Allergy Friendly Zone: Say What?
What is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy is actually pretty simple. The food that enters your body is seen as the enemy and your immune systems fights back. The reactions to the food are as wide as the ocean and just as changing. The reaction a person has at one stage of life is not necessarily the same reaction they may have in later years.
Do you suffer from a food allergy?
So What Are The Reactions?
Some are a mild as a slight itch or minor swelling. Others are so severe that they cause death. (That’s the anaphylactic part.) A few of the common reactions are difficulty breathing, stomach pain or diarrhea, low blood pressure, etc. Interestingly not all reactions are obvious.
One woman, with an allergy to gluten, had a reaction that did not seem to have any relation. After testing various possibilities she was finally able to figure out that she was allergic to gluten. Her reaction? Within 20 minutes of eating something containing gluten she would become so overly tired that sleeping was a necessity. If she was unable to sleep she became exceedingly irritable.
Another allergy sufferer would become violently sick within an hour of eating a food that contained her allergen. For the next 24-48 hours she would be stuck in the bathroom until her diarrhea and vomiting ceased.
Common & Not So Common Allergens
There are currently eight common food allergies:
- Tree Nut
These are the eight items that are currently mandated to be on all food packaging. Sadly not all area easy to spot.
~ When reading the label looking to see if it contains egg it would be easy to overlook the ingredient albumen (this is the protein found in the white of an egg).
~ The protein casein would seem harmless unless you knew that it was derived from milk.
~ It is a little known fact that many quick cooking or instant oatmeal’s are processed using wheat and are therefore unable to be eaten by those who are allergic to wheat or gluten.
Does that mean that these are the only things people are allergic to? Not at all! Just like a normal allergy, most people are allergic to pollen or dust but there are many who are allergic to odd things like the sun, food allergies can be in any form. A few of the odder ones are:
- Xantham Gum
- Feta (not dairy - just Feta)
The problem many people face is a combination of food allergies.
One friend of mine is allergic to Gluten, Xantham Gum, and Dairy. What makes this such a difficult combination? Most packaged Gluten Free foods contain Xantham Gum because it works to gel the food together or to thicken it. And many use dairy as well because it is able to mask the grittiness of the harder flours. Hence her problem.
Another person is allergic to Gluten and Corn, while another is Gluten and Soy. Both Corn and Soy are the major replacements for Wheat flour. Big problem.
Skin Prick Test
To Test or Not To Test...
How do you know if you have a food allergy or not? Well there are several ways to find out.
- Skin Prick Test - using an extract of the allergen it is pricked into or rubbed onto your skin. If you are allergic your skin will become irritated and swell to look like a bug bite. The effects will normally present themselves in 15-20 minutes.
- Intradermal Test - Instead of on the surface of your skin the allergen is placed just beneath your skin. The reaction will be about the same as the Skin Prick Test. The effects will normally present themselves in 15-20 minutes.
- Patch Test - The allergen is put on a patch and placed on your skin, usually on the back or arm. This test takes longer and the patch is usually worn for 48 hours.
Sadly these test can return with a false positive or negative. There is also a blood test but, again, this is not always 100% correct. One easy way to check is to keep a Food Diary
- Time Eaten - Time of day, Time of Week, Time of Month
- Food Eaten - Brand Name, Recipe or ingredient list if you can
- Reaction Caused - Any little thing can be important
Once you have completed your Food Diary you will have a better idea of what may or may not be bothering you. Then you can try the Elimination Test. Start by picking one thing that seems to be a possible allergen. Eliminate it completely from your diet for a few weeks. This must be done carefully. Slowly bring that bothersome item back into your diet and record the reactions. If there was no difference, try a different item.
- Read labels - look for the obvious and the hidden allergen
- Be strict - that snack is your favorite but you simply can’t have it during the test
- Don’t cheat - splurging, even just a bite, will start you back at the beginning again
- Find alternatives for the nutrient normally provided by that food - getting the proper nutrition is important to keeping healthy while you are doing this self test
The elimination test will give you a better idea of what does and does not bother you. That is the time you can go to the doctor for medical testing. Keep in mind this is not a ‘diagnosis’ of an allergy. Case in point…
Lactose Intolerance is not a Milk Allergy. Lactose Intolerance simply means that your body cannot properly breakdown the lactose (the sugar) in milk, it is not an allergy. In the event that you are Lactose intolerant, or Lactose Sensitive, removing dairy from your diet will stop or minimize the effects and replacing it will start them up again. But a test would reveal that you are, most likely, not allergic.
Knowledge is Power
Once you start learning about food allergies you become more and more aware of how widespread they are and how many people, young and old, that they affect. But, in learning about the problem, you also learn how to avoid them. There is no cure, only evasion.
‘But I don’t have any allergies so I don’t need to worry about it!’
That may be true. Can you say the same for your family, friends, or co-workers? The estimate in the United State is approximately 15million people have a food allergy of one sort or another. In the ten years between 1997 and 2007 the number of food allergy sufferers increased by 18% and that number continues to rise.
Many feel this is simply a ‘fad’ an ‘new-fangled diet’ that everyone is jumping on the band wagon for. While there is some truth to that it does not eliminate the people who truly have an allergy. For them this is not an option, it is a way of life.
So what can you do to help them?
- Communicate - ask around, see who has an allergy and what it is
- Research - learn what key words to look for and what things to avoid
- Adapt - use alternatives, find another recipe or alter the one you have
- Label - label your dish with what is in it (or not in it), let people know what they can have or what they should avoid
Allergy Friendly Zone
Make your home, your kitchen, your dishes, an allergy friendly zone. Keep one set of dishes reserved for making the allergen-free food. Label it and keep it in a separate place from the rest.
Will it be easy? No.
Will it be worth it? Yes!
When those around you learn that you are accommodating to the problems in their lives, whether they say it or not, they are thankful for the help.