Living with Food Allergies
Food allergies are becoming more common in kids and adults today. Having allergies leaves many people faced with the task to cook allergen-free meals at home, or to find an allergen friendly meal at a restaurant. When you have allergies to specific foods, an allergic reaction can occur such as hives, trouble breathing, or swollen extremities. Many people think they have an allergy to a specific food; however, they may be confusing a food intolerance or sensitivity with having a food allergy. A food intolerance is when you feel symptoms such as digestive issues like an upset stomach, cramping, or diarrhea. Having a food intolerance may still allow you to eat the specific food in small quantities, just be cautious not to overdo it. Lactose intolerance is a good example of a food intolerance. For instance, if you have lactose intolerance you should avoid dairy products, but if you happen to eat dairy you won’t go into an anaphylaxis reaction. Generally your stomach will become upset or you may feel uncomfortable for a period of time. Consequences to having an allergic reaction can be life threatening for many, so knowing what specific ingredients your body reacts to is vital.
Know How to Substitute
The most common allergens today are tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, soy, wheat, milk, fish and shellfish. If you’re someone living with allergies you may be left thinking, “What is there left that I’m able to eat?” It is possible to have a healthy diet even if you live with multiple allergies, as long as you know how to substitute for what foods you are eliminating. Here are a few suggestions:
- If you can’t consume dairy products, where else can calcium and vitamin D be found? Be sure to look for fortified dairy substitutes (soy, hemp, oat, rice, almond, coconut milk or non-dairy yogurts) which would contain the calcium and vitamin D you are missing out on in regular dairy products.
- Allergic to tree nuts? Substitute with seeds such as flax seed, chia, pumpkin or sunflower which are also high in omega 3’s. Allergies to fish or shellfish also make it hard to find omega 3’s, substitute with a vegetarian supplement of DHA (a type of omega 3 found in fish oil), or cook with flax seed, canola, or soybean oil.
- Allergic to wheat? Look for gluten-free grains and flours such as almond, oat, or rice flour. Wheat can be hidden in a number of different foods, be sure to read product labels thoroughly.
If you’re someone living with multiple allergies, it’s difficult to ensure your body is getting enough vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Multivitamins or supplements can play an important role in your health, but do your research or ask your doctor and/or nutritionist what brand may be best for you. For example, many multivitamins contain fish oil, and have to be avoided by someone with a fish allergy.
All FDA regulated food products must put common allergens on the product label if the product contains them. Play it safe and always read product labels, even if it’s an item you’ve bought before. Manufacturers are always changing their products and it’s important to stay on top of what they’re using.
Eating out can be a hassle for anyone with a food allergy since you can’t see how foods are being prepared. It’s important to tell your server about your food allergies, even if you know what you’re ordering doesn’t contain any foods that you are allergic to. That way your server is aware to keep your food separate, and she or he can pass the message along to the cook to ensure your food doesn’t cross paths with any potential allergens. Try to avoid options that have many ingredients, where allergens could possibly be hidden. It’s best to avoid eating at salad bars or buffets where cross contamination is likely to occur. Though it may look clean, utensils may have been switched or food could have spilled over into the next container.
When it comes to a life or death situation, it’s always better to play it on the safe side. Ask questions, cook with familiar foods, and keep up to date on ingredients being used in the foods you purchase.
Food allergy. Mayo Clinic.2017.
This blog is written by Tracy Zaniewski, a student intern of Valley Nutrition Counseling with a major in Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst