There are currently as many as 1.3 million Canadians that are affected by food allergies, and this number has continued to increase – especially in children.
In an article on his Wordpress blog last fall, Vancouver physician Dr. Ali Ghahary touched upon some of the most common food allergies. These included peanuts, tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts and Brazil nuts), sesame seeds, eggs, milk, seafood, soy, wheat, mustard and sulphites.
Food allergies occur as a result of the release of a powerful chemical known as histamine, which happens when the body is exposed to certain food proteins that it deems harmful, causing a reaction in the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, the gastrointestinal tract, and the skin. In extreme cases, this histamine reaction can be fatal.
Unfortunately, there is no specific cure for food related allergies. The only way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid the foods you are allergic to, and ensure that you are carrying around allergy medication, including an epinephrine auto-injector (commonly referred to as an Epipen.) It is also important that you take time to carefully read food labels when grocery shopping, and do so each time, as manufacturers can often change the list of ingredients and the way things are labeled. You should also avoid any products that say they “may contain” certain allergens, as there is no guarantee that you won’t be exposed to the allergen in question – this is known as cross contamination. Cross contamination occurs when allergens are transferred to foods due to being processed/cooked on the exact same machinery (or packaged around areas) that have been exposed to the allergen. When dining out, you should also make your server aware of your allergies when ordering. While many restaurants in Vancouver are well adept in accommodating allergy sufferers, it is always better to double check. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Schools have also implemented strict guidelines as to what students can and cannot have packed in their lunches. For example, peanut butter. As this is a common allergen for children, many Vancouver schools have banned peanut butter all together. Some good, healthy alternatives that parents can pack in their children’s lunch include dried fruits and cheese.
Allergens, however, are not the only problem. Food sensitivities can also be an issue, though they are much less severe than having a food allergy and are often limited to the digestive tract, resulting in GI (gastrointestinal) problems, such as stomach cramps and/or upset. Celiac disease is another common GI condition. Individuals who have celiac cannot eat gluten, and must stick to a strict gluten-free diet to avoid developing associated symptoms. For more information on this and food allergies, visit Dr. Ali Ghahary’s blog at https://alighahary.wordpress.com.