What’s In This? – How to Spot Hidden Allergens on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is about gathering with friends and family to give…

Thanksgiving is about gathering with friends and family to give thanks for the positive things in life. But it’s also about food – a lot of food. For many people, the abundance of food at Thanksgiving only means loosening their belt and preparing for the inevitable “food coma.” For those with food allergies or intolerances, however, the holiday can be a little more complicated. A food allergy is a potentially life-threatening medical condition in which the immune system triggers an extreme reaction to harmless substances, including some Thanksgiving food staples and the ingredients in them. Unfortunately for those with food allergies, many foods on the Thanksgiving table contain at least one of the “big 8” allergens – milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. To help you avoid running into these culprits in unexpected places, we’ve put together this list of where you might find hidden allergens this Thanksgiving:


Turkey must be the only “safe” Thanksgiving good for people with food allergies… right? Not really. First thing’s first: Make sure you know what it’s been cooked in. Soy can be a common ingredient in basting broths and boullion cubes. Next: That gravy? Mmmmm make sure there’s no wheat flour mixed in. And finally: to all our deep-fryers, stay away from peanut oil if you have anyone with peanut allergies in the fam!

Po-TAY-to, Po-TAH-to. Before you call the whole thing off due to your food allergies, ask your hostess or chef how they mashed up those pretty things. Milk, cream, or cheese are often used in mashed potato recipes, and nuts can be a garnish for sweet potato recipes. Ask before you spoon ’em onto your plate.

Ah, stuffing. Of all the things you could possible find on a holiday table, this one is probably the most dangerous for those with food allergies. Many families make stuffing quite differently, so keep on alert especially if you have wheat, nut, egg, or soy allergies. No “secret recipes” allowed, Aunt Rita!

While naked veggies (steamed or plain raw ones) should generally be allergen-free, you’ll want to keep your eyes on those that are tossed in sauces, spices, or otherwise suspicious ingredients. Did you know that some vegetable dish recipes call for tree nuts or dairy products? (We’re looking at you, green bean casserole.).

Cranberry Sauce

Especially if you have a hipster cousin cooking Thanksgiving dinner – or an experimental Uncle – this straightforward staple could easily have hidden allergens lurking. Double check that there are aren’t any surprise ingredients mixed into that fancy cranberry sauce, including tree nuts, other fruits, or even wine. Some people’s attempts to be creative could be another’s downfall.


Ahh, dessert. If you still have room after all the other eating, indulge in an allergen-free sweet treat. But wait – how do you know it’s allergen-free? Tree nuts, peanuts, and dairy are known to make appearances in holiday desserts, so be sure to check the labels of the store-bought stuff, or grill Aunt Rita to let you in her secret recipe for the pumpkin pie. Better yet, bring your own so you know it’s safe! The holidays will be sweeter if you stay away from allergy triggers.

A Rule to Eat By…

In addition to checking ingredient labels and asking about recipes, there is one rule we recommend you follow this Thanksgiving: When in doubt, leave it out! If you can’t be sure of how safe a food is for you to eat, err on the side of caution and leave it off your plate. If you’re worried there won’t be much you can eat on the table this holiday, make arrangements to bring your own allergy-friendly meal to enjoy at the same time as your family.

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