Managing Food Allergies
Food allergies occur when your body's immune system reacts to a specific substance in food. Reactions can range from mild to life threatening. To prevent food reactions, it's necessary for you to avoid the offending food. If you do have a food reaction, your doctor will discuss treatment options. If you're newly diagnosed with a food allergy, it can be overwhelming to find that you must avoid certain foods. Here's what you should know about managing food allergies.
Become Familiar with Food Labels
Once a food allergy is identified, your doctor will instruct you to avoid that particular food and foods that contain the component that you're allergic to. Avoiding foods you're allergic to is the primary way to manage food allergies. This means carefully checking ingredient labels of food products and learning all of the different names the problem ingredient may appear as on the label.
Thanks to government mandates and regulations, food manufacturers must clearly identify the presence of milk, egg, peanuts, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish—the eight most common food allergens. Even if one of these foods is only used as an additive, the manufacturer must still announce its presence on the label.
Look for statements on the label such as "may contain," "made on shared equipment," or "made in a shared facility." This is usually an indication that the product may contain, in even trace amounts, one or more of the eight food allergens. There are no regulations requiring advisory warnings. However, many manufacturers add the warnings to the label voluntarily to assist consumers in identifying possible allergen contamination.
Tips for Learning and Cooking
Avoiding an allergen is often challenging, but as you learn which foods are likely to contain the food you are allergic to, you'll find that getting food gets easier as time goes by. While labeling has assisted in making this process easier, some allergens are just so common that they are found in many foods, making them challenging to avoid. It may be a good idea to consult a dietitian who specializes in food allergies. Your dietitian will work with you on creating a meal plan and teaching you which foods to avoid. Ways to make this easier include creating a "white list" of foods that are guaranteed to be free of the particular substance you're allergic to. Having a thorough list of "safe" foods and memorizing it or carrying it with you will make it easier for you to plan meals and reach for go-to foods that you know won't cause an allergic reaction. You can also purchase a cookbook geared toward avoiding the allergen you're having a reaction to. For example, you will find plenty of gluten-free or dairy-free cookbooks on the market that make it even easier to plan your meals.