Facts on Sesame Allergy

sesame seeds

Did you know that sesame is one of the most common food allergens in Canada? For people who are allergic, avoiding sesame and sesame-containing foods while still making healthy food choices is important.  Read on to get the facts on sesame allergies.

What is a sesame allergy?

A sesame allergy is when the body’s immune system mistakes sesame (such as sesame seeds or sesame oil) as harmful.  For some people, sesame can trigger life-threatening reactions.

What are the symptoms of a sesame allergy?

Like other food allergies, experiencing an allergic reaction to sesame can include any of the following symptoms:

  • Flushed face, hives or a rash, red and itchy skin
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, throat and tongue
  • Trouble breathing, speaking or swallowing
  • Anxiety, distress, fainting, paleness, sense of doom and weakness
  • Cramps, diarrhea, vomiting
  • A drop in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and loss of consciousness (in extreme cases) 

These symptoms can vary in severity from one allergic reaction to the next.  Even a small amount of sesame can cause a reaction.  It is important to avoid all foods that contain sesame ingredients if you are allergic.

When is a sesame allergy usually diagnosed?

In general, children are more likely to develop an allergy compared to adults. Check with your doctor or allergist if you suspect a sesame allergy.

What foods contain sesame? 

Foods that may contain sesame include:

  • Breads, cereals and crackers
  • Dips and spreads, like hummus
  • Sesame oil
  • Tahini
  • Tempeh
  • Some baked goods
  • Dressings, gravies, marinades, soups and sauces
  • Seasonings, flavouring and spices
  • Vegetable oils

Stricter Canadian guidelines require that sesame-containing products are clearly labeled. The ingredient list will say “contains: sesame” if it contains this ingredient.

Can I use sesame oil?

No. If you are allergic to sesame seeds, you should also avoid sesame oil. 

Tips for following a sesame-free diet

Keep these helpful tips in mind when following a sesame-free diet: 

  • Look for the words “contains: sesame” on the ingredient list. All sesame-containing foods are now clearly labelled.
  • Avoid food products that warn they “may contain” or “may contain traces” of sesame on their label.
  • If you are unsure if a product contains sesame, contact the manufacturer. Even if you have used the product before, it may have changed. Many food packages have contact information on them.
  • Don’t take chances. Avoid foods that do not have a clear ingredient list.  This includes avoiding imported products, as they do not always have an accurate food label.
  • Be informed. Sign up for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) free email “Food Recalls and Allergy Alerts” notification service.
  • When eating out, ask if sesame or sesame containing foods are used. If you can, call ahead to see if sesame-free dishes are available.

Bottom line

You can still eat a healthy balanced diet following Canada’s Food Guide if you have a sesame allergy.  If you aren’t sure if a product contains sesame, don’t take any chances.  Read the ingredient list carefully on food products every time to avoid an allergic reaction.

Last Update – April 26, 2018

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