There have been many news stories lately about severe food allergies and anaphylactic reactions that have ended in death. If you have a food allergy, you know about it because you have a reaction to food. But what's the difference between a true food allergy, food intolerance, and sensitivity to food? What are the medical tests you need, and how can you take care of yourself?
Food allergies are the fastest-growing form of allergies in the world. In the United States, while asthma rates have stabilized, allergic reactions to food are skyrocketing. In the United Kingdom, anaphylaxis cases have tripled in the last five years. Symptoms can range from a flushed face and upset stomach to full-blown anaphylactic shock and death.
These allergies are difficult to deal with because of our intimate relationship to food. What we eat literally becomes part of our bodies. What causes food allergies? How can you get an accurate diagnosis and keep yourself healthy? And is there hope for treatment and cures in the future?
Only about 2 percent of the American adult population and 8 percent of children have a true food allergy. Many people think they have food allergies when they actually don't. The only way to know if you are truly allergic to a food is to be tested by a doctor, using one or more accurate, proven tests.
More people are intolerant of foods or sensitive to ingredients in them. The differences do not necessarily include difference in severity, but whether the reaction to the food takes place in the immune system or is confined to the digestive tract. Food intolerances and sensitivities, however, usually do not include anaphylactic reactions.
On the surface, it may seem easy to just avoid the foods you are allergic to, but the food industry is a large and complex organization: Many foods are manufactured with dozens of ingredients, and the food you are allergic to can hide behind many names. Cross-contamination, whether in the final stages of cooking or food production or while the food is growing, is also a huge problem, especially for those with life-threatening food allergies.
At the time of this writing, researchers at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University have produced allergen-free peanuts. Tests show 100 percent inactivation of the allergens in assays and serum tests. We'll see how this works in the real world. Will it be possible to completely replace peanuts with this new strain? Or will this breakthrough just confuse the matter?
Meanwhile, if you shop carefully, read labels, and have found good substitutes for the food or foods you are allergic to, you can transform most recipes to fit your needs. For instance, if you are allergic to milk, and a recipe calls for butter but everything else is fine, substitute solid shortening or vegetable oil or a dairy-free vegan margarine.
With help from this book, your doctor, friends and family, and compliant food manufacturers, you can eat a healthy, well-balanced, delicious diet with a little bit of work, knowledge, and care. As you look through the recipes, focus on those that are safe for you to eat. The recipes were developed to be as safe as possible for the most allergens possible, but you don't have to use every allergy-free ingredient listed.
For example, if a recipe is free from soy, wheat, fish, nuts, eggs, and milk, but you're only allergic to wheat and fish, you can use real cheese, soy sauce, pistachios, and real eggs if substitutes for them are used in a recipe.
This book uses icons to alert you as to which allergy each recipe is safe for. For example, if a recipe contains no milk, you will see the No Milk icon. The icons you will see in this book are: