Facts on sesame allergy

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 doctor or allergist if you suspect a sesame allergy.

What foods contain sesame? 

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

Stricter Canadian guidelines require that sesame-containing products are clearly labeled. The ingredient list will say “contains: sesame” if it contains this ingredient.

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.  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.

Bottom line

You can still eat a healthy balanced diet following Canada’s Food Guide 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.

If you need help following a sesame-free diet, call the dietitians at EatRight Ontario at 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.

Last Update – October 9, 2016

Mail Icon Phone Icon

If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.