing what you are ingesting to avoid allergic reactions. The differences in cuisine associated with different races, ethnicities, and cultures can pose a problem for allergy sufferers because it is not always transparent what ingredients are in certain dishes.
Asian food incorporates a significant amount of the most common food allergens such as shellfish, eggs, peanuts, and soy. Thai food is particularly peanut-heavy. One challenge for those with peanut allergies is the difference in cooking technique. For instance, fried egg rolls and spring rolls are often sealed with peanut butter, but a menu would not necessarily include the information that peanut butter is included in the dish. Those unfamiliar with Asian cuisine may therefore experience increased vulnerability to allergies when dining on Asian food.
Another common issue with Asian cuisine is cross-contamination. The woks that are traditionally used in Asian cooking are often not cleaned between different cooking sessions because the buildup of food over time can act as a seasoning that flavors the food. Thus, though someone who is allergic to shellfish may order a meat dish, their meat may be cooked in a wok that recently housed shrimp, thereby leading to an allergic reaction. Nonetheless, the soy sauce that is used in Asian cooking often does not affect those with soy allergies because the soy proteins have been broken down by the time the sauce is created.
French food contains a number of allergens, including nuts, seed oils, and dairy products. One thing that can be particularly dangerous for nut and seed allergy sufferers is that the French often hand-press oils from these ingredients, and these types of oils tend to have more of the nut protein in them than oils found in other cuisines. Thus, those who think they can tolerate certain oils may be surprised by their reaction to those oils when they are found in French food.
Italian food can cause problems for a number of different allergy sufferers. Those with wheat allergies often have a difficult time with Italian food because of the amount of bread and pasta incorporated in this type of cuisine. Italian food also includes a good amount of dairy. Sauces, such as pesto, also contain nuts.
Indian food is made up largely of spices that tend to be safe for most people with allergies. However, those allergic to dairy products and nuts should use caution when eating creamy curries, pre-prepared teas, or Indian desserts, such as kheer. Mexican food is similarly filled with spices and often safe. However, some sauces used in Mexican cooking contain nuts.
Though cultural aspects of different race’s food tendencies can raise allergy issues, it is becoming an increasingly popular idea that people of different races may in fact have different susceptibilities to certain allergens. Research focused on identifying these differences may help different demographics protect themselves against the allergies to which they are particularly vulnerable.