Managing Shellfish and Fish Allergies

in Fish & Shellfish
Published: October 4, 2010

Hidden Sources: Unlike allergens such as wheat, dairy, soy and nuts, seafood is fairly easy to avoid in processed foods. However, it does have its hiding spots, and they include: some brands of Worcestershire sauce, salad dressings, sauces, sushi, scampi, gumbo, jambalaya, bouillabaisse, spring rolls, chowder and some types of pizza. Asian foods commonly have fish and shellfish in their ingredients, so make sure to be extra careful when reading the labels on ethnic foods.

Some of the most common hidden sources of seafood are in places you might not think of: plant fertilizers, fish food, lip balm or lip gloss, and in pet foods. If you’re not sure of the ingredients, contact the manufacturer; if a product does contain the food you’re allergic to, be cautious when handling any of the items, and make sure they don’t come in contact with your food or cooking utensils.

Ironically, most imitation seafood actually contains seafood – for example, imitation crab often contains crab – so don’t assume the product is safe, and carefully read all ingredients.

Because many types of shellfish are rich in iodine, some shellfish-allergic people believe that they must avoid iodine – a common ingredient in everything from table salt to x-ray dyes. This is incorrect: the allergen in shellfish is in the flesh of the food, and not in the iodine, so iodine should be safe to consume. (Some people cannot tolerate iodine, but this is a separate issue.)

Carrageenan is made from a marine algae, not fish or shellfish, and so is considered safe for people with fish and shellfish allergies.

Supplements: One of the main hidden sources of seafood is omega-3 supplements, which are often made from ingredients such as cod liver oil and other fish oils. Many of these products are safe for seafood-allergic people to consume, because the oils are so highly refined that they have no allergic proteins left in them.

Another supplement called glucosamine, which is often used to treat arthritis, is made from the shells of crustaceans; recent studies have shown that because the shells contain no shellfish proteins, the supplement is safe for people with shellfish allergies. However, there have been reports of reactions to glucosamine in shellfish-allergic people, so you may want to stick with the vegetarian forms of glucosamine, which contain no seafood at all.

Just make sure to check with your allergist, and with the manufacturer of the product, before trying any supplements.

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