Recently there has been a buzz in the food allergy community about people with peanut allergies potentially also needing to avoid foods containing pea protein. Pea protein is becoming increasingly popular as a food ingredient to increase the protein content of plant based and vegan foods. Some products containing pea protein also have a warning about peanut allergies. So what is the story with pea protein allergy, especially for people who are allergic to peanuts?
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How are peanuts and peas related?
Peanuts are not actually a nut, but a legume. Peanut plants flower above ground, but the edible legume actually grows underground in a pod.
Other types of legumes include:
- soybeans (soy or soya);
- chickpeas (garbanzo beans);
- green peas, black-eyed peas and yellow peas (split peas);
- beans (including green beans, lima beans, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans etc);
- lentils; and
What is pea protein?
Legumes are a good source of protein and iron. For that reason, people who follow a vegetarian, vegan or plant based diet without meat will often include legumes as part of their diets.
With the increasing availability of vegan and pant based packaged foods, manufacturers will often use pea protein to increase nutritional value.
Peas by themselves are naturally high in protein, with one cup of peas containing about 8g of protein. “Pea protein” is made from yellow split peas (dried peas) and comes in a few different forms. Some foods contain pea flour, made from just the dried peas, or textured pea protein. This type of pea protein is less processed and is often used in vegan foods. The most processed is pea protein isolate, which is used as a protein power.1
Symptoms of pea protein allergy
A person who is allergic to peas or pea protein may experience a range of symptoms varying from mild to severe, including anaphylaxis.
Mild to moderate symptoms of a food allergy include:
- swelling of lips, face, eyes
- hives or welts
- tingling mouth
- abdominal pain and/or vomiting
More severe symptoms of food allergy include:
- difficult/noisy breathing
- swelling of tongue
- swelling/tightness in throat
- difficulty talking and/or hoarse voice
- wheeze or persistent cough
- persistent dizziness or collapse
- pale and floppy (young children)
How common is pea or pea protein allergy?
People can be allergic to any food at all. Peas are not one of the top 10 allergens in Australia, the top 9 in the US, or the top 14 in the UK. They are also not a priority allergen in Canada. However, pea allergy is not uncommon. The British Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) notes that allergies to other legumes including peas are thought to be the next most common allergy after the top 14.2
Peanut allergy and pea allergy
If you have a peanut allergy, you may or may not be allergic other legumes such as soy or lupin or peas. And if you are, just because you are allergic to one type of legume, doesn’t mean you will be allergic to all types. For example, our family member with a peanut allergy was mildly allergic to soy, but has so far been able to eat other legumes including peas without any issue.
So just because you have a peanut allergy, doesn’t necessarily mean you need to avoid peas or pea protein. Be alert to any allergy symptoms, especially when trying new foods. It’s also important to keep in mind that it is possible to develop new allergies, even as an adult.
As always, the best person to speak to about your own allergies or any concerns you have about consuming peas or other legumes is your allergy specialist. They can advise you on whether you should avoid pea protein or how to safely include it in your diet. If you have a child with a peanut allergy, ask their allergist about peas and pea protein.
Of course if you are allergic to peas, you will need to carefully avoid foods with peas or pea protein as an ingredient.
Pea protein as an ingredient
Pea protein is becoming more common as a food ingredient, especially in plant based and vegan foods to add both protein and iron, and to act as a binder. It is also added to manufactured meat products like sausages and sliced meats to increase the protein value.
Plant based milks and dairy alternatives
For people who avoid cow’s milk due to allergy or dietary preference, there are many types of plant based milk available. The plant based milks with the highest protein value are pea milk and soy milk. Both peas and soy are legumes. Several years ago we used to buy a protein enriched rice milk for our child with milk allergy. This rice milk was fortified with protein from chickpeas, another type of legume. This was a good source of added nutritional value in rice milk for our child (who could not tolerate soy). The inclusion of different types of plant protein in non-dairy milk and other dairy-free alternatives may be a problem for people with peanut allergy if they are allergic to other legumes.
Vegan “meat” alternatives
Pea protein is used to make plant based mince meat alternatives, for use in burgers, vegan meat balls or pasta sauces. It is also added to ready-made vegan sausages, burgers, schnitzels, jerky and other meat free products.
Gluten free and “free from” foods
Many vegan and “free from” packaged foods used peas to add protein and iron and to bind the ingredients together. Peas can be an ingredient in gluten free flours, baking mixes, cereals, biscuits or cookies or even pasta.
Why are some plant based foods a potential problem?
Food allergies are a reaction to proteins found in foods. For someone with a pea allergy, eating foods which contain pea protein as an ingredient can potentially expose them to a concentrated amount of this ingredient. This more concentrated amount can cause severe reactions in someone with a pea allergy.
Peas are also being used in new ways and in foods where people may not expect to find them as an ingredient. Further, the fact that pea protein is now being included in a wide range of foods also means that more people are being exposed to pea as an ingredient. As a result, pea allergy may become more common.
What about allergy labelling for pea protein?
The types of legumes currently regulated as common allergens are peanut, soy and (in Australia) lupin.
In Australia, the US, Canada and the UK, peas are not one of the most common allergens affected by allergy labelling regulations. Pea does not have to be highlighted in ingredient lists or included in allergen statements. However, if pea is included as an ingredient in packaged food, it still needs to be listed in the normal ingredient list. If you have an allergy to peas or pea protein, you will need to read labels very carefully every time.
Also, be sure to disclose your pea protein allergy when eating out, especially if you are choosing vegan or plant based menu options. It’s a good idea to carry a food allergy chef card which lists your allergies clearly. Equal Eats even has a pre-printed legume card, or you can customise your own.
Should labelling for pea and pea protein change?
While it is not legally required, Beyond Meat voluntarily includes a warning for people with peanut allergy on packaging for its plant based Beyond Burgers.
In the UK, BSACI has called for pea protein to be highlighted on food packaging, including because:
- pea protein is being used as an ingredient in a wider range of foods where it may not be expected; and
- consumers are being exposed to more pea protein in the diet, so it is important to monitor for increasing numbers of people with a pea allergy.2
In the meantime, we are grateful to companies like Beyond Meat who include voluntary cautions about pea protein and peanut or legume allergies on packaging.
References and more information
For more information about pea protein allergy, see the following resources we’ve referred to in this post:
- 1Cleveland Clinic, Everything You Should Know About Pea Protein
- 2BSACI, Pea Protein and Food Allergy Labelling
- Government of Canada, Information about pea protein for people with peanut allergy
- Anaphylaxis UK, Legumes and Pulses Allergy
If you have a peanut allergy and are concerned about possible allergies to other legumes including peas, speak to your allergy specialist for advice.
And don’t forget to check our our allergy-friendly recipes, which are all free from peanuts.
If you are allergic to other types of legumes, you might also like to read our post about lupin allergy and what you need to know about lupin in food.
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*Disclaimer: Allergy Spot does not provide medical advice. You should always consult a suitably qualified medical practitioner in respect of your own medical conditions, symptoms or concerns. See our Website Terms for more details.