What Do I Need to Know About 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 healthcare provider or allergist if you suspect a sesame allergy.

What foods contain sesame? 

Did you know that sesame seeds can be creamy white or charcoal black in colour, like the picture above.

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

Canadian guidelines require that sesame-containing products are clearly labeled. Always read the ingredient list carefully. The ingredient list will say “contains: sesame” if it contains this ingredient. If a product does not contain sesame, but there is a risk of the food having come into contact with sesame (through cross-contamination), you will see “may contain sesame” listed at the end of the ingredient list. It is best to also avoid these foods.

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 or those that contain ingredients you are not familiar with.  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.
Try this twist on ​hummus, which is sesame-free and full of flavour and fibre!

How can a dietitian help?

A dietitian can help you plan a nutritious, balanced diet that is sesame-free. They can teach you the skills to understand food labels and choose healthy and safe options when eating out. Some dietitians will even walk you through the grocery store to show you how to compare food products. Connect with a dietitian today!

Bottom line

You can still eat a balanced diet  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.

You may also be interested in:

Food allergies and intolerances
Food allergies and babies
Understanding food labels in Canada
This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada.

Last Update – October 28, 2021

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