By Sherry NealJanuary 22, 2013
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Jan. 2013) -- Food allergies are on the rise and are a growing concern in our society, but you can still live well in spite of them.
The number of those with allergies is 2 to 5 times higher than 30 years ago, according to a recent MSNBC headline.
Why they are rising is a mystery. Speculation ranges from being too clean to too dirty, blames food production techniques, and even to points to global warming as a possible culprit.
Though the rise in food allergies is difficult if not impossible to identify, the bottom line is still proper management of food allergies. Here are some basic tips for managing food allergies from a Registered Dietitian.
Get tested by your Primary Care Doctor or Allergist.
Before you begin making changes to your diet, see your physician about isolating the actual food allergies you may have. This will avoid excluding foods unnecessarily and make meal planning easier.
Limit processed foods.
If you have one food allergy or multiple allergies, regard all packaged foods with suspicion. The more a food product has undergone processing, which alters it from the original state, the more likely it is to contain a potential allergen or be a risk for cross contamination.
Start with fresh, real foods and create dishes and meals from fruits, vegetables, dry beans, rice and minimally processed meats or grains. This eliminates the guesswork involved in label reading.
Learn to read ingredient lists.
This can be tricky. Reading the list of ingredients on a product must be done in reference to the suspected allergy. The best plan is to read all the ingredients listed and check for manufacturer warnings about how that item was processed (such as "processed in a facility that also processes peanuts" or "Contains Wheat and Milk ingredients").
If an item has more than 5 ingredients, it is considered a highly processed food and has an increased risk for containing allergens. For example, if you are allergic to milk and need to follow a milk free diet, you need to be cautious of whey protein hydrolysate and rennet casein.
Or, if you have an allergy to eggs, you must also read labels for items that contain lysozyme or ovalbumin. It is highly useful to have an RD help with this process.
Tour your grocery store or commissary with an RD.
Many large chain grocery stores now employ RDs. Taking a tour with an RD for someone with multiple food allergies can help develop a quick and permanent list of key items needed to stock your kitchen. Even if someone else does your shopping, they can know exactly which products are safe for your consumption.
Use online resources or get a good food allergy cookbook.
You need to know what ingredients go into the food you consume. The easiest way to do this is to make your meals yourself.
Although our society is highly dependent on quick and easy meals, those with food allergies will find it necessary to get back into the kitchen and cook. Batch cooking recipes from a food allergy cookbook, or prepping portions of a meal, can be done ahead of time and make cooking easier.
Have an allergy alert or action plan.
If your allergy is severe enough that you may need medical treatment if exposed to a particular food, you should have an allergy action plan with you at all times. This plan should include the items you are allergic to as well as the appropriate steps to treat a critical situation, which you should also outline with your physician.
Also, keep a laminated food allergy card, which lists your allergies and can be presented in a restaurant as a warning to the establishment about your meal preparation. Though acceptance of these cards will vary by restaurant and location, you can still be prepared. Use a search engine online to find examples of allergy alerts and allergy action plans.
(Editor's Note: Sherry Neal RD/LD, is the Chief of Clinical Dietetics at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital.)