Every three minutes, a food allergy sends someone to the hospital emergency room. People who suffer from these reactions get used to checking for tree nuts in candy bars and soy protein in packaged meats, but they often overlook the cooking oil. Some of the most common oils can cause some of the worst responses. By learning more about the hidden dangers, you can prevent yourself or someone you love from becoming a victim.
What Is a Cooking Oil Allergy?
A cooking oil allergy, like any type of food-related allergy, is your immune system’s response to a harmful “intruder.” Most of these reactions come from plant-based proteins that were not eliminated during processing. High levels of these proteins often lead to severe and even fatal consequences.
Symptoms can include one or more of the following:
Abdominal painBreathing problemsConstipationCoughNausea and diarrheaRashes and hivesHeadacheFacial redness and swellingHoarsenessItching and tinglingLightheadednessRunny roseSneezingSinus painSorenessSwallowing problemsVomitingWatery eyesWheezingWeak pulse
What Is Hiding in Your Vegetable Oil?
When you have a specific allergy, you quickly learn the words that raise a red flag. Unfortunately, some allergens have been lumped under the general term “vegetable oil.” In food labeling, vegetable oil may also include portions of seed-derived and nut-derived oils. These cooking oil additives include
Peanut oil: Roughly six million Americans are allergic to any foods containing peanuts, including the derived oils. Refined and heat-processed oils are less likely to cause reactions than cold-pressed and raw oils.Soybean oil: Although soy is a common allergy in children, few adults have trouble processing the bean protein. Crude soybean oil causes more problems than refined oils.Sunflower seed oil: Studies show that more people suffer after eating sunflower seeds than after consuming their oil.Sesame seed oil: Because manufacturers use sesame as a flavoring, foods tend to contain higher levels of the crude protein that induces allergic reactions. The number of reported sesame oil allergies has grown in recent years.Cottonseed oil: Even though cottonseed oil is used in the preparation of a large number of foods, negative reactions to the product are rare. No medical journals have reported cases of cottonseed oil allergies within the past 20 years.
What Should a Potential Victim Do?
First, the good news:
Refining oils can reduce the offensive proteins by 100-fold or even eliminate them. A doctor can help you decide whether a particular cooking oil is safe to consume.Most people report at least one cooking oil that works well with their system, so you can find a way to continue frying, baking, dipping and dressing.One in 13 children suffers from a food allergy, but many outgrow the condition before adulthood.
Now, the bad news:
The “May Contain” advisory labels on products are voluntary, so you cannot always see immediately whether a product contains an allergen. You may need to contact the manufacturer or, when eating out, talk to the chef. If in doubt, leave the food out.You need to learn synonyms for cooking oil. Deep-frying, stir-frying, sauteing and browning all typically involve lard, butter or oil. Foods like mayonnaise, salad dressings and marinades include oils. Watch out for hidden oils in light ice cream, processed meats, packaged baked goods, sauces, candy and even light beer.The only way to be certain that you have an allergy is to have a reaction—either on your own or in a controlled medical situation. The medical option is much safer. A scratch test, in addition to a food diary, can help you pinpoint what you can and cannot eat for a healthy lifestyle.
Even though vegetable oil allergies are painful and annoying, few are life-threatening. By understanding the signs and sources of allergy-inducing proteins, you can protect yourself and still enjoy the foods you love.