Generally speaking, the world adopting a healthier diet is a good thing. The growing interest in protein and plant-based foods has taken the health food industry by storm and is helping us address important environmental issues. Supermarkets now have entire aisles dedicated to “protein foods” and “meat alternatives.” Although this wouldn’t seem alarming to most people, it is for people with food allergies like mine. I was diagnosed with peanut and tree nut allergies at a young age and later learned I’m allergic to all legumes.
Let me explain.
My Legume Story
Did you know peanuts are actually not nuts at all? They’re legumes—a fact a lot of people don’t know. A peanut is more closely related to a green pea than any cashew, walnut, or other tree nut.
My family learned this the hard way when my mom, in an effort to boost my healthy food intake, served me peas as a child. We knew at the time that I was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts but didn’t realize it would have any connection to peas. After eating a single pea, my face turned white and I began to sob, feeling the itching in my throat characteristic of food allergy reactions I’d experienced previously.
To my mother’s surprise, her Google search of “are peanut allergies related to pea allergies” resulted in a resounding yes. Shortly after that reaction, I was diagnosed as highly allergic to all legumes, including peas, chickpeas, lentils, and beans.
Legume Allergies Lack Awareness
At first, I thought this new allergy would be easy to avoid. For a while, it wasn’t a problem. Then I was served a certain flavor of Triscuits that—unbeknownst to me—included pea protein. The presence of pea protein in this snack was shocking, and I suddenly realized I needed to check labels for everything I eat since legume ingredients aren’t required to be labeled on federally-regulated packaged food products.
The scariest part about my allergy is how little awareness there is about it. I’ve gone to Mediterranean restaurants and received strange looks when I mention I’m allergic to legumes—an ingredient in many traditional Mediterranean dishes. More often than not, I end up having to explain to the waiter all of the ingredients that fall within the legume category. Peanut and soybean allergies are much more common, yet allergies to other foods in their same vegetable class are often unheard of!
Trying to Solve the Problem
To combat this problem, I started PeazOut!, a legume allergy awareness organization to help increase recognition for legume allergies as well as raise money for FARE. I’ve sold PeazOut! hats and keychains in my school cafeteria and have educated every donor about legumes. So far, I’ve raised more than $1,000 for food allergy research, and that number continues to climb!
I also created a petition requesting the FDA recognize legumes as a major allergen. Currently, the FDA only recognizes eight major allergens that require package labeling: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans (and soon to be nine, sesame!). Ironically, two of these eight allergens are legumes! So why not recognize the entire category?
Just think: if the FDA were to add legumes to their list of major allergens, my mom would have associated peanuts and green peas more closely and avoided them much sooner.
It is time to educate people about legumes!
Dylan Erenfryd is a junior in high school living in Rye Brook, New York. He was diagnosed with a peanut and tree nut allergy at age six when he had a reaction to walnut banana bread. On one occasion, his mom made green peas for dinner, which led to an anaphylactic reaction to a single pea. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information or awareness about legume allergies. In an effort to change this, he started PeazOut!, a legume allergy awareness organization.