Food allergies are becoming an epidemic in America. As of 2019, the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization estimated that roughly thirty-two million Americans have food allergies. This translates to one in every ten adults and one in every thirteen children having food allergies.
With statistics like these it is likely that you or someone you know is living with or affected by food allergies. Learning about common food allergies and how to eat around them may save a life. While many food allergies can be life-threatening in nature, important research, education, and advocacy allow many individuals live a happy, full, and delicious life despite a food allergy diagnosis.
What are the top food allergies?
Eight foods are classified as major food allergens in the United States. These foods include:
- Tree nuts
- Crustacean shellfish
These allergens are classified as such due to the fact that they are largely to blame for some of the most serious and prevalent food allergy reactions nationwide.
It is worth noting that there are currently efforts underway to prompt the United States Food and Drug Administration to add sesame to this list of major food allergens. Recent research studies documented sesame as the ninth most common allergy. As of the first quarter of 2019, the final decision has yet to be made as to if sesame will officially become recognized by the FDA as a ninth major food allergen.
How Food Allergies Work
When an individual is exposed to a food they are knowingly, and sometimes unknowingly, allergic to, the food can trigger a dangerous immune response of an allergic reaction. This type of reaction takes place because the body’s immune system is attacking the normally harmless proteins of a food. In this case, another word for proteins could be allergens.
Just as no two individuals are the same, neither are their reactions. An allergic reaction can span from a mild case of hives to the severe, sometimes life-threatening condition of anaphylaxis. A person experiencing anaphylaxis generally exhibits serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, and swelling.
Treating Food Allergies
Once a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis is in progress, allergists advocate that epinephrine is the only effective treatment. If the person is aware they have food allergies, they should be carrying an epinephrine auto injector on their person. Once anaphylaxis sets in, it is crucial that the injector be used in minutes if not seconds after the first signs of anaphylaxis. In some cases, an individual experiencing anaphylaxis may require more than one dose of epinephrine. Most doctors advise that the administration of epinephrine should be followed immediately with a thorough examination of the individual by emergency medical professionals.
Managing Food Allergies
When it comes to managing the most common food allergies and how to eat around them, the best tool for success is avoidance of offending allergens. While this may sound simple in theory, it is quite easy for many allergens to be an unexpected ingredient in a sauce, soup, or even a marinade.
If eating at home, this requires strict vigilance to make sure all ingredients used for a meal are indeed allergen free. This necessitates carefully reading ingredient labels for every single item used. Individuals should review the ingredients list as well as any special warnings such as “contains peanuts” or “may be processed on the same equipment as eggs.”
If dining out, vigilance becomes a bit trickier as the individual is somewhat relying on the knowledge and capableness of the chefs and wait staff. If at all possible, call ahead to the restaurant during non-peak hours to speak with a manager or head chef about their knowledge of food allergies and how they manage that kind of situation within the restaurant. If after that conversation the individual does not feel confident in the restaurant’s ability to safely accommodate their food allergy, it may be wise to make other plans or bring their own food.
Regardless of if cooking at home or eating out, one of the most important considerations when it comes to meal prepping for someone with food allergies is cross contamination. This process happens when an allergen is usually unintentionally transferred from one substance or surface to another and can be life-threatening for those with food allergies. Effectively guarding against cross contamination means ensuring that all surfaces are properly cleaned and sanitized before a meal for a person with food allergies can be safely prepared. This cleaning and sanitizing process applies to countertops, utensils, plates, serving dishes, grills, pots, pans, and so on.
With some advanced research, planning, and preparation, those with food allergies can safely eat at home, restaurants, via meal services, and even abroad.
Using a Meal Service When You Have Food Allergies
Particularly for an individual who is newly diagnosed, safely selecting, cooking, and preparing food can feel somewhat overwhelming. A food allergy diagnosis is a rather large learning curve at first and may leave individuals feeling like they are incapable of safely making a meal.
A reputable and knowledgeable meal service who is well versed in the most common food allergies and how to eat around them may be able to help. The key to finding such a service is asking questions. A few important questions to pose might include:
- What do you know about food allergies?
- Do you have experience in providing safe meals for those with food allergies?
- Does all of the food you use come with ingredient labels?
- How do you ensure all surfaces and utensils are allergy-free before and during meal prep?
- Are food allergy meals flagged as requiring special attention?
- Does the same person usually make the food allergy meals?
- Do you provide allergy warning on your meals?
These questions are a great place to start. When choosing a meal service, select one that is committed to taking the time to answer your questions and is capable of accommodating your needs.
Many healthy meal services focus on providing their clients with whole foods and limit or avoid the use of processed foods. This concept can be particularly beneficial for those with food allergies as whole foods such as apples, plain rice, or black beans are usually not as plagued by hidden allergens that can be found in highly processed food.
Also talk to potential meal services about how they assemble meals. A good meal service will use a dedicated dish and utensil for each ingredient prior to assembly. This allows ingredients to be added to a main dish one at a time and also makes it fairly easy to omit an ingredient from the final dish if it is an offending allergen. A meal service dedicated to safely accommodating clients with food allergies should provide an ingredient label and allergy warning on every meal they package.
Food allergies or not, a reputable delivery meal service should allow the customer to choose which dishes may best fit their needs and decide on the frequency with which they order. The company should never pressure an individual to sign a long-term contract.
With proper research, planning, and advocacy, individuals with food allergies can lead a very full and even delicious life at home with the help of a meal delivery service that understands the most common food allergies and how to eat around them.