According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), a “food allergy is a serious medical condition affecting up to 15 million people in the United States, including 1 in 13 children.” Food allergies usually develop in childhood. However, it is possible to develop a food allergy later in life.
Food Allergy or Intolerance?
Unlike a food intolerance, a food allergy causes an immune system reaction. This reaction can cause various symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, swelling, and in some cases a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Food intolerances, on the other hand, often cause digestive problems. Someone with a food allergy can react to even very small amounts of the offending food, whereas some people with food intolerances are still able to tolerate small amounts of that food (for example, if you are lactose intolerant, you may be able to tolerate small amounts of yogurt). One exception is the gluten-intolerance that occurs in celiac disease. If you have celiac disease, the only treatment is to avoid all foods and beverages that contain wheat, rye, and barley.
What Are the Most Common Food Allergens?
- Tree nuts
The only treatment for food allergies is to avoid the offending food, whether in its whole form (example: eggs) or as an ingredient in another food (example: muffins, cakes, and cookies where egg is an ingredient). Someone who is allergic to milk will also be allergic to ice cream, pudding, yogurt, cheese, and any food where milk is an ingredient.
People with food allergies also need to take precaution that their non-food items like creams, lotions, lip balm, lipstick, etc do not contain the offending allergen.
Become a Food Label Detective
Sometimes allergens are hiding where you least expect, and without careful inspection of the food label, you could be in trouble. If you are allergic to wheat, be aware that several types of oats are contaminated with wheat during the milling and storage process. If you are allergic to milk, be aware that many lunch meats, sausages, and hot dogs contain milk ingredients. And be sure to read the food label at each trip to the market as manufacturers can change ingredients at any time.
In the United States, there is a law that requires food companies to clearly identify on their labels the top eight food allergens (listed above). But you may be allergic to a food that isn’t included in the top eight. In that case, if you are ever unsure about an ingredient (like natural or artificial flavors), either call the manufacturer to check or avoid that food and choose something else.
It’s All About Balance
Sometimes being allergic to a common food can mean re-balancing the rest of your diet to make up for key nutrients you would have received from that food. In this case, it’s important to focus on the nutrient density of your foods. This means you should make sure to eat a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy or dairy substitutes, and lean protein sources. If you are allergic to milk, you will have to eat/drink other sources of calcium and vitamin D, and you might need a supplement. If you are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, it is important to include other healthy fats into your diet (like avocado, olive oil, sesame seeds if tolerated, etc).
If you or your child has been diagnosed with a food allergy or intolerance, Lifestyle Medical Centers can help put you on the right path towards balanced nutrition.