Understanding Food Allergies
Understanding food allergies can be challenging because of the variety of allergies, side effects, complications, signs, and symptoms that vary from person to person. A food allergy is an immune system response to a food that the body perceives as damaging, and then emits chemicals, such as histamine, to protect the body. Symptoms can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin, or cardiovascular system, and can vary from tingling in the mouth to respiratory problems, loss of consciousness, and even death.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that 2% of adults and 5% of infants and young children in the U.S. suffer from some food allergies. Though in many cases people can outgrow their food allergies, there is no 'cure.' Epinephrine, also called 'adrenaline,' is most commonly used to control a severe reaction. Therefore, avoidance is the best strategy to prevent a reaction. Consultation with a registered dietitian may be necessary to avoid the negative nutritional consequences from removing foods from your diet.
Note that there is a difference between food allergy and food intolerance. Whereas a food allergy involves an immune system reaction to a food, food intolerance is a food-induced reaction not related to the immune system. For example, an individual with lactose intolerance is deficient in the enzyme needed to digest milk sugar, which may result in symptoms of gas, bloating, and abdominal pain when milk products are ingested. Additionally, specific health conditions can require food avoidance. Celiac disease, for example, an immune-mediated disease that causes damage to the gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system and other organs, requires avoidance of all foods containing gluten. Look for foods that read 'gluten-free' on the label.
Food allergies are based on common allergens, accounting for 90% of food allergies, and are found in food groups or as an ingredient derived from the following foods:
- Crustacean shellfish
- tree nuts
- soy beans
Reading ingredient labels correctly is key to avoiding problematic foods. Inspect the list of ingredients for an allergen that can be listed in other terms, such as soybeans, which can be written as 'soya' or 'soy.' Review the manufacturer's statement to determine if the food had been exposed to an allergen during the packaging or preparation process.
Websites providing helpful information on food allergies and related conditions include:
- Food You Can Eat.com: http://www.foodyoucaneat.com/: Free recipes, searchable by allergen.
- NoMilk.com - the No-Milk Page: http://nomilk.com/: An extensive list of web links for those with milk allergies or lactose intolerance.
- FARE: Food Allergy Research & Education - http://www.foodallergy.org/home
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration - http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodallergens/ucm079311.htm
Gluten-Free Almond Cookies
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 1 egg
- ½ cup white rice flour
- 2 cups crisp rice cereal
- 2 TBS chopped almonds
- Preheat oven to 350° (175°C).
- Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Add almond extract and egg. Beat well.
- Stir in flour, crispy cereal, and almonds.
- Shape into balls of 1-inch diameter and place on baking sheets.
- Press with a floured fork to flatten slightly.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned.