Mar 1, 2011

Food Allergies

by Kiku Reidhead

The low-down on food allergies

Food allergies are on the rise in America, which means more and more Americans see meals as a stressful rather than a relaxing time. It can be difficult to plan meals that don't contain allergens but do contain all the proper nutrition. 

We've pulled together some information for those with food allergies and for those without. It's important for everyone to understand the risks for those with food allergies and what precautions must be taken at any meal.

Food Allergy
To begin with, let's clarify that food intolerance and food allergy are completely different. The Mayo Clinic said that many people mistake food intolerances as allergies simply because some symptoms are similar. However, the body's reaction to either initiates from different places. Food allergies are an immune system reaction to what the body views as a harmful, foreign substance. After the first exposure to this substance, the body will react to even the smallest portion of it in the future.

 Intolerance is when the body's digestive system lacks the proper bacteria or enzymes to help break down the food. Usually, a food-intolerant person can consume small amounts of a substance and not have any adverse effects.
CNN reported in 2006 that approximately 11 million Americans live with food allergies. The foods that most often cause allergic reaction are the following: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

How to Eat
The Internet is full of information about living and eating with food allergies. A simple search yields pages and pages of recipes, tips and anecdotes to guide anyone with food allergies.

On these websites, the most consistent comments relate to learning to personally prepare dishes and to do it ahead of time. This ensures that utensils, cutting boards, etc., don't have residue containing allergens. This detail is particularly important for the chef to know. If you are preparing food for someone with food allergies, keep in mind that all utensils with any trace of an allergen can cause a reaction.

Your best bet is to keep allergen-free food completely separate in the preparation and cooking processes. Use separate bowls and containers and you may need to create separate sauces. In order to keep food 100 percent safe, read labels and check online sources to see if pre-made sauces already contain common allergens like wheat and soy (you'll be surprised how many foods have common allergens in them!).
Eating Out
Dining out is risky for anyone with food allergies because of all of the factors we mentioned above - when you are not in control of the kitchen, it can be difficult to know what does and does not contain allergens. So, it is safest to bring something with you in case the restaurant has nothing on the menu that is safe for you to eat.
Another suggestion involves calling the restaurant you plan to dine at during slow times to talk to the chef. This way, you can personally request a dish and the chef can know what precautions to take before the big dinner rush. This is particularly important if you are eating meat that is usually marinated hours ahead of time so they can skip the marinade if necessary. Or when using other prepared sauces and dips.

Food is Your Friend
Remember that food is your friend. While it may be frustrating to deal with food allergies everyday, restrictions force you to be extra creative. Get excited about the plethora of information out on the Web today and dive into it. Living with food allergies is not an uncommon struggle so connect with those who know what you're going through. For those who have a family member or friend with food allergies, remember to be considerate and careful as well. You can learn just as much about smart food preparation and creativity in food as your friend/family member.

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