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Chuck, I just recently learned that allergies to peanut butter are among the most common negative food reactions and that they are rising. True? – “Not Skimping on Skippy” in Pennsylvania

I love peanut butter. Most do.

I make a mean peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And there are few things better than a toasted English muffin with peanut butter on it – unless, of course, you’re allergic to that all-American nutty spread.

USA Today recently reported that 78 million Americans have food allergies or food intolerance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elaborated that eight types of foods account for 90 percent of food allergy reactions: shellfish, fish, eggs, cow’s milk, wheat, soybeans, peanuts and tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios and macadamia nuts).

Chief among them are peanuts. And allergies to them have been increasing for years.

For example, Maria Rinaldi, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota and the lead author of a new study on peanut allergies published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, told Reuters Health, “No matter how we’re defining peanut allergy, we’re seeing this consistent increase.”

Why? No one is exactly sure, but factors such as the increased reliance on antibiotics, antibacterial products and vaccines may have resulted in a human body that is capable of reading more things as antibodies, even peanut proteins.

The CDC noted that the perils or allergic reactions to peanut butter and other food allergies can be mild to severe and can include one or more of the following:

  • Swelling in the tongue and throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hives
  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Eczema or rash
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Anaphylaxis, which is a sudden, severe allergic reaction involving multiple symptoms simultaneously; it can result in death.

Why are some allergic to peanuts?

The Mayo Clinic explained that peanut allergies occur when one’s immune system inadvertently identifies peanut proteins as harmful agents.

Though it is not known why some people are allergic to peanuts and others are not, we do know that adverse reactions can occur by direct contact (consumption of peanut products), cross-contact (unintended introduction of peanuts into a product) and inhalation (of dust or aerosols containing peanuts, such as peanut flour, oils or cooking sprays).

Presently, there are no tests or cures for most food allergies, so avoidance is the best prevention. In today’s world, everyone should be an avid reader of product ingredients.

To add insult to injury, peanut butters – among other nut products – have faced a substantial recall recently.

According to Fox News, a New Mexico company, Sunland Inc., just recalled its nut butters – including peanut, almond, cashew, tahini (a vegan sesame seed paste used in many ethnic cuisines) and other blanched and roasted nut products.

Sunland initiated its recall under multiple brand names after salmonella illnesses were connected to Trader Joe’s creamy salted Valencia peanut butter, which is created by Sunland.

The CDC linked 30 illnesses in 19 states to the particular brand of peanut butter; they occurred between June 11 and Sept. 11 (Salmonella can cause stomachaches, diarrhea and fever 12 to 72 hours after infection).

The recall has been expanded to other retailers of Sunland’s nut products, including Whole Foods Market, Giant, Harry and David, Target, Fresh & Easy, Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. and others. Some stores use Sunland ingredients in their own recipes.

More than 100 products have been recalled, including the brand names Natural Value, Naturally More, Late July, Heinen’s, Joseph’s, Archer Farms, Earth Balance, Open Nature, Peanut PowerButter, Sprouts Farmers Market and Serious Foods (Even a pet company is issuing a voluntary recall of its canine treat, Dogsbutter).

It’s just one more reminder that we never should check our health brains at groceries’ doors. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many great organic brands of peanut butter.

For those who are not allergic – and when peanut butter is contamination-free – it packs a powerful nutritional punch.

Mary Ellen Camire, a professor in the University of Maine’s department of food science and human nutrition, explained to Men’s Health magazine that a mere spoonful delivers a surplus of protein, vitamin E and cholesterol-regulating monounsaturated fats and “might even help curb your appetite.” And I would add B vitamins and fiber.

Camire explained that additional benefits of peanut butter are that it is rich in antioxidants, may reduce your risks of coronary death, may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and may help keep you slim.

Of course, as with other products, the best peanut butter is always organic. Many grocers even are providing peanut butter-churning machines to make it yourself right in the store. But ask where the peanuts originate. And if you are eating out, never fear inquiring about menu ingredients.

As James A. Garfield, the 20th president of the U.S., once said, “Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter.”

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.

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