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Sweet allergy: sugar is not to blame


“Do not eat a lot of sweets, it will spit.” We often hear this phrase in childhood or say to children ourselves.

All kinds of cakes, pastries and candies can contain a whole bunch of ingredients that can cause an allergic reaction. In addition, sweets can often cause so-called pseudo-allergic reactions, which are actually food intolerances to certain foods. And sometimes it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Even in medical circles, there is still a debate about what the reaction really is, for example, to pure sugar. The more common view is that the reaction to this type of carbohydrate is a type of food intolerance. At the same time, some sources still point to allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, which may have been caused by certain types of sugar, in particular fructose.


Fructose is the sugar found in fruits, vegetables, and honey. It is often added to a variety of sugary drinks, including soda and juices. 

Some sources report that regular consumption of drinks with fructose and added sugars can increase the risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes, liver disease, asthma and hay fever. 

According to research results, children who consumed sugar fruit drinks at least 5 times a week were 2.5 times more likely to develop allergic sensitization compared to children who consumed them 1-3 times a month.

And in adolescents who consume apple juice at least 5 times a week, the risk of getting allergic sensitization doubles.

In addition, fructose is a common cause of food intolerance reactions such as fructose malabsorption (a type of food sensitivity that affects 40% of people in the Western Hemisphere), hereditary fructose intolerance, or essential fructosuria. The latter is not harmful and people with this condition usually do not have any symptoms and do not require treatment.

Besides fructose, there are other types of sugar: glucose , which is made from sugar cane or beets. And also lactose – the main sugar found in milk and dairy products. Like fructose, these carbohydrates can also be a common cause of food intolerances.    


In addition, consuming too much sugar, however – as well as too little – can cause other reactions in the body. For example, headaches. This phenomenon is more often recorded in diseases such as diabetes, and is associated with hypo- or hyperglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is a condition caused by not having enough sugar in the blood. It occurs when blood sugar levels drop below 70 mg / dL. This can happen after skipping a meal. If a person has diabetes, then hypoglycemia can be observed quite often, since the body cannot effectively control blood sugar levels. 

Reactive hypoglycemia may also occur. It is a rapid drop in blood sugar levels after a meal. An example of reactive hypoglycemia is when you eat simple sugars like white sugar. It quickly raises blood sugar levels. As a result, the body produces insulin, which quickly breaks down this simple carbohydrate. Thus, there is a rapid decrease in blood sugar levels.

Unlike hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia is a condition caused by too high blood sugar levels. It occurs when the body is unable to effectively break down glucose with insulin. As a result, blood sugar levels can rise above 180-200 mg / dl.  

To avoid sugar problems, the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day and men no more than nine teaspoons.


The most common cause of real allergic reactions to sweets are foods such as nuts and peanuts, milk, eggs and flour. They are common ingredients in cakes, pastries, desserts and other sweet foods.

And all of these foods are included in the so-called “big eight” allergenic foods. They cause about 90% of food allergies in the world.

Most of these allergens are especially dangerous for children. With age, as the digestive system matures, more than 70% of food allergies “outgrow”. But allergies to nuts and peanuts are likely to last a lifetime. For example, in the United States, about 1-2% of the population suffers from the latter.

There are 12 allergens in peanuts. But most of the reactions are caused by only four of them: Ara h 1 and Ara h 3, which are members of the kupin superfamily of proteins, and Ara h 2 and Ara h 6, from the prolamin superfamily. There is also an increased risk of anaphylaxis with sensitivity to these proteins. 

In addition, peanut allergies can also develop reactions to nuts, peach and birch pollen.

Another common cause of allergic reactions to sweets is hazelnuts or hazelnuts. In this case, the main culprits of the reaction will be the Cor a1 and Cor a2 allergens. These are the proteins responsible for pollen allergy. Therefore, with sensitivity to them, the manifestation of allergies helps to reduce the heat treatment of nuts. However, according to research results, approximately 30% of patients develop symptoms even after these nuts have been exposed to high temperatures. In addition, hazelnuts also contain heat-resistant lipid proteins. This, for example, Cor 8. But the sensitivity to it is manifested primarily in the south of Europe. 

