Food Allergies - An Epidemic
If you have not had someone close to you diagnosed with a food allergy, the dangers surrounding it will likely go undetected. Even during the times when we are highly cautioned and expected to refrain from sending our children to school with such food items, the severity of it and the danger we may be putting other parent's children into may sadly be unknown.
I am fortunate to have not had a child (or any family member) with a food allergy or intolerance. I can attest to having to omit certain foods I give my children when sending them to school and I wholeheartedly will always abide by such requests. Last year it was bananas and this year it is peanuts and tree nuts. My sweet 5 year old son has actually made changes to his typical desires for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because he is determined to sit with a friend who has a severe allergy to peanuts. For me it has such an impact on my heart because I know my son understands this and he is doing whatever he can to keep his friend safe. I can only hope that others do the same.
A few nights ago I stumbled upon a documentary on the Discovery website regarding the life threatening impact for those who have food allergies. This has provoked my curiosity immensely and I welcome, in fact, I encourage you to watch this film for yourself. It could potentially save a life; it could be a child's life. We need to take those requests seriously when our children come home from school with notes asking to eliminate allergy provoking foods.
There are 8 food allergies that are the most prevailant. This is surely not to say that these are the only ones...I have dealt with less common ones such as the aforementioned banana and during dietetics school clinical hours it was strawberry, tomato and avocado (yikes! Can you imagine a life without avocado?). Of the most widely seen are:
- tree nuts
On a side note, realize that you can also have food intolerances, which is when the body has difficulty digesting the food. It may make you feel nauseous, or become gassy, but it is not life threatening. Think of things such as a lactose intolerance or even gluten sensitivities where the reaction is typically gas, bloating and cramping. This resolves on its own or with the help of physician and dietitian advised therapy. Food allergies, at this time, DO NOT have cures. On the contrary, if you watch the aforementioned documentary, you will find that there is indeed a fascinating move towards finding a cure, but as of now, it is still not something of definitive cures.
Some great resources and thoughts that I suggest looking into if you have a loved one with food allergies, have children who are around others with food allergies, or just want to learn more:
- Join the food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (http://www.foodallergy.org/) - This site is loaded with information and even contains a great guide in PDF form which takes you step by step from the first day of a food allergy diagnosis and beyond.
- A Registered Dietitian - An RD can work with your doctor and help to find the culprit food as well as assist in being sure you are getting the nutrients needed that may be reduced due to the foods omitted. Go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website where you can access dietitians who specialize in food allergies. Another great site to visit is InspiredRD. The dietitian who runs this site is a celiac patient so she truly understands first hand how food allergies can affect your life; negatively as well as positively. Having children of her own, she shares so many heartfelt, personal stories regarding her journey, too.
- Documentary - This piece is from the Discovery Channel and is an invaluable educational tool. For myself, even though no one in my household has any known food allergies, I have shown it to my children since there are students in each of their classes with food allergies.
- Watch your hair care products - although I was unable to find a good source for this, I do know (as a former cosmetologist) that some products contain tree nut oils or may even contain milk derivatives. So when in doubt, check your hair and skin care products, too. (If you have a good resource, please let me know).
- Restaurant legislation - This is a way to encourage restaurants to become allergy friendly. People with food allergies tend to stay away from the outside world, so-to-speak, because they are not sure if those preparing the foods they eat could have allowed any traces of their allergy food to come in contact with what they consume. Currently two states have adopted a law that gives those with food allergies peace of mind by making it mandatory for restaurants to educate their staff on food allergies as well as require the manager to become certified through a food allergy training course. This my seem like a daunting task to some, but for those who live with the fear of not knowing where cross-contamination could happen, this could be a simple and rewarding solution.
It is a staggering fact that between the years of 1997 and 2011 there has been a 50% increase in the number of children with food allergies, and it is believed to be growing. There are theories surrounding the increase as being due to hygiene, antibiotics and the changes in child birth, just to name a few; but as of yet, there is no definitive answer. For now, if you feel you have a food allergy or even a food sensitivity or intolerance, get to your doctor for a full evaluation. This will prevent you from an unnecessary elimination of foods (essentially vital nutrients) and even more important, it could eliminate a life threatening situation.
Do you children have food allergies? How do you deal with them? Maybe you have some great recipes to share? We would love to know!