Family Health

A Guide for Living With Food Allergies

Food allergies affect up to 15 million Americans and as many as one in every 13 children, so odds are they're an issue either for you or for someone you love. For those living with food allergies, it can be hard to navigate restaurants, dinner parties, and even the grocery store. Let's outline the most common food allergens, ways to avoid them, and nutritional differences between some allergens and their alternatives.

The Common Culprits

The most common food allergens -- the "big eight" -- include

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Cow's milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Avoiding the Culprits

First of all, you want to make sure that you and your allergic loved ones are safe in your own kitchen.

  • Make sure to read every food label brought into your home. All food labels now list any top food allergens that may be present in the food at the bottom of the label, generally with the phrasing "This product may contain peanuts" or something similar.
  • Beware of unsuspecting items such as beauty products, dry mixes, mixed foods, and products that may have been processed in the same facility as your food allergen.
  • Make sure that you're aware of any allergies that someone visiting you may have. Some food allergies are so severe that even allergen residue can cause a reaction, so this is very important.
  • If you are cooking a meal with the food that your loved one is allergic to, make sure to prepare it with a separate cutting board, knife, saute pan, toaster, and so on. Cross-contamination is a common cause for allergic reaction.

So you've properly safeguarded your home against allergies, but what about when you go out? Here are some common tactics to follow:

  • As soon as you meet waitstaff at a restaurant, inform them that you (or your companion) have a food allergy. Most restaurants have strict regulations in place for accommodating food allergies.
  • If you're attending a party, let your host know that you have an allergy prior to the event and inquire about the ingredients of the items being served. You may also want to bring your own dish that you know is safe to eat.
  • Be diligent about washing your hands before touching your mouth in an area where food may be present or prepared to avoid cross-exposure.

Alternative Nutrition

There are countless alternatives that can be used in place of food allergens in cooking and baking, so you can still enjoy your favorite recipes! But how does the nutrition of some alternatives stand up to that of the originals? Here are three common scenarios of alternatives to products that can trigger allergies:

  • Cow's milk vs. almond milk. Cow's milk, particularly whole milk, is high in calcium, protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol, while almond milk is low in calcium and protein and free of saturated fat, cholesterol, and lactose.
  • Whole-wheat flour vs. buckwheat flour. Whole-wheat flour is high in fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and iron, while gluten-free buckwheat flour is high in fiber, protein, zinc, copper, potassium, and manganese.
  • Butter vs. vegan buttery spread. Butter is high in cholesterol and a source of fat-soluble vitamin A. Vegan buttery spread offers high levels of mono and polyunsaturated fats, is free of cholesterol, and is a source of fat-soluble vitamin E.

Whether it's you or someone close to you who lives with food allergies, there are many ways to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience when eating out or at home. While alternatives can have altered nutrition, many of them are very healthy diet choices. These tips can help you coexist with your own or a loved one's food allergies, but for more individualized recommendations, please visit a dietitian.

Posted in Family Health

Christina Manian is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Originally from the Boston area, she attended Boston University where she majored in nutritional sciences with a concentration in dietetics. She recently completed her nutrition education at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on medical nutrition therapy. While her background has mostly been in the clinical setting, Christina embraces wellness nutrition as the backbone of optimum health. She is excited to be able to educate a larger audience about nutrition through the written word.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.