But with an existing allergy to chicken eggs, more than 70% of patients can eat various confectionery products. This is due to the fact that the most common egg allergen, ovalbumin, is unstable and degrades when heated to 176 ° C for at least half an hour. 

If a person with an egg allergy also reacts to products that are cooked during this time, then most likely he is sensitive to another allergen contained in the egg white – oucoid (Gal d 1). Although this allergen accounts for no more than 10% of the egg white content, it causes many reactions and is resistant to heat treatment. Therefore, people with sensitivity to it cannot eat eggs, even in the form of baked goods.

Another ingredient in sweets that can cause allergies is wheat. Allergens such as albumin and globulin in the outer layers or gluten in the grain are responsible for most of the reactions to it. If a person has a reaction only to the proteins of the outer layers, then, as a rule, such a patient tolerates fine flour well. 

However, wheat can also cause non-allergic problems. This is, in particular, celiac disease. It is an autoimmune bowel disease in which the body reacts to a protein called gliadin. This reaction, in turn, leads to atrophy of the intestinal villi. Gluten intolerance can also occur – indigestion of foods made from wheat and other grains.

Another common allergen that causes about 0.5% of allergic reactions in adults and up to 2.5% in children is milk. In this case, most patients are sensitized to several allergens – BLH (Bos d 5), casein (Bos d 8) and alpha-lactalbumin ALA (Bos d 4). However, according to some reports, prolonged heat treatment halves the number of reactions to this component of sweets. 

Sweet allergies can also be caused by chocolate. For example, cocoa contains the allergenic protein albumin 2S. In addition, such substances as soy lecithin, tyramine, phenylethylamine, theobromine, caffeine, and flavorings are often present in chocolate. All of them can also be the cause of the body’s immune response. 

The risk of developing a sensitivity to sweets increases in the presence of conditions such as atopic dermatitis, asthma, other food allergies, or allergic diseases such as hay fever, urticaria, contact dermatitis.

Symptoms of allergy and food intolerance to sweets

A food allergic reaction usually develops immediately after eating. In most cases, symptoms appear no later than 2 hours after consuming the product.

The main signs of a sweets allergy are:

  • hives
  • stomach cramps
  • vomit
  • runny nose
  • conjunctivitis
  • throat irritation.

Some people have a severe reaction called anaphylaxis. It can be life-threatening and requires immediate adrenaline.  

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • dyspnea
  • swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • wheezing
  • breathing problems

But the symptoms of food intolerance are usually limited to the gastrointestinal tract. Although it can sometimes cause headaches.

Symptoms of food intolerance to lactose and other sugars:

  • bloating
  • flatulence
  • nausea or vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea


If you have a strong food intolerance to sugars, it is best to avoid the following foods:

  • soft drinks and fruit juices
  • syrup, jams and jellies
  • desserts such as cookies, candy, ice cream, cakes and candy
  • cereals, bars, croutons, bread
  • peanut butter
  • honey
  • cane juice
  • agave
  • syrup

Also watch out for hidden sources of sugar. It is sometimes added to rather unexpected foods. For example:

  • salad dressing
  • BBQ sauce
  • pasta sauce
  • ketchup
  • some medications

If you are lactose intolerant, it is better to switch to milk that does not contain lactose, limit or exclude from the diet such dairy products as:

  • milk and cream
  • butter
  • cheese
  • ice cream, sorbet
  • pudding
  • creamy soups and sauces
  • yogurt

You can also try tablets containing lactase, an enzyme that helps break down lactose.

In addition, there are sugar substitutes that can help sweeten your food, in particular:

  • aspartame
  • saccharin
  • sucralose (Splenda)
  • stevia.

In case of any negative reaction to sweets, it is better to consult a doctor to find out what exactly is the cause of the symptoms and choose the correct treatment.

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