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Living with food allergies

By Laine Williams
Health Magazine
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(Health.comexternal link) -- Eight different foods including peanuts, which can cause particularly severe reactions, are responsible for 90 percent of all food allergies.

For the 11 million Americans living with food allergies, dining out, whether at a restaurant or a friend's home, can cause more problems than it's worth. Unless you're standing over the chef in the kitchen, the fact is you have no guarantee that the food or foods to which you're allergic won't end up on your plate.

Let's face it: Food plays an irreplaceable role in our social lives. And the good news is that, with a little planning and a lot of communication, you can continue to enjoy evenings out at your favorite restaurant or a potluck with friends.

If you're heading to a restaurant, call ahead and speak to the manager and/or chef. "Let them know you may need to bring a few food items to supplement or enhance your meal," says Debra Indorato, RD, LDN, a Virginia-based nutrition consultant. Ask the waiter questions about how the food is prepared. "Knowing hidden sources of your allergen, such as foods fried in shared oils or nuts added to crumb toppings, can help determine what questions to ask," Indorato says.

"Always carry a safe snack in case there is nothing on the menu that is acceptable," says William Berger, M.D., clinical professor at University of California, Irvine, and a Health advisory board member and allergy expert. Stick with simple dishes, and always request sauces on the side. Try to avoid buffets and bakeries, because they tend to use the same utensils and machines for a variety of foods.

Before going to a friend's house where food will be served, "let your friend know about your allergies as early as possible, and offer to bring some tolerated foods with you," Indorato says. Give your friend specific examples of foods to avoid.

Describe the symptoms of an allergic reaction and what you need your friend to do should one occur. "Have directions in your emergency kit on how the medicine should be administered in case you are unable to do so," Berger adds.

Regardless of the setting, "make sure you carry an emergency treatment kit that contains an EpiPen, Benadryl, and any other medications your doctor has prescribed," says Indorato.

The best way to determine if any food is safe is by looking at the label every time. The manufacturer could have changed the formula or ingredients since the last time you purchased it.

But thanks to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), any food produced after January 2006 containing one of the eight most frequent food allergens will now use the common name for the allergen in the ingredient list. In other words, a product containing gluten, known to most of us as wheat, will now say "wheat" on its label.

The FALCPA will affect more than product labels; it will also increase the variety of foods available to allergy sufferers. "Foods that were once avoided due to uncertainty may now be consumed," Indorato says. "It's not fun to have to avoid a food just because 'spices' is listed, and you don't know what they are." It will take a few months for all products on the shelves to be labeled with these common names. In the meantime, refer to the accompanying chart to aid in your diet decisions.

Laine Williams is Production Coordinator at Health.

Copyright 2006 Health magazine. All rights reserved.


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