How can I live safely with food allergies?
Strictly avoiding your trigger foods is the only way to prevent a reaction and maintain control over your food allergy. A registered dietitian is an excellent resource for nutrition information and meal plan suggestions that help you avoid your trigger foods. Following are some general tips for living with a food allergy.
- Work with your healthcare provider to develop a written action plan that outlines what to do in the case of a reaction. Make sure your friends and loved ones know what to do in an emergency.
- Always take worsening symptoms seriously.
- Diversify your diet by eating fruits and vegetables that are more exotic, especially if you are allergic to those that are more common.
- Invest in a cookbook with recipes that cater to your food allergy. In some cases, common food allergens can be easily removed or substituted in recipes.
- Be aware of any changes in how you feel after eating. Recognizing the onset of a reaction allows you to take quick action.
Become label savvy
- Read all food labels. Learn alternate names for foods to which you may be allergic. For example, if you are allergic to milk, you need to avoid products that list the following in their ingredients: casein, sodium caseinate, lactoglobulin and nougat. If you are allergic to eggs, check the ingredients for egg whites and albumin.
- Don't take chances. If a food doesn't have a label and you don't know for certain what's in it, or if you're still uncertain after reading the label, contact the retailer or manufacturer — or just don't eat it.
Always be prepared
- Be prepared for an emergency. If you have severe allergies and have medication to prevent anaphylaxis, carry your medicine with you at all times in case you accidentally eat a trigger food. If you have an anaphylactic reaction, be sure someone knows to take you to the emergency room.
- The Food Allergy Initiative advises people with food allergies to carry a card that lists the foods to which they are allergic. The card can be given to the chef, manager or server prior to ordering food at a restaurant.
Beware of hidden sources of problem foods
- The same deli meat slicer often is used to cut both meats and cheese products. When this is done, small particles of cheese can be transferred to sliced meats.
- To add flavor, some restaurants melt butter on steaks after they have been grilled.
- Casein, a milk protein, is sometimes used in canned meats.
- Eggs are sometimes used to create the foam topping on specialty coffee drinks.
- Some ethnic dishes—such as African, Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese foods—contain peanuts or are prepared in areas near peanuts.
- Some beanbags and hacky sacks are filled with crushed nutshells.
- Some labels use the term "may contain" to indicate the possible, but unintentional, presence of foods allergens in their products.
- Since cross-contamination is a serious risk, avoid foods that state they have been processed in a plant or on equipment that also processes foods containing the food allergen.