Food should be fun, not feared. But for many, severe food allergies can cause a reaction that will send them straight to the hospital.
Unfortunately, it's the luck of the draw. Some foodies can munch and taste without a care in the world, while others are obsessively checking food labels and ingredient lists. These people may have to choose restaurants carefully, ask their waiters detailed questions and still carry an EpiPen with them during outings.
For those with a food allergy, their immune system identifies a specific substance as something harmful to the body. This will trigger antibodies' action to destroy the substance, so the next time that item is eaten, the antibodies will detect it and prompt the immune system to release the chemical histamine, along with others, right into the blood stream.
These chemicals can cause a minor reaction—runny or itchy nose, dry throat or itchy eyes—or more severe symptoms—rashes or hives, nausea, labored breathing or anaphylactic shock—which can send the eater directly to the hospital.
Depending on the severity of the allergy, a person may still be able to nibble on the culprit, sometimes with the help from medicine; but for many others, one taste and they'll never forget it.
Following, are some of the most common food allergies—those ingredients or substances found in countless dishes, making them hard to avoid. But with a little preparation, and even more flexibility, allergies don't have to eliminate a favorite meal.
Most commonly referred to as "lactose intolerance," this allergy is caused by sugar found in milk and milk products. People with this allergy have a deficiency of the enzyme lactase—produced by the small intestine. Lactase breaks down the lactose into glucose and galactose to help absorb it into the bloodstream. When there's a deficiency, the sugars aren't digested well.
Milk, cheese, ice cream and butter are the enemies here. These items, of course, are heavily used in baking and cooking, which can make life seem unjustly cruel. However, some people can manage this allergy by introducing very small amounts of lactose during big meals, with the other food groups almost masking the lactose during digestion. Lactase enzyme pills can also be effective when taken 30 to 60 minutes before eating smaller portions.
If you still want the nutritional benefits of items heavy with lactose, but not the stomach pains of actually consuming it, try these substitutions.
Substitute with: Soy (milk, cheese, etc.), almond/rice/goat/sheep milk, aged cheese (the harder it is, the less lactose), Greek yogurt and sherbet.
Need calcium, but have a dairy allergy? Substitute with: Leafy green vegetables, pinto beans, calcium-fortified orange juice and fish (specifically, sardines).
If you often suffer from stomach pain, joint pain or mental fogginess, you may have a gluten allergy. An allergy to gluten may also be a contributing factor to failed attempts at weight loss. While you can get tested at the doctor's office, you can also try testing yourself at home. Eliminate gluten (wheat, barley and rye) from your diet for two to six weeks, and if your symptoms and a few extra pounds are gone, then gluten could be to blame.
Avoiding gluten typically means avoiding flour (white or wheat). The most common gluten-packed edibles and drinkables are pretzels, pizza, pasta, crackers, cookies, cakes, bread, bagels and beer. Also, foods made with oats can be tricky because they're processed in a way that usually makes it problematic for those with a gluten intolerance.
There are some other sneaky gluten-filled items lurking in your pantry that may be having an impact too. These items include soy sauce, thick sauces and soups, condiments (ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce) and spice blends (taco and enchilada mixes).
There's no denying it: gluten is everywhere. But that doesn't mean you can't find a way around the allergy. Use the substitutions below when baking, or check ingredient lists while out shopping for packaged options. Many products now are labeled "gluten-free" to make for easy shopping.
Substitute with: Rice flour, quinoa, corn meal, buckwheat, soy flour, coconut flour, almond and other nut meals, corn tortillas and, yes, gluten-free beer!
The immune system will overreact to the protein found in nuts if the eater has an allergy. Often times, simply handling or breathing in a peanut or tree nut will set off a reaction. From wheezing to a drop in blood pressure, the consequences can be serious.
In contrast with many food allergies, which are more common in adults, nut allergies are most often seen in children. So, it's especially important to be careful, since their immune systems aren't as strong as those of adults.
Also, some people can outgrow food allergies—think milk, soy and wheat—but a nut allergy is typically lifelong.
Along those lines, the only way to deal with a nut allergy is to avoid nuts. This means that people with nut allergies must not only refrain from eating nuts, but also avoid any products that may have been made in the same facilities where nuts or nut-products are processed.
To be prepared, check ingredient lists first, but always check the label for additional phrases, such as "may contain nuts," "produced in a facility that also processes nuts" or "produced on shared equipment with nuts."
Foods to pay special attention to as a precaution: Cookies and baked goods, candy, ice cream, Asian cuisine and sauces.
This allergy can first appear in infants, who react to soy-based formula. Most children will outgrow it, but the allergy can persist into adulthood.
Soybeans are now a major part of processed foods in the U.S., which adds to the challenge of trying to avoid the product. Alone, soybeans are easy to ignore, but when they're hidden in so many other foods, taking the initiative makes all the difference.
With a soy allergy, consulting with a doctor or nutritionist is a good idea in order to maintain a balanced diet, since eliminating all foods with soy can create a gaping hole in the food pyramid—Jenga!
Soy can be found in meat products, baked goods, canned tuna, crackers, sauces, soups, chocolate, low-fat peanut butter and many cereals. However, some studies suggest that soy-allergic people may still be able to consume soy oil, although a doctor should be consulted first.
Once people understand the specific products that contain soy, these become easier to avoid because they usually have soy-free counterparts.
Substitute with: Fresh or frozen meat (without prepackaged sauces, breading or gravy), soy-free milk products, homemade soups, certain condiments (sugar, honey, mustard, jelly, syrup), plain macaroni, wheat, rice and oats.
If food allergies are monitored correctly, people are in no real danger. Sometimes, though, the allergen can sneak into a dish, leaving the affected breathless. This is why it's important to always be prepared and never be too shy to ask questions of your server, your grocer or the friend who just made your dinner.
Thankfully, many foods that cause allergies have simple alternatives, and, like anything else, a routine will start to form during grocery shopping, eating out and cooking at home.
Your allergy may have won this battle, but you can still win the war.
For food allergen help, the Wellness Department is offering a Wellness Cleanse this month. This is a one-week cleanse, eliminating processed and refined foods, focusing on allergen-free, raw and whole foods.
Group Session Dates
Thursday, March 21, 10 a.m.-noon and Thursday, March 28, 10-11 a.m., $350 for both classes.
For more information, contact the Wellness Department at 425-688-3461 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.