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December 3, 2019

Egg Allergy and Baked Goods: Can I Eat Them?

Common sense will tell you “no.” But that might not be entirely true because, believe it or not, allergies are not always a “yes” or “no” question. We know, that’s really vague. Put on your biology thinking caps and allow us to elaborate. Everything in the natural world―plants, animals, people―is made up of cells. Cells comprise many things, including protein. Allergic reactions in people are triggered by certain proteins found within these cells. So, when you have an allergic sensitization to a type of food, your body is actually reacting to one (or more) proteins found within that food. 

That will all be on the midterm so we hope you took good notes.

Just kidding. But it IS good information to know, because if you are allergic to certain proteins in eggs and milk, you could potentially consume baked versions of those foods. Wild, huh? Before you go all scientific method on us and test this theory, take note that the only way to determine whether this situation applies to you is to consult your healthcare provider and get tested.

In the meantime, let’s explore this phenomenon further.

Egg and Milk Allergies: To Bake or Not to Bake

You may have noticed we’re focusing on eggs and milk. In addition to being two of the most common food allergens, they have something else in common. They both have proteins that can change shape under prolonged periods of intense heat. In technical terms, one of the major proteins that changes shape in eggs is called ovalbumin1,2 and the ones in milk are called α-lactalbumin and β-lactoglobulin.3,4

The process that makes them change shape is called denaturation.5 In non-technical terms, denaturation is when, under periods of extensive heat, the proteins change structure to become a different shape. When the proteins change shape, your body will no longer recognize them. If they aren’t recognizable, your body won’t react.

Hello, cake, cookies, and donuts. And whatever else milk and eggs are baked into.

So case closed, right? You can eat anything as long as it’s baked? Nope. Remember when we said it’s not a “yes” or “no” answer?

Not all food allergens can be eaten, even if they are baked. However, it is still important to determine which proteins trigger your allergic reactions. Take peanuts, for example. While peanut allergies are among the most common food allergies in the United States, not all reactions are created equal. Different proteins within peanuts have different levels of reactivity.6 These proteins are categorized as major allergens and minor allergens.

What does that mean? It means that if a child is affected by a minor peanut allergen, the diagnosis could mean the difference between needlessly sitting at the peanut-free table and choosing where they want to sit. Additionally, if a child is affected by a major peanut allergen, knowing that they should sit at the peanut-free table could save their life. Knowing the precise proteins in a food to which a child is allergic will help the healthcare provider create a more effective trigger-management plan.

Egg and Milk Allergy Testing Options

Now that you know testing is the only way to determine which allergens your body will react to, there’s a few different kinds of tests to consider. If you’ve been tested for allergies in the past, you likely had what’s called a whole allergen test, which is exactly what it sounds like. It determines what whole allergen may trigger your allergic reactions. Allergic to milk? It will tell you “yes” or “no.” But that’s not the full story according to our earlier biology lesson.

To get that full story―the one that identifies the specific proteins in the egg or milk or whatever to which your body will react―you need a component test. It’s component testing that can determine if you are allergic to the protein that is a minor allergen, for example, or changes shape when baked. Component testing is what can be potentially life-changing for the child who is allergic to eggs but can have them in baked goods.

Intrigued? Good.

Allergies can be complicated and overwhelming. Consider this blog post Exhibit A to that effect. But by reading up on different types of allergens and how sensitization can be discovered through testing, you’re becoming an empowered advocate. Work with your healthcare provider to determine which testing option makes the most sense for you, and how component testing might help fill in the blanks of your allergen story.

Class dismissed. Blog-End-Cap.png

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References
  1. Ando H, Movérare R, Kondo Y, et al. Utility of ovomucoid-specific IgE concentrations in predicting symptomatic egg allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2008;122(3):583-588.
  2. Shin M, Han Y, Ahn K. The influence of the time and temperature of heat treatment on the allergenicity of egg white proteins. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2013;5(2):96-101.
  3. Shek LP, Bardina L, Castro R, Sampson HA, Beyer K. Humoral and cellular responses to cow milk proteins in patients with milk induced IgE-mediated and non-IgE-mediated disorders. Allergy. 2005;60(7):912-919.
  4. Nowak-Wegrzyn A, Bloom KA, Sicherer SH, et al. Tolerance to extensively heated milk in children with cow's milk allergy. J Allergy Clin fmmunof. 2008;122(2):342-347.
  5. Davis, P. and Williams, S. (1998). Protein modification by thermal processing. Allergy, 53, pp.102-105.
  6. Mueller, G., Maleki, S. and Pedersen, L. (2014). The Molecular Basis of Peanut Allergy. Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, 14(5).