Food allergies are on the rise. The reasons for this surge have been largely a mystery, but now there’s a new clue.

The most common food allergies for adults include sensitivities to peanuts, fish, tree nuts (including walnuts, pecans and almonds), fish and shellfish. For kids, it’s peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts, eggs and milk. For some people, the food reaction can be life-threatening.

So if it’s true that researchers at the University of Naples in Italy have found a major villain in the food allergy problem, a lot of my readers will want to know.

I won’t hold you in suspense (and the answer may not be much of a surprise): The suspected villain is the processed junk food that so many people can’t seem to get enough of. Here’s the new angle on this well-known “bad food idea”. . .

According to the Italian researchers, the food allergy problem has some of its roots in substances called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Junk food as well as fast food is usually filled with these compounds.

Technically, AGEs are proteins and fats that are linked up with sugar. In practical terms, high levels of AGEs form when you cook meat at a high temperature or deep fry just about anything. Grilling meat boosts AGE levels – not good news at this time of year when so many people are cooking their food on the deck or patio.

But there’s a more sinister twist: The makers of processed foods make certain their products contain high levels of AGEs because they make the taste more appealing.

“We see evidence that cooking methods that create a crust — think the edge of a brownie or the crispy borders of meats prepared at very high temperatures — produce advanced glycation end products (AGEs),” says researcher Karen Chapman-Novakofski, who is a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois. Dr. Chapman-Novakofski has studied how AGEs contribute to heart disease in people with diabetes.

High Junk Food Consumption Associated with Allergies

According to the Italian researchers, when they examined children with food allergies they found that they have higher levels of AGEs in their skin and they eat 20% to 40% more junk food that contains AGEs than do kids without allergies.1

Researcher Roberto Canani, who led the study in Naples, says, “As of yet, existing hypotheses and models of food allergy do not adequately explain the dramatic increase observed in the last years — so dietary AGEs may be the missing link. Our study certainly supports this hypothesis, we now need further research to confirm it.”

And while Dr. Canani isn’t ready to definitively blame AGEs for food allergies, research in Australia supports this conclusion.

A review study at Griffith University in Southport, Queensland, Australia suggests that when we eat a diet high in AGEs, these substances interact with immune cells in a way that sets off an immune system false alarm. This misguided warning makes immune cells act as though there’s a serious health threat being created by the food we consume – when there really isn’t any.

The result: The immune system’s severe response and over-reaction can be life-threatening.2 Exacerbating the problem, say the Australian scientists, is the habit of eating huge amounts of deep fried French fries as well as roasted and barbecued meat.3

Along with an increase in the risk of food allergies, studies show there are plenty of other reasons to limit your intake of AGEs.

Cancer Risk

For instance, research at the Medical University of South Carolina shows these compounds can increase your risk of cancer and make it less likely your cancer can be successfully treated.4

These researchers also say that consuming AGEs can cause your body to be damaged by extra oxidative stress and inflammation. They add that as AGEs reach high levels in your organs they may lead to diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart problems, arthritis and cancer.

To limit your consumption of AGEs, it’s a good idea to avoid processed food, fast food and junk food. Some of the foods highest in AGEs are baked goods such as crackers, chips, and cookies.  And as researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York point out, when preparing your own food you should limit frying, baking or grilling. Instead, rely on boiling, poaching, stewing or steaming more often.5


  1. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20190610/Allergies-linked-to-higher-junk-food-consumption-suggests-new-study.aspx, https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-unpublished-conference-abstract-on-junk-food-and-food-allergies/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27544741
  3. https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(16)30618-2/fulltext
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30368741
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5129175/