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Food Allergies 101: What are they and what food alternatives are there?

Jacqueline L’Heureux, PharmD

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Mar 30th, 2015

Allergy

Have you ever been frustrated trying to decide what to pack for lunches because your child or another student at school has a food allergy? There are 15 million Americans with food allergies and it affects 1 in 13 children in the US or two children per classroom! Food allergies are becoming more common and awareness is growing, but more information is needed to help everyone be more prepared. We are here to help!

What is a food allergy? Is it the same as food intolerance?

A food allergy is an overreaction of the body’s natural responses to specific foods. It differs from food intolerances which normally present as stomach pain, diarrhea, or heartburn. Allergies involve the immune system whereas food intolerance does not.

What are the most common food allergies?

The most common food allergies include peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. There are other food allergies that are less common but just as serious.

How serious is a food allergy?

Food allergies are very serious because they can lead to anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that may occur after being exposed to an allergen. Symptoms can begin as soon as a few seconds after contact or up to a few hours later. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include hives or rash on the skin, itchiness, swollen lips or tongue, swollen throat, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and reduced blood pressure. People with severe food allergies may carry an EpiPen®, which injects a medication called epinephrine. This medication helps decrease swelling and increase blood pressure when a patient has an allergic reaction.

My child isn’t allergic to any foods, so why can’t my child have particular foods at school?

Even a tiny amount of a food allergen can cause a serious allergic reaction leading to anaphylaxis. Some people are so sensitive that skin contact or being near the allergen may trigger the reaction.

What are alternatives to give my child for lunch and snacks to avoid food allergies?

Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies and peanut-free classrooms and schools are becoming more common. The following are some ideas of alternatives to avoid peanut butter at school:

  • Jelly, banana, and honey sandwich
  • Jelly and cream cheese sandwich
  • Meat and cheese sandwich
  • Soup in a thermos
  • Spaghetti  in a thermos
  • Milk in a thermos with a bowl of cereal

In addition, below is some information from Eating Well on food allergens and alternatives:

Allergy Foods to Double-check or Avoid Good Alternatives
Peanut Peanut butter, mixed nuts, peanut oil Honey, cream cheese, popcorn, olive oil 
Tree nut Almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, pesto, cereals Nut-free trail mix with cereal, raisins, and banana chips
Milk Milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, cream cheese, pudding Rice milk, soy milk, almond milk, soy yogurt, margarine
Eggs Eggs, ice cream, egg substitutes, pasta, meatballs, bread, mayo, marshmallows Mashed avocado, hummus, frozen yogurt
Soy Soy milk, tofu, edamame, soy beans, soy sauce, miso, tuna, hot dogs, deli meat Fresh meat, garlic, ginger, seitan
Wheat Wheat-based pasta, cereal, bread, tortilla, ice cream, potato chips, soy sauce, couscous Rice-pasta, rice, quinoa, corn tortilla
Fish Tuna, salmon, catfish, Caesar dressing, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, imitation crab Canned chicken, other white meats
Shellfish Shrimp, lobster, crayfish, crab, mussels, clams, oysters Chicken, other white meats

 

Remember to take caution whenever anyone has a food allergy. With a better understanding of food allergies and some great alternatives, food can still be fun, delicious, and stress-free!

For more information, please visit:

http://www.foodallergy.org/home

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000817.htm

http://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies

http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm079311.htm

http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm089307.htm

Jacqueline L’Heureux, PharmD

 

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