Adapting to AGS Part 3: Surprising Alpha-Gal Sources
Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) aka "red meat allergy" is a potentially life-threatening food allergy that can be brought on by tick bites in anyone at any age. Alpha-gal reactions result from exposure to a carbohydrate rather than a protein, are usually delayed by several hours, and have a variety of symptom presentations, all of which helped to keep the condition hidden from science until its discovery in 2009. Unfortunately, this carbohydrate is produced by all mammals, with the exception of old-world primates like humans, making it more than a little difficult to avoid. It is also found in some species of red algae (carrageenan). Even worse, as a carbohydrate is it much tougher than a protein and doesn't easily break down or filter out and can even end up concentrated by some processing techniques. Learning ingredients to avoid is half the battle for someone with AGS, and while many will never need to worry about more than meat, a significant portion of patients find they react to a whole lot more. There are a number of alphabetical resources available for checking the source of various processed ingredients (see our reviews here), but some risky ingredients get left off labels or are easy to miss. Here we will go over some of the biggest pitfalls encountered by those still learning about their condition. This article is for everyone with AGS including those who have become extremely sensitive, so if you have a higher tolerance, many of these items will never be a concern for you.
Mammal MeatThere have been a number of incidents of severe reactions in people shortly after diagnosis due to confusion about what qualifies as red meat when trying to avoid future reactions, so here is some clarification:
- The term red meat, in the case of a "red meat allergy", refers to any flesh of any mammal.
- Organs, nerves, fat, muscle, bones and skin are all forms of flesh.
- A mammal can be recognized as an animal with a backbone that produces milk and/or sweat from glands in its skin and has some kind of hair or fur.
- Whales, kangaroos, cows, sheep, pigs, dogs, deer, rabbits and bats are all examples of mammals, and they all contain alpha-gal in their flesh.
- Pork, despite being called "the other white meat" is still the flesh of a mammal (pigs). That means it contains alpha-gal and can NOT be safely eaten by someone with AGS. Sadly, this means no pig based ham or bacon either.
- Meat from fish, amphibians, turtles, snakes/lizards, crocodiles, and birds are all free from alpha-gal and can be eaten safely.
- Meat from birds such as ostrich and emu that appear red and taste similar to mammal meat are safe to eat for those with a "red meat allergy" because they are not mammals. This is an important piece to remember!