This post is sponsored by Pfizer Canada. All views and opinions are my own.
“Food allergies are a growing public health issue in Canada, with an estimated 2.6 million Canadians impacted by food allergy. The incidence is highest among children with almost 500,000 Canadian children living with food allergies. (Food Allergy Canada)”
Having a food allergy is a life changing experience. It takes a normal, everyday necessity and turns it into a potentially dangerous situation. When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease 7 years ago, I was not prepared for the changes I was going to have to make in life and in the kitchen in order to accommodate my condition. I was embarrassed, ashamed and fearful of every time I was presented with some type of food or had to announce my dietary restrictions. There are many times, I would ‘forget’, just not eat, or try to decipher whether the food was safe on my own, instead of taking the proper precautions. It took many years, a ton of research and the diagnosis of 2 of 3 children, that I realized the importance of creating an Allergy-Friendly Kitchen.
When your child is diagnosed with a food allergy, it changes from an inconvenience you feel you can hide to a serious life changing event. Every meal and snack, becomes a potential dangerous situation with consequences that can range from mild (tummy aches) to severe (death). You begin to panic about things like restaurants, birthday parties, and school lunches for they all have the potential of causing a reaction in your children. How can you protect them? How can you ensure that people don’t think your food allergy is just another fad diet? How can you create a positive food experience for your child without having them feel like they are missing out? My solution is creating an Allergy-Friendly Kitchen.
How to Create An Allergy Friendly Kitchen
If you have a food allergy, your immune system mistakenly treats something in a particular food (most often, the protein) as if it’s dangerous to you. Your body reacts to the food by having an allergic reaction. Allergies have always been present in our society, but it is only the last decade or so that the awareness of them has been brought to light. Understanding allergies and what causes them are the first steps to preventing reactions, however, to know what causes the allergy is not enough. For example, providing rice crackers for a person with celiac on a plate of wheat containing crackers. Although, the thought of the allergy is there (the substitution of rice crackers) but the awareness of things like cross-contamination, where the allergen is used (not just wheat products, but also found in yogurts, soya sauce, etc.) and how it can affect the person with the allergy. We need to educate the public on the facts about food allergies and what they can do to keep their children, friends and family members happy and safe in their kitchen.
1.. Avoid Allergens -When a person has a food allergy, the immune system mistakenly treats the food particle as if it is a foreign object attacking the body. Although a person can be allergic to any type of food, here are the key food allergens that are recognized in Canada: milk, egg, tree nuts, peanut, wheat and triticale, mustard, fish, crustaceans & molluscs, soy, sesame, and sulphites. Knowing the main type of food allergies and where they can be found is the first step to an essential kitchen. When inviting friends or family members over for a meal, the first question you should ask is: are there any food allergies?
2. Read labels -When preparing food for a person with food allergies, the best way to begin is to read labels. The label tells you what ingredients are contained in a particular product and if there is the presence or possible contamination of other allergens. Reading labels is an every time use occurrence. What may have been safe two weeks ago, may now contain that allergen. Companies are changing the formula and where its products are processed without notice. Be aware that food allergens can also be used in to things like beauty products and toys (i.e. Play-Doh) but due to different labeling laws, they do not need to include a list of allergens. We need to teach children at a young age to make label reading a part of their eating process so they can constantly be in the know about what they are ingesting. In fact, Food Allergy Canada recommends checking a label three times –once before you buy it, once before you put it away at home, and once before you serve it.
3.. Understand Cross Contamination – For many people without food allergies, it makes sense to avoid giving the allergen food to the person, but what many people don’t recognize is that cross-contamination (i.e. a utensil being used on both products) can contain enough of a small amount of food that it can cause a reaction. Cross-contamination can occur from food-to-food, food-to-object (i.e. cookware) and food-to-saliva. Avoid things like bulk bins, and make sure to use different utensils for each meal.
4.. Recognize the Signs and Symptoms – Every person experiences different reactions. Most reactions occur within minutes of ingesting the food but can show up hours later. Knowing what type of reactions can occur with a food allergy and how to recognize anaphylaxis is important for potentially saving a life. Some key areas to watch for in reactions include skin (hives, rash, warmth, red), respiratory (trouble breathing, congestion, constriction), gastrointestinal (vomit, stomach problems, diarrhea), cardiovascular (dizzy, weak pulse, consciousness) or neurological (anxiety, headache, fear). Encourage children to express how they feel (fuzzy mouth, itchy tongue) after eating a meal. Remember if you are having a reaction, speak up! Never run to the washroom, never leave a crowd and never be embarrassed to ask for help.
5.. Be prepared – When you are prepared to treat a potential food allergy, the situation becomes less stressful. Be aware of how the person has handled allergic reactions in the past, learn what role you should play in a potential allergic reaction, and be sure you know where to find help and how to use it in case of a reaction. Even with all your kitchen precautions, you can’t always avoid your allergy triggers, but you can be prepared by carrying an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times. Having an emergency plan in place can help prevent a potentially life threatening circumstance.
The best thing to do is educate yourself and those around you on how to minimize exposure to allergens. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Don’t be embarrassed to tell someone you have food allergy! Don’t let your fears interfere with your love of food. If you are aware and educated, living with a food allergy doesn’t have to be scary.
Disclosure: This post was developed in paid partnership with Pfizer. All views and opinions are my own. Epinephrine auto-injectors are indicated for the emergency treatment of anaphylaxis. This product may not be right for you. Always read and follow the label.
Don’t forget to check out three delicious allergy-friendly recipes at:
http://foodallergycanada.ca/summer-of-tag/allergy-friendly-meals/. Also, stay tuned to a #SummerOfTAG Allergy-Friendly Kitchen contest in upcoming weeks on foodallergycanada.ca/summeroftag