HOW TO NAVIGATE THE CONFUSING MINEFIELD OF FOOD ALLERGIES
by Tim Smith
Even peeling potatoes can cause some people to start wheezing or their skin to turn red. From tuna to tomatoes, from apples to almonds – the list of foods causing allergies or intolerance is now seemingly endless, while the numbers of children allergic to peanuts alone has more than tripled within a decade.
Yet dealing with a food allergy isn’t as simple as typing your symptoms into Google and avoiding whatever possible allergenic foods appear on the screen, no matter how justified your fear of the reaction.
Increased anxiety and nutrient deficiency are just two of the problems that can be caused by unnecessarily cutting numerous foods out of your diet.
While scientists are still trying to fully explain the great surge in food allergies, dieticians are able to help people navigate through the minefield by offering advice on a one-by-one basis.
Hannah Jones sees clients with food allergies and intolerances in her role as managing director and chief registered dietician at Island Nutrition in Hamilton.
“Unfortunately some of these people are having tests which have not been proven by science and consequently may be unduly worried and unnecessarily restricting multiple foods,” Ms Jones said.
“This excessive restriction comes with its own challenges, including stress, anxiety, expense and, of course, potential nutrient deficiencies.
“If a food allergy is suspected, a person should seek medical advice and may require evidence-based allergy testing.
“Registered dietitians can help ensure people can continue to consume a well-balanced diet and minimise the risk of deficiencies. Children should not follow restricted diets without the guidance of a registered dietitian.”
Pollen-food syndrome (PFS), also known as Oral Allergy Syndrome, is now the most common allergy affecting adults. This condition causes the body to trigger an immune response in reaction to consuming proteins which are very similar to pollen.
Ms Jones said: “People who suffer from seasonal allergies such as hay fever are most likely to be affected by PFS. The immune response of PFS typically results in immediate itching, along with other allergy symptoms including swelling in the mouth, tongue and lips. Most PFS symptoms are not life-threatening, although reactions may be worse in those people with uncontrolled asthma.”
Foods most commonly linked with PFS are apples, kiwi, strawberry, stone fruit such as peaches, plums, cherries and apricots, and tree nuts, particularly hazelnut, Brazil nut, walnut and almond.
However, Ms Jones warned: “It is important to note that there is no need to exclude all potential allergenic foods, and people should only avoid those foods which cause a reaction for them. In addition, heating or cooking the foods can denature the pollen-like proteins and so canned or cooked versions of these foods may be tolerated.
“For any confirmed or suspected food allergies, people should consult their GP to ensure that appropriate, clinically reliable, tests are performed. A registered dietitian should be consulted to avoid unnecessary dietary restrictions which could lead to nutritional deficiencies.”
The lists of allergenic foods goes far beyond those linked with PFS.
Eight foods – cow’s milk, chicken eggs, shellfish, fish, soy, peanuts, wheat, and tree nuts – are thought to account for about 90 per cent of all allergic reactions in children, according to the British Dietetic Association.
Ms Jones said: “Worldwide rates of food allergies have risen significantly in the last 20 years and scientists are not entirely sure of the reason.
“Generally speaking, food allergies tend to affect younger children, and most will outgrow the allergy as their immune system matures, typically before they reach school age.
“The most common childhood food allergies are related to milk, eggs, soya and wheat.
“Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts are usually more long lasting, and any food allergies that persist into adulthood, or develop during adulthood, are likely to be lifelong allergies.”
In medical terms, a food allergy is a condition in which exposure to a particular food protein triggers an immune response and releases histamine. The proteins that trigger the reaction are called allergens.
The most commonly recognised allergic reactions usually show symptoms within an hour or two, ranging from an itchy mouth, rash, hives, or diarrhoea to severe anaphylactic problems such as the throat tightening and difficulty breathing.
Meanwhile food intolerance, which can result in unpleasantness such as bloating and stomach pain, happens in people who lack certain enzymes to digest foods such as milk or sugar.
Other people with food intolerance react to naturally occurring chemicals in food such as pork products, red wine, strong and blue cheeses, tuna, and caffeine.
Island Nutrition, located on Victoria Street, has a team of dieticians offering advice on diet and lifestyle changes ranging from general healthy eating and weight management advice to more complex areas such as cancers, gastrointestinal conditions, and diabetes.
Ms Jones said: “Our advice is always individualised, based on a comprehensive assessment of the individual’s health, social and diet history, and hence very much tailored to each individual client.
“There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to dietary and lifestyle changes, yet we strive to optimize the diet of every client.”
Grocery shopping can be a headache for people with allergies or food intolerance.
Zach Moniz, manager at the Lindo’s Group of Companies, urged customers to know their own condition and learn how to read labels.
Mr Moniz said: “We try to offer as many varieties as possible of products, but it is ultimately up to the allergy sufferer to know what foods to avoid and consider.
“If you are unsure how to eat a balanced diet because of a food allergy it is best to seek the advice of a professional dietician.”
“It may sound unsympathetic but knowing what you can and cannot eat is the responsibility of the allergy sufferer. Most things now are labelled well. Learn how to read the labels and when you are not sure or if a product is not adequately labelled then avoid those items when considering food options.”
He said Lindo’s often imports items for individual customers.
“Keep in mind it can take two to three weeks to get items here from the United States and at least eight weeks from the UK. Logistically, we must time our imports.
“Once we see a pattern developing with specific customers, we often make sure we have the items they require but it is important in the early stages to communicate with us.”
To make an appointment at Island Nutrition, call 295-4082 or e-mail [email protected].