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Health and Fitness News

High-Alert Eating

What’s life like with a food allergy?

If you live life without a food allergy, you have it easy. Eating out, potluck meals, and cafeteria lunches are no big deal. You don’t have to read labels or think twice before enjoying something as simple as a cookie. For people with a food allergy, however, eating is a whole different story. Every food must pass through a close inspection or else you may risk an allergic response that could be as mild as an itchy mouth or as severe as anaphylaxis.

When it’s working properly, the immune system fights off foreign invaders such as viruses and infections. Allergies occur when your immune system mistakenly reacts to a substance in food, perceives it as a danger, and triggers an allergic reaction that may affect the skin, cardiovascular, digestive, or respiratory systems. You can be allergic to any food, but the most common triggers include eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.

As you know, some of these foods are found in practically every processed food on store shelves, making eating a challenge. Here are a few tips on managing life safely with a food allergy, wherever life takes you.

At Home

Home is the safest place for people with allergies to eat. You have control over what foods come into your house and have rules about how food is prepared. But for complete safety, you’ll have to learn how to read ingredient labels. Most food manufactures now list on their products whether a food contains one of the eight most common food allergens. Find a special cookbook or look online for recipes that cater to a specific food allergy.

If allergy-causing foods are allowed in the home, take special care to avoid exposure to the allergic member. Get in the habit of everyone washing hands before and after a meal to prevent the allergic person from coming in contact with the allergen. After food preparation, wipe down counters with soap and water and make sure all food preparation equipment is thoroughly cleaned. Unsafe foods should be clearly labeled and kept in a separate location.

Each member of the family should understand the plan in case of emergency. Keep a kit in a convenient location that includes medications, an auto-injector, and a care plan.

Eating Out

Because there’s no way of knowing what ingredients are in restaurant food, eating out is tricky for people with food allergies. Before choosing a menu item, explain your allergy to your server and ask for safe options. Depending on the severity of your allergy, it may be necessary to speak with the chef to avoid cross-contamination with other foods.

That said, it’s safest to order a simple meal that contains few ingredients. Baked, broiled, or steamed foods are usually safer than fried or grilled foods that may use the same oil or grill as non-safe foods.

At School

School presents a whole new set of challenges for those with food allergies. You may trust the cafeteria to serve your child safe foods, but what about the cupcakes brought for a classmate’s birthday, the candy given as treats, or the lunch foods of the kids sitting nearby?

Parents must work closely with their child’s school to develop a plan that includes prevention, recognition of a reaction, and treatment. Make sure the school has an auto-injector on hand that has not expired. And to keep your child from being tempted by dangerous options, send safe snacks and treats that can be given to your child.