With it affecting approximately 50 million Americans, you most likely know someone with a food allergy or suffer from one yourself.
Although food allergies normally present themselves during infancy or childhood, it’s possible to develop them as an adult. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 4% of adults suffer from food allergies.
Whether your allergic to one food or more, it can be difficult to adjust to newly diagnosed food allergies. Between having to switch your diet and no longer eating certain foods, there are a few things you need to know before you come to terms with your new diet.
What is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition that occurs when exposure to a certain food causes an allergic reaction. When this happens, your immune system mistakenly attacks the protein within that food. This leads to a mild reaction such as hives or a severe reaction such as anaphylaxis, which causes difficulty breathing and throat tightness.
Unfortunately there is no cure for food allergies. The best course of action is to stay away from the food or take antihistamines or epinephrine when you have a reaction. However, researchers are currently working on treatments and medication to help reduce symptoms.
What Can You Be Allergic To?
There are more than 170 foods that have been linked to allergic reactions. However, the eight major food allergens are milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and soy. Because these are the most common, they’re the easiest to avoid because restaurants and food companies are obligated to tell you if these allergens come near your food or are present within them.
For those with seasonal allergies, it’s possible to have an allergic reaction to certain fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots and tomatoes. This vulnerability is known as oral allergy syndrome (OAS), or pollen-food syndrome. The reaction occurs when people who are allergic to pollen eat raw fruits and vegetables that have similar proteins to pollen. For example, if your allergic to ragweed, you might have a reaction to kiwis, melons, cucumbers, zucchinis or bananas.
How to Deal With Food Allergies?
1. Understand the Severity of Your Allergies
Not all allergies are created equal. You might have a severe reaction to one food and a mild reaction to another.
If you suffer from mild reactions then you might decide to still eat that food because you don’t mind taking an antihistamine or dealing with an itchy mouth. With mild reactions, you’re in control of how you tackle the allergen when it’s presented to you.
This situation is the complete opposite when you have a severe reaction. Depending on the severity, you might have to stop eating the allergen, avoid foods that come in contact with it and stay away from people when they eat it.
Severe reactions can be scary, especially if you go into anaphylaxis, so it’s vital to take the necessary steps to prevent this outcome from happening. Accidents happen sometimes, so make sure you always carry your medications and stay close to someone who knows how to administer an Epi pen.
2. Avoid Cross-Contact
Cross-contact happens when one food comes in contact with another, causing their proteins to mix. Afterward there are traces of both foods on each other. This contamination can occur when food is prepared on the same surface or when pans and utensils aren’t thoroughly cleaned.
Even though small amounts of the food are present on each other, that presence is enough to cause an allergic reaction. Be aware of this risk when you dine out or eat at someone else’s house.
If you’re not sure how a dish is prepared, ask questions. Most restaurants have an allergy-free menu and have no issue letting you know whether or not their food comes in contact with an allergen. It’s better to be safe than deal with a life-threatening reaction.
The same guidelines applies when you go over to someone’s house. It’s important to inform them about your allergies so they can thoroughly clean before you arrive. All they have to do is wash everything with hot, soapy water before they make you an allergy-free meal.
3. Get Creative With Your Meals
When you have a limited diet, it’s normal to feel like you eat the same thing every day. The best way to introduce diversity into your meals is to pick your favorite dishes and find different ways to cook them.
From cookbooks to YouTube videos, you can find numerous recipes to suit your dietary needs. For example, if you’re allergic to wheat and love pasta, you can buy rice, quinoa or corn pasta and use it to cook chicken alfredo or pesto pasta salad. If you love tacos and are allergic to tomatoes, you can garnish them with fresh mango salsa.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to food, so dedicate time to look for recipes that are delicious and allergy-free. You don’t need to sacrifice taste or comfort because you’re allergic to key ingredients.
It’s going to take time to get used to having food allergies, so be patient with yourself. Once you know what you can eat and what you have to stay away from, you’ll have fun eating again.
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