Food allergies have generated a great deal of anxiety in recent years, with some educational institutions in the UK and USA banning popular staples — especially peanut butter — after appeals from worried parents. Some foreign airlines also avoid serving peanut snacks.
What is it?
A food allergy is an adverse immune response to a food protein. It is distinct from other responses to food, such as food intolerance, pharmacological reactions and toxin-mediated reactions. Food allergy or food intolerance affects everyone at some point of time. Other kinds of reactions to foods are lactose (milk intolerance), food poisoning and toxic reactions. Unlike food allergy, food intolerance does not involve the immune system.
Dietician Dr Richa Anand says, "Food allergy symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening and may include, hives, itching, swelling of the face, lips, tongue and/or eyes, diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps, itching and tightness of throat, difficulty in breathing, wheezing, in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock."
According to nutritionist Purwa Duggal, "Though food allergies are rare, they may be common in children under the age of four. Most children who are allergic to milk, eggs, wheat or soy outgrow their allergies by the time they're five years old. Fish and shellfish allergies usually develop later in life, and people are unlikely to outgrow them."
The exact reason behind the rise of allergies in children is unknown. But a growing body of evidence suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is at the root of most childhood allergies. It is advisable that a single new food should be introduced to a child rather than multiple new options. The FDA estimates that two per cent of adults and up to eight per cent of young children have some form of food allergies.
Common food allergies
Nuritionist Naini Setalvad sheds light on the foods that many people are allergic to:
Cow's and goat's milk and soy milk: All milk products such as lassi or buttermilk, cheese, evaporated and condensed milk, ice-cream, yoghurt are allergic products.
Eggs: Avoid all foods made from eggs such as French toast, cakes, cookies, pancakes, home made bread.
Soya bean: Avoid soya milk and other foods which contain soya.
Wheat: A person suffering from arthritis should not be given wheat — it can be replaced with rice, jowar or nachni. This means the allergic person should not be given foods made with cornstarch, semolina or suji, all purpose or white flour. So avoid upma, suji lapsi, suji kheer or toast, cakes, cookies, biscuits and white sauce.
Peanuts: Avoid all foods with peanuts. However, people who are allergic to peanuts can often eat tree nuts like walnuts, cashew, hazel, almonds or pecans, since they are from separate plant families.
Corn: If one is allergic to corn, he/she should avoid all products made from corn. Most confectionery contains corn syrup.
Food colours and preservatives: Stay away from orange, green, red and other artificially-coloured foods like orange squash, orange-coloured aerated drinks and peppermints.
If you feel you are allergic to a certain food:
- Eliminate the food that you suspect from your diet and check if the reactions stop.
- Challenge the food by consuming it and check for adverse reactions.
- Do a skin allergy test.
- Ensure that any of the above options are done after consulting a doctor. Also, once the allergic food has been discovered, ensure that the same is eliminated from your diet